San Miguel de Allende hosts an annual hummingbird festival each year that blends music, fun, festivities—and conservation efforts for the locally beloved bird.

Hummingbird Festival
Credit: Ann Summa

San Miguel de Allende is well known to birders as a home for both migratory and resident birds, many drawn by the watershed of the Rio Lerma and Rio Laja rivers.

Audubon Mexico, based here, lists more than 200 species—including pelicans, herons, egrets, storks, vultures, hawks, falcons, kingfishers, gulls, plovers, owls, woodpeckers, flycatchers, swallows and wrens.

But in town, hummingbirds are what most people see most commonly up close and personal. (No binoculars necessary.) Take a stroll through many gardens in San Miguel during late afternoon, and you’re likely to hear a sudden thrumming of wings just above your head, usually accompanied by the unmistakable chirp of an hummingbird guarding his territory.

In celebration of the diminutive “flying jewels” (as the Spanish conquistadores called them), the third annual International Festival of Hummingbirds (Sept. 26 – Oct. 4) takes place the first week of October, and this year it has expanded to include the hundreds of other bird species that migrate to or live in the state of Guanajuato.

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, but have the largest brains in proportion to their weight. When they dive down from on high, they can hit 60 miles per hour; and as any gardener knows, they are an essential pollinator as well as a prodigious flying insect predator.

They also do well in urban environments, making them the perfect avian ambassador for the Festival’s theme this year: Nature in the City. “By studying the hummingbird, we help nature and help the environment,” says Alfredo Garcia-Lucio. He and his husband-partner, Jim McKeever, run Camino Silvestre, a store that sells nearly 200 different Garcia-Lucio designed hand-blown glass hummingbird feeders (pictured) from its two outlets in San Miguel, and a new shop in Mexico City. They also market furniture, steam-punk objets d’art, high-end ceramics, and a mind-boggling assortment of bird-related products.

But it’s hummingbirds that have driven the couple’s work. The mesquite trees around their home, close to the lake, are festooned with scores of hummingbird feeders. While other Mexican states host bird-related events, the Hummingbird Festival is unique in its inclusion of academic or scholarly lectures about wild birds and the environment. “We have invited graduate students to present their projects and papers in a forum they usually don’t have an opportunity to access,” Garcia-Lucio says. “There are a lot of NGOs in San Miguel that deal with hunger, housing for the poor, women’s rights—but we are one of the few dealing with the environment.”

The Festival has attracted the attention of bird specialists in North America as well as Mexico. The Western Hummingbird Partnership is holding its annual meeting here during the Festival, and one of the keynote speakers is Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., the world’s leading expert on the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. He is one of only 150 people worldwide authorized to capture and band wild hummingbirds to try and track their migratory patterns.

It’s not all academics of course. This is San Miguel. There is a week of pre-festival events kicking off Saturday, Sept. 26, with a fund-raising concert featuring Morganna Love, a transgender singer and San Miguel native who became famous for her roles singing countertenor with the Mexico National Opera. Love, neé Saul Martinez, is the focus of Made In Bangkok, an indie documentary released this past spring that follows her to Thailand where she underwent surgery to become a woman.

“She’s preparing a couple of surprise songs about birds, specifically hummingbirds,” Garcia-Lucio says. “She may surprise everyone by turning into a bird now,” he adds with a laugh. Starting Monday, Sept. 28, a series of free movies will be screened outside in the Lucierega mall, on the edge of town. Dozens of hummingbird feeders will be strung up to bring in birds.

Then on Thursday, Oct. 1., the festival officially begins with lectures on feeding dynamics, use of feeders in temperate forests, the interactions of plants and hummingbirds, and more. There are also weekend birding tours in the Jardin Botanico, Mexico’s largest botanical garden that’s home to scores of waterfowl and cliff-dwellers, as well as book signings and a photo exhibition.

There will be several cocktail parties during the festival, but the one on Friday is distinctly San Miguel in tone. It offers guests tamales and mescal and starts at 3 a.m., an hour before the annual La Alborada celebration of Saint Michael the Archangel, San Miguel’s patron saint. The music and dances begin at 4 a.m., just a few blocks away in the main square, as the battle of good and evil is played out accompanied by ear-splitting fireworks. “It’s our favorite festival,” Garcia-Lucio says.

Jeff Spurrier covers the Mexico beat for Travel + Leisure; he is based in San Miguel de Allende.