birds humming species bird name found bill trochilidce beautiful family
HUMMING-BIRD, a name in use for more than two centuries, and possibly ever since English explorers first knew of the beautiful little animals to which, from the sound occasionally made by the rapid vibrations of their wings, it is applied. Among books that are ordinarily in naturalists' hands, the name seems to be first found in the Musceum Tratlescantianam, published in 1656, but it therein occurs (p. 3) so as to suggest its having already been accepted and commonly understood ; and its earliest use, as yet discovered, is said to be by Thomas Morton in the .k\rew _English Canaan, printed in 1632 - a rare work reproduced by Peter Force in his Historical Tracts (vol. ii., Washington, 1838). Thevet, in his Singularitez de la France antarctique (Antwerp, 1558, fol. 92), has been more than once cited as the earliest author to mention Humming-birds, which he did under the name of Gouctnibuch; but it is quite certain that Oviedo, whose Hystoria general de las Indicts was published at Toledo in 1525, preceded him by more than thirty years, with an account of the " paxaro nzosquito" of Hispaniola, of which island "the first chronicler of the Indies" was governor.1 This name, though now apparently disused in Spanish, must have been current about that time, for we find Gesner in 1555 (De ctvium natura, iii. p. 629) translating it literally into Latin as Passer muscatus, owing, as he says, his knowledge of the bird to Cardan, the celebrated mathematician, astrologer, and physician, from whom we learn (Comment.
in Ptolem. de astr. judiciis, Basel, 1554, p. 472) that, on his return to Milan from professionally attending Archbishop Hamilton at Edinburgh, he visited Gesner at Zurich, about the end of the year 1552.2 The name still survives in the French Oiseau-manche; but the ordinary Spanish appellation is, and long has been, Tominejo, from tomin, signifying a weight equal to the third part of an adarme or drachm, and used metaphorically for anything very small. Humming-birds, however, are called by a variety of other names, many of them derived from American languages, such as Guainumbi, Ourissia, and Colibri, to say nothing of others bestowed upon them (chiefly from some peculiarity of habit) by Europeans, like Picajlores, Chuparosa, and Fronfrou. Barrere, in 1745, conceiving that Hummingbirds were allied to the Wren, the Trochitus,3 in part, of Pliny, applied that name in a generic sense (Ornith. Spec. novum, pp. 47, 48) to both. Taking the hint thus afforded, Linnmus very soon after went further, and, excluding the Wrens, founded his genus Trochilus for the reception of such Humming-birds as were known to him. The unfortunate act of the great nomenclator cannot be set aside; and, since his time, ornithologists with but few exceptions have followed his example, so that now-a-days Humming-birds are universally recognized as forming the Family Trochilidce.
The relations of the Trochilidce to other birds were for a long while very imperfectly understood. Nitzsch first drew attention to their agreement in many essential characters with the Swifts, Cypselidce, and placed the two Families in one group, which he called Macrocldres, from the great length of their manual bones, or those forming the extremity of the wing. The name was perhaps not very happily chosen, for it is not the distal portion that is so much out of ordinary proportion to the size of the bird, but the proximal and median portions, that in both Families are curiously dwarfed. Still the mantis, in comparison with the other parts of the wing, is so long that the term Macrochires is not wholly inaccurate. The affinity of the Trochilidce and Cypselidce, once pointed out, became obvious to every careful and unprejudiced investigator, and there are probably few systematists now living who refuse to admit its validity. More than this, it is confirmed by an examination of other osteological characters. The "lines," as a boat-builder would say, upon which the skeleton of each form is constructed are precisely similar, only that whereas the bill is very short and the head wide in the Swifts, in the Hummingbirds the head is narrow and the bill longtime latter developed to an extraordinary degree in some of the Trochilidce, rendering them the longest-billed birds known.4 Professor Huxley considers these two Families, together with the Goatsuckers (Caprimulgidce), to form the division Cypselomorphce - one of the two into which he has separated his larger group „1:githognathce. However, the most noticeable portion of the Humming-bird's skeleton is the sternum, which in proportion to the size of the bird is enormously developed both longitudinally and vertically, its deep keel and posterior protraction affording abundant space for the powerful muscles which drive the wings in their rapid vibrations as the little creature poises itself over the flowers