Isla de Umunnum (Island of the Hummingbirds)

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Moss Landing, CA, 1986-1990

Isla de Umunnum (Island of the Hummingbirds) is an environmental art work, designed and built by Heather McGill and John Roloff for the California Arts Commission’s Art in Public Buildings Program.

The project is a part of a large, protected wildlife habitat, the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. The Reserve is sited in the estuary and coastal hills along Elkhorn Slough, an inlet from the Pacific Ocean at Monterey Bay in central California. The site of the artwork is a 3-acre, island-like tract of land surrounded by the slough’s waters and marshlands. The project is accessible to the mainland by a maintenance road and trail.

The focus of the project is to create a special habitat and shrine for indigenous and migrating hummingbirds. Inspired by hummingbird life and mythology, the elements of the project are both functional and symbolic. One of the two functional structures is a dome-shaped trellis for native honeysuckle vines; a hummingbird food-source surrounded by a formal array of other food-source plantings such as native flowering manzanita, fuchsia and monkey flower. The second major structure is a mound/pond element that provides a source of fresh water. Two bench elements and an extensive path system paved with white oyster shells allow for visual interaction with feeding hummingbirds and exploration of the island.

The focus on the symbolic value of the hummingbird pays homage to its very special place in the mythology of many cultures of the Western Hemisphere, its unique quality as a species and the distinctive richness of Elkhorn Slough.

The planning and construction of this project was accomplished through the help of many individuals including: Mark Silberstein, Director and Staff Biologist of Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, rangers from The California Department of Fish and Game, the California Conservation Corps, prisoner fire crews from Solidad Prison and the Santa Cruz County Native Plant Society.

Additional information on this work is available from visitors center at Elkhorn Slough and in Fragile Ecologies: Contemporary Artists’ Interpretations and Solutions by Barbara C. Matilsky, Rizzoli, 1992.

John Roloff

1997 (revised)