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Our next family is that of the HONEYSUCKERS, ( Nectariniadæ, Vig.) a group peculiar to the warmer regions of America, with a beak much resembling that of the creepers, being arched, pointed, and compressed; the tongue is bifid; feet moderately strong. The Honeysuckers frequent the luxuriant bowers and gardens which the God of nature has planted, and where a profusion of blossoms " pour out their fragrance to the passing gale." These richly coloured little birds, busy and active, are perpetually engaged in hopping from flower to flower, exploring the nectary of each, not only with a view to the luscious syrup it contains, but to the small insects also which are there collected; these, indeed, more than the liquid sweets of the nectary, form their diet.
the BLACK AND BLUE HONEYSUCKER (Nectarinia cyanea, Ill.) is an example. This richly coloured bird is a native of Brazil, Cayenne, Hayti, &c. In size it is little larger than our creeper. The top of the head is beryl blue; the rest of the head, the lower part of the back, the upper wing-coverts, the throat, breast, and under parts are pure blue; a black stripe passes through each eye ;
the back of the neck and upper part of the back are velvet black; the quill-feathers are black on the outsides and brimstone beneath, as is the rest of the inside of the wing; the tail is black. It frequents plantations of sugar-cane, being fond, as it is said, of the juice; but is also observed to search for insects, probing every crevice, and the bottom of the leaves, as well as the nectaries of flowers, with its slender bill.
The Sun-Birds ( Cinnyrida) constitute our next family. The bill is rather elongated, slender, with its edges denticulated, or fringed with a row of most minute comb-like teeth ; the legs are slender ;
bifid. The Sun-Birds belong exclusively to the warm climates of the old world, especially Africa and India, where they almost rival in brilliancy, as they approach in manners, the humming-birds of the new world. Unlike the creepers, which travel mouse-like along the branches, or the honeysuckers, which hop from flower to flower, grasping the stalk with their feet while they explore the nectary with their beak, these winged gems make no use of the foot as they extract their food, but during the search are poised upon quivering wings which glitter with metallic refulgence; this refulgence is not, however, changeable in different lights, as are the hues of the humming-birds, but continues the same. Insects, such as minute beetles, ants, &c., with honey, constitute their diet. In the Proceedings of the Zoological Society, Part II. p. 98, we find an account of several beautiful species, some of which are new to science, obtained in the Duckhun, India. Of one beautiful species, the Cinnyris currucaria, it is stated
a spider, a cicada, and minute coleopterous insects were found in the stomach.” They also hover before flowers, and suck the honey while on the wing like the Cinn. lepida."
Of another splendid species, new to science, it is observed that the larvæ of flies, a spider, ants, and minute insects were found in the stomach. The lofty trees of the dense woods of the Ghauts are its abode.
Our annexed sketch is of the Yellow-BELLIED SUNBIRD (Cinnyris lepida ;) it is common in India, and
THE YELLOW-BELLIED SUN-BIRD.
may be seen darting from flower to flower, and ever and anon poising itself on quivering wings while inserting its bill into the nectary, or securing the insects which it perceives concealed among the petals. The head is glossy greenish black; the back deep maroon, with a purple gloss on the lower part; shoulders glossy greenish; wings and tail brown; under parts bright yellow; length four inches and a half.
We now enter upon a family which comprehends the smallest and the most brilliant of the feathered race, a family of which all our readers have heard, for none is more celebrated; we allude to the HUMMING-BIRDS, ( Trochilidæ.) The Humming-Birds are exclusively confined to America and the adjacent islands, being found in no other country; their food consists of insects and the honey of flowers. They may be said to live on the wing, in the powers of which they are probably equalled by no other bird. Their tarsi and feet are extremely minute,
the quill-feathers of their wings are large, firm, strong, elastic, and furnished with shafts of great size, and in some species extraordinarily developed; the tail is wide and spreading. Their plumage is close, often scale-like, and glowing with variable metallic hues, of inimitable brilliancy and splendour. Like meteors glancing by, they dart along, or hover like winged gems, "pendent by subtle magic,” over flowers whose richest tints are now outshone.
If we look at the wings of the Humming-Bird, we at once perceive that these organs influence the general character and habits of the creature; the whole of its organization is modified to make them effective instruments; the breast bone is immense, the pectoral muscles covering it are as large or larger than the rest of the body, and the humerus or arm bone is short; the shape of the wing, when expanded, is narrow, pointed, and often sabrelike. The beak long and slender ; the tongue is long, bifid, or split into two filaments, and tubular. The Humming-Birds are bold and spirited, and defend their nests with great courage; darting at the eyes of intruders, and easily defeating feathered enemies far exceeding themselves in size. They are divided into several genera, of which we shall take no especial notice; but rather present, as much more instructive to general readers, a few observations, which we take the liberty of extracting from Sir W. Jardine's introduction to their history, illustrative of their manners and range of habitat.
“ These beautiful and delicate beings,” he observes, appear to have excited the admiration of their discoverers, and indeed of every one who has observed them revelling in their native glades, or at rest in the more artificial display of our museums, by the spirited proportions of their form and the dazzling splendour of their plumage,” “ Thick without burden ; close as fishes' scales." 6. The ancient Mexicans used their feathers for superb mantles in the time of Montezuma, and the pictures so much extolled by Cortez were embroidered with their skins.”
The Humming-Birds, as we have already stated, are natives of the new world; and according to our best information, that great archipelago of islands between Florida and the mouths of the Orinoco, with the mainland of the southern continent, until it passes
the tropic of Capricorn, literally swarms with them. In the wild and uncultivated parts, they inhabit those forests of magnificent timber overhung with lianas, and the superb tribe of bignonaceæ, the huge trunks clothed with a rich drapery of parasites, whose blossoms only give way in beauty to the sparkling tịnts of their airy tenants; but since the cultivation of various