How the Hummingbird Earned Its Color

A story by Sibyl Croly, 1902

Long ago, “when the earth was young,” as storybooks say, there lived a humming-bird. It was not a pretty bird; its plumage was an ugly dull brown; but it had a kind heart (in fact, all its little giblets were kind), and was very happy as it buzzed about the bright flowers. Sometimes it would wish that it could be beautiful, with red and purple tints like the blossoms it loved, but it always dismissed such vain longings and kept its mind content.

“B-r-r-r-z-z-z-m-m-m!” it murmured as it ran its long bill into a flower, “B-r-r-r-z-z-z-m-m-m! I am happy, happy, happy in the flowers and yellow sunshine. When the sun sets and the silver stars shine in a violet sky I will sit on a twig of the rose vine and the night wind rustles the green leaves. A white rose is my canopy, out of its golden heart the rose fairy whispers sweet dreams to me. So I sleep and grow strong that to-morrow I may frolic again the bright meadow. I am happy, happy — B-r-r-r-z-z-z-bm-m-m!”

But it came to pass that the flowers died and driving clouds hid the sun and the stars, and darkness and chill fell upon the meadow. The humming-bird grew afraid.

Now under that meadow, though the bird knew it not, was Fairyland, where cold and darkness are unknown and flowers bloom always. One of the fairies came above ground one day to see what the outer world was like.

As he made his way through the grass he came upon a wicked spider. A spider is the only living thing over which fairies have no power and it is feared by the little people above all else. The poor little fay stood transfixed with terror as the fiendish spider drew nearer — nearer — and there was no help, no rescue! Yes! Suddenly came a whir-r-r of brown wings, and a long bill pecked the venomous insect until he lay dead. The humming-bird had saved a fairy’s life!

In his gratitude the fay took his preserver back with him to Fairyland where they spent the winter. And when the good humming-bird returned to his flowery meadow in the spring he wore the suit of silvery purple and crimson which all humming-birds have worn since. Its colors are the rarest in the world, for they were mixed by fairy painters.

This story is from a newspaper clipping that was pasted in Sibyl’s Baby Book. Next to the clipping was a note written in Sibyls hand: “This story won a fountain pen for me, Sibyl Croly in 1902, when I was fourteen.”

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