Hummingbirds are not only some of the world’s smallest birds, but their wings beat at lightning speed—and they’re the only ones able to fly backward, according to Dawn Baumann Brunke, author of the book Animal Teachings. As such, she says, it’s not surprising the hummingbird often symbolizes inspiration of the impossible.
And what hummingbirds may lack in size, they make up for in tenacity, she explains, noting that these birds are fierce and known to attack intruders with their long, pointy beaks and fast-beating wings. They can even drive away much larger birds, and because of this, “they were once honored in both myth and history as courageous and lively warriors,” she tells mbg.
Before we break down a few more specific meanings behind this animal, it’s worth noting that you should always take your personal associations with any animal into account when trying to interpret its message for you. Additionally, Baumann Brunke notes that there is some nuance between different hummingbird species.
“There are over 300 different species of hummingbird in our world, and each carries its own special ‘medicine’ or teaching. So, too—each color, shape, habitat, and other characteristics of hummingbirds may offer a more specific and unique message,” she explains.
That said, here are three common messages from this bird when you see it.