where it finds its food.' So far as is known, all Humming-birds possess a protrusible tongue, in conformation peculiar among the class Ayes, though to some extent similar to that member in the Woodpeckers (Picidce)2 - the "horns" of the hyoid apparatus upon which it is seated being greatly elongated, passing round and over the back part of the head, near the top of which they meet, and thence proceed forward, lodged in a broad and deep groove, till they terminate in front of the eyes. But, unlike the tongue of the Woodpeckers, that of the Humming-birds consists of two cylindrical tubes, tapering towards the point, and forming two sheaths which contain the extensile portion, and are capable of separation, thereby facilitating the extraction of honey from the nectaries of flowers, and with it, what is of far greater importance for the bird's sustenance, the small insects that have been attracted to feed upon the honey.' These, on the tongue being withdrawn into the bill, are caught by the mandibles (furnished in the males of many species with fine, horny, sawlike teeth4), and swallowed in the usual way. The stomach is small, moderately muscular, and with the inner coat slightly hardened. There seem to be no cteca. The trachea is remarkably short, the bronchi beginning high up on the throat, and song-muscles are wholly wanting, as in all other Cypselomorphce.5 Humming-birds, as is well known, comprehend the smallest members of the class Ayes. The largest among them measures no more than 8 inches and a half,6 and the least 2 inches and three-eighths in length, for it is now admitted generally that Sloane must have been in error when he described ( Voyage, ii. p. 308) the " Least Humming-bird of Jamaica" as "about 1 inch long from the end of the bill to that of the tail" - unless, indeed, he meant the proximal end of each, an interpretation, however, that will not save Edwards and Latham from the charge of careless misstatement, when they declare that they had received such a bird from that island. Next to their generally small size, the best known characteristic of the Trochilidce is the wonderful brilliancy of the plumage of nearly all their forms, in which respect some mistaken naturalists thought to be their allies.
The number of species of Humming-birds now known to exist considerably exceeds 400 ; and, though none depart very widely from what a morphologist would deem tho typical structure of the Family, the amount of modification, within certain limits, presented by the various forms is surprising and even bewildering to the uninitiated. But the features that are ordinarily chosen by systematic ornithologists in drawing up their schemes of classification are found by the " trochilidists," or special students of the Trockuidce, insufficient for the purpose of arranging these birds in groups, and characters on which genera can be founded have to be sought in the style and coloration of plumage, as well as in the form and proportions of those parts which are most generally deemed sufficient to furnish them. Looking to the large number of species to he taken into account, convenience has demanded what science would withhold, and the genera established by the ornithologists of a preceding generation have been broken up by their successors into multitudinous sections - the more adventurous making from 150 to 180 of such groups, the modest being content with 120 or thereabouts, but the last dignifying each of them by the title of genus. It is of course obvious that these small divisions cannot he here considered in detail, nor would much advantage accrue by giving statistics from the works of the latest trochilidists, Messrs Gould, 7 Mulsant,9 and Elliot.9 It would be as unprofitable here to trace the successive steps by which the original genus Trochilus of Liumeus, or the two genera Polytmus and Mcllisugcs of Brisson, have been split into others, or have been added to, by modern writers, for not one of these professes to have arrived at any final, but only a provisional, arrangement ; it seems, however, expedient to notice the fact that some of the authors of the last centuryl° supposed themselves to have seen the way to dividing what we now know as the Family Trod/Oda; into two groups, the distinction between which was that in the one the bill was arched and in the other straight, since that difference has been insisted on in many works. This was especially the view taken by Brisson and Buffon, who termed the birds having the arched bill "Co/ibris," and those having it straight " Oiscaux-mouchcs." The distinction wholly breaks down, not merely because there are Trochilidce which possess almost every gradation of decurvation of the bill, but some which have the bill upturned after the manner of that strange bird the Avocet," while it may be remarked that several of the species placed by those authorities among the " Collbris" are not Humming-birds at all.
