Tejas Legends: Why Hummingbirds Drink Only Dew

This story explains why hummingbirds do not drink water as other birds do. Instead, hummingbirds drink flower nectar; in fact, they drink their body weight or more in nectar each day. You can find out more about these remarkable birds at Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Tejas Legends unit. Story source: When the Storm God Rides: Tejas and Other Indian Legends retold by Florence Stratton and illustrated by Berniece Burrough (1936).

Why Hummingbirds Drink Only Dew

Hummingbirds like to build their nests near water. The tiny little fellows like to skim over the surface of rivers and ponds and throw spray on themselves with the tips of their wings. They also like to flutter around in the first light drops of a rain. Yet hummingbirds do not drink the water in which they bathe. They sip nothing but the dew which sparkles on flowers and leaves. Why they are so careful about the water they drink is told in a legend.

Once a hummingbird and a great blue heron owned a lake together. It was a long lake which ran through the low country for many miles. Around the edges of this lake were moss-covered trees and low bushes which hung over the water. In the shade made by the trees and bushes the hummingbird liked to hover and drink the cool water.

Like many people, the hummingbird and the heron had the bad habit of gambling. They liked to bet, and they bet about many things. One day the hummingbird bet the heron that he could fly from one end of their lake to the other faster than the heron. The one who lost the bet was to give up drinking in that lake and also in all others. Both birds agreed. They went to one end of the lake and started off together.

The hummingbird thought he would surely win the race, for he could fly much faster than the big heron, but he didn't know that he couldn't fly across the lake in one day. They flew on and on. The heron was left far behind, but still the hummingbird was a long way from the other end of the lake. Finally it began to get dark, and the hummingbird could not fly in the darkness. At last he had to fly to one side of the lake and spend the night in a tree, but the heron could fly at night, and he kept coming after the sun went down. The hummingbird didn't know it.

Early the next day the hummingbird jumped out of his tree and started on his way again. He expected to reach the end of the lake long before the heron, but when he got there he found the heron sitting in a cypress tree and laughing at him. By flying all night the heron had won the race. The hummingbird kept his word and never drank from that lake or any other lake or river again. That is why he sips nothing but dew today.

(400 words)

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