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The Punishment

According to Navaho legend

Long, long ago, when the world was young, farmland birds were similar to woodland birds. They all sang the same song, "tweet tweet tweet." They had all agreed that half of them would eat insects and the other half would eat seeds and berries so that there would be food for everyone. They had also agreed that none of them would feed on flowers.

In these long-ago times, the hummingbird was the same size as the crow. Like the crow, it ate seeds and berries. The hummingbird was the first to rise and eat; it ate all day long, even at dusk, because it was always hungry. One day, after several other birds had scolded it because it was eating more than its share, it got up earlier so none of the others would see it, and it ate in secret from flowers!

The hummingbird made astonishing discoveries: the pollen inside the flower corolla was flavourful and nourishing and the nectar, sweet and delicious, especially that found in red, pink and orange flowers with deep corolla. The bird was so famished that it tore the petals, leaving them in shreds. Remember, it was a large bird. It continued ripping petals, drinking nectar and dipping into the pollen until there wasn't a single perfect flower left. Then, it went under a leaf to have a nap.

When the other birds arrived, they took in the scene of tattered flowers and cried in disbelief. "Who did this? Who could have been so mean?" A black and yellow butterfly tried to find a drop of nectar, because nectar is the only food a butterfly eats. "Don't blame me!" it protested. "I didn't break a single tiny petal." "Then who did it?" demanded the birds. With the only possible answer, the butterfly used its wings to point towards the leaf where the hummingbird was just waking up. It looked so guilty that the other birds immediately knew it was responsible.

"It's not my fault, I was hungry I'm always hungry. That's how I'm made. And I can't help it if I tear petals with my big beak." The birds looked at it in dismay; something had to be done. If the hummingbird couldn't help itself, they had to solve its problem for it. "If it weren't so big," suggested one bird, "it wouldn't need so much food. From now on, it will be the smallest bird of all." "Yes," agreed the others. "And give it a small beak, ever so thin, like the tongue of the butterfly." "Yes! Yes! Yes!" exclaimed all the birds in unison.

In the twinkling of an eye, the hummingbird began to shrink until its entire body was no bigger than the size its tail had been. Its beak remained just as long, but thinned down until it resembled the tongue of a butterfly. After the transformation, the hummingbird stuck its new beak into a broken flower corolla, hoping to reach the nectar it had been unable to reach earlier. It succeeded easily and was so happy that it opened its beak to sing in triumph. No musical note emerged, just a grating, chirping sound. When the hummingbird's body shrank, its voice muscles became so tiny that it could no longer sing!

The hummingbird was stunned to lose its voice. A Blue Jay, which had always been very kind, sympathized. "It's had enough of a punishment," it told the others, "we never thought it would lose its voice." The damage could not be undone, but maybe there was a way to help. "Let's give it beautiful feathers," said the jay on the hummingbird's behalf. "Everyone needs something to be proud of." Everyone agreed and since that day hummingbirds have had beautiful feathers, but a low ringing voice.