The extraordinarily brilliant plumage which most of the T).-ocitilido; exhibit has been already mentioned, and in describing it ornithologists have been compelled to adopt the vocabulary of the jeweller in order to give an idea of the indescribable radiance that so often breaks forth from sonic part or other of the investments of these feathered gems. In all save a few of other birds, the most imaginative writer sees gleams which lie may adequately designate metallic, from their resemblance to burnished gold, bronze, copper, or steel, but such similitudes wholly fail when he has to do with the • Trochilidce, and there is hardly a precions stone - ruby, amethyst, sapphire, emerald, or topaz - the name of which may not fitly, and without any exaggeration, be employed in regard to Humming-birds. In some cases this radiance beams from the brow, in some it glows from the throat, in others it shines from the tail-coverts, in others it sparkles from the tip only of elongated feathers that crest the head or surround the neck as with a frill, while again in others it may appear as a luminous streak across the cheek or auriculars. The feathers that cover the upper parts of the body very frequently have a metallic lustre of golden-green, which in other birds would be thought sufficiently beautiful, but in the Trodtilittce its sheen is overpowered by the almost dazzling splendour that radiates from the spots where Nature's lapidary has set her jewels. The flight feathers are almost invariably dusky - the rapidity of their movement would, perhaps, render any display of colour ineffective ; while, ou the contrary, the feathers of the tail, which, as the bird hovers over its food-bearing flowers, is almost always expanded, and is therefore comparatively motionless, often exhibit a rich translucency, as of stainedglasv, but iridescent in a manner that no stained glass ever is - cinnamon merging into crimson, crimson changing to purple, purple to violet, and so to indigo and bottle-green. But this part of the Hummingbird is subject to quite as much modification in form as in colour, though always consisting of ten rectriees. It may be nearly square, or at least but slightly rounded, or wedge-shaped with the middle quills prolonged beyond the rest; or, again, it may be deeply forked, sometimes by the overgrowth of one or more of the intermediate pairs, but most generally by the development of the outer pair. In the last case the lateral feathers may be either broadly webbed to their tip, or acuminate, or again, in some forms, may lessen to the filiform shaft, and suddenly enlarge into a terminal spatulation as in the forms known as " Racquet-tails." The wings do not offer so much variation; still there are a few groups in which diversities occur that require notice. The primaries are invariably ten in number, the outermost being the longest, except in the single instance of Aithunts, where it is shorter than the next. The group known as "Sabre-wings," comprising the genera Campylopterits, Eupetomena, and Sphenoproctus, present a most curious sexual peculiarity, for while the female has nothing remarkable in the form of the wing, in the male the shaft of two or three of the outer primaries is dilated proximally, and bowed near the middle in a manner almost unique among birds. The feet again, diminutive as they are, are very diversified in form. In most the tarsus is bare, but in some groups, as Etiocnentis, it is clothed with tufts of the most delicate down, sometimes black, sometimes buff, but more often of a snowy whiteness. In some the toes are weak, nearly equal in length, and furnished with small rounded nails ; in others they are largely developed, and armed with long and sharp claws.
Apart from the well-known brilliancy of plumage, of which enough has been here said, many Humming-birds display a large amount of ornamentation in the addition to their attire of crests of various shape and size, elongated car-tufts, projecting neck-frills, and pendant beards - forked or forming a single point. But it would be impossible here to dwell on a tenth of these beautiful modifications, each of which as it conies to our knowledge excites fresh surprise and exemplifies the ancient adage - maxime miranda tins minintis Xatura. It must be remarked, however, that there are certain forms which possess little or no brilliant colouring at all, but, as most tropical birds go, are very soberly clad. These are known to troehilidists as "Hermits," and by Mr Gould have been separated as a Subfamily under the name of Ph,aethornithianc, though Mr Elliot says he cannot find any characters to distinguish it from the Troehi/idee proper. But sight is not the only sense that is affected by Humming-birds, The large species known a's Piero-plumes teinialucki has a strong musky odour, very similar to that given off by the Petrels, though, so far as appears to be known, th.tt is the only one of them that possesses this property.' All welt-informed people are aware that the Trochilida; are a Family peculiar to America and its islands, but one of the commonest of common errors is the belief that Humming-birds are found in Africa and India - to say nothing even of England. In the first two cases the mistake arises from confounding them with some of the brightly-coloured Sun-birds (Neetariniidce), to which British colonists or residents are apt to apply the better-known name ; but in the last it can be only due to the want of perception which disables the observer from distinguishing between a bird and an insect --the object seen being a Hawk-Moth (Macroglossa), whose mode of feeding and rapid flight certainly bears some resemblance to that of the Trochilidtc, and hence one of the species (1f stellarum) is very generally called the " linnuning-bird Hawk-Moth." lint though confined to the New World the Trochilidce pervade almost every part of it. In the south Eastephanus galcritus has been seen flitting about the fuchsias of Tierra del Fuego in a snow-storm, and in the north-west Setatophorus ruins in summer visits the ribesblossoms of Sitka, while in the north-east Trochilits colu-bris charms the vision of Canadians as it poises itself over the althma-bushes in their gardens, and extends its range at least so far as lat. 57° N. Nor is the distribution of Humming-birds limited to a horizontal direction only, it rises also vet tically. Orcotrodtilus chimborazo and 0. pichincha live on the lofty mountains whence each takes its trivial name, but just beneath the line of perpetual snow, at an elevation of some 16,000 feet, dwelling in a world of almost constant hail, sleet, and rain, and feeding on the insects which resort to the indigenous flowering plants, while other peaks, only inferior to these in height, are no less frequented by one or more species. Peru and Bolivia produce sonic of the most splendid of the Family - the genera Cowles, Diphloymna, and Thaumastura, whose very names indicate the glories of their bearers. The comparatively gigantic Patagona inhabits the west coast of South America, while the isolated rocks of Juan Fernandez not only afford a home to the Eustephanus before mentioned, but also to two other species of the same genus which are not found elsewhere (see liinDs, vol. iii. p. 745). The slopes The specific name of a species of Chrysofainpis, commonly written by many writers nwschilus, would lead to the belief that it was a mistake for macehatug, i.e., " musky," but in truth it originates with their carelessness, for though they (mere uneRas as I heir MO horify they can never have referred to his works, or they would have found the word to be moSquites, the " mosquito" of Oviedo, awkwardly, it is true, LatInIzed. If emendation be needed, muscatto, after (feeler's example, is undoubtedly preferable.
of the Northern Andes and the hill country of Colombia furnish perhaps the greatest number of forms, and some of the most beautiful, but leaving that great range, we part company with the largest and most gorgeously arrayed species, and their number dwindles as We approach the eastern coast. Still there are many brilliant 1Iumming-birds common enough in the Brazils, Guiana, and Venezuela. The Chryso/ampis mom/alias is perhaps the most plentiful. Thousands of its skins are annually sent to Europe to be used in the manufacture of ornaments, its rich ruby-and-topaz glow rendering it one of the most beautiful objects imaginable. In the darkest depths of the Brazilian forests dwell the russet-clothed brotherhood of the genus Phadhorstis - the " Hermits "; but the great wooded basin of the Amazons seems to be particularly unfavourable to the Trochi/ithe, and from Parti to Ega there are scarcely a dozen species to be met with. There is no island of the Antilles but is inhabited by one or more Humming-birds, and there are some very remarkable singularities of geographical distribution to be found (see Bruns, vol. iii. p. 749). Northwards from Panama, the highlands present many genera, whose names it would be useless here to insert, few or none of which are found in South America - though that must unquestionably be deemed the metropolis of the Family, and advancing towards Mexico the numbers gradually fall off. Eleven species have been enrolled among the fauna of the United States, but some on slender evidence, while others only just cross the frontier line, But little room is left to speak of the habits of Hummingbirds, which is perhaps of the less consequence since the subject, as regards most of the species which in life have come under the observation of ornithologists, has been so ably treated by writers like Waterton, Wilson, and Audubon, to say nothing of Mr Gosse, Mr Wallace, Mr Bates, and some others, while, whatever novelty further investigation may supply, it is certain that at present we lack information that will explain the origin or the function of the many modifications of external structure of which mention has been made. But there is no one appreciative of the beauties of nature who will not recall to memory with delight the fine when a live Humming-bird first met his gaze. The suddenness of the apparition, even when expected, and its brief duration, are alone enough to fix the fluttering vision on the mind's eye. The wings of the bird, if flying, are only visible as a thin grey film, bounded above and below by fine black threads, in form of a St Andrew's cross, - the effect on the observer's retina of the instantaneous reversal of the motion of the wing at each beat - the strokes being so rapid as to leave no more distinct image. Consequently an adequate representation of the bird on the wing cannot be produced by the draughtsman. Humming-birds show to the greatestadvantage when engaged in contest with another, for rival cocks fight fiercely, and, as may be expected, it is then that their plumage flashes with the most glowing tints. But these are quite invisible to the ordinary spectator except when very near at hand, though doubtless efficient enough for their object, whether that be to inflame their mate or to irritate or daunt their opponent, ur something that we cannot compass. Humming-birds, however, Will also often sit still for a while, chiefly in an exposed position, on a dead twig, occasionally darting into the air, either to catch a passing insect or to encounter an adversary ; and so pugnacious are they that they will frequently attack birds many times bigger than themselves, without, as would seem, any provocation.
The food of Humming-birds consists mainly of insects, mostly gathered in the manner already described from the flowers they visit ; but, according to Mr Wallace, there are many species which he has never seen so occupied, and the " Hermits " especially seem to live almost entirely upon the insects which are found on the lower surface of leaves, over which they will closely pass their bill, balancing themselves the while vertically in the air. The same excellent observer also remarks that even among the common flower-frequenting species he has found the alimentary canal entirely filled with insects, and very rarely a trace of honey. It is this fact doubtless that has hindered almost all attempts at keeping them in confine- ment for any length of time - nearly every one making the experiment having fed his captives only with syrup, which is wholly insufficient as sustenance, and seeing therefore the wretched creatures gradually sink into inanition and die of hunger.
The beautiful nests of Humming-birds, than which the work of - fairies could not be conceived more delicate, are to be seen in most museums, and will be found on examination to be very solidly and tenaciously built, though the materials are generally of the slightest - cotton-wool or some vegetable down and spiders' webs. They vary greatly in form and ornamentation - for it would seem that the portions of lichen which frequently bested them are affixed to their exterior with that object, though probably concealment was the original intention. They are mostly cup-shaped, and the singular fact is on record (Zeal. Journal, v. p. 1) that in one instance as the young grew in size the walls were heightened by the parents, until at last the nest was more than twice as big as when the eggs were laid and hatched. Some species, however, suspend their nests from the stem or tendril of a climbing plant, and more than one case has been known in which it has been attached to a hanging rope. These pensile nests are said to have been found loaded on one side with a small stone or bits of earth to ensure their safe balance, though how the compensatory process is applied no one can say. Other species, and especially those belonging to the "Hermit" group, weave a frail structure round the side of a drooping palm-leaf. The eggs are never more than two in number, quite white, and having both ends nearly equal. The solicitude for her offspring displayed by the mother is not exceeded by that of any other birds, but it seems doubtful whether the male takes any interest in the brood. (A. N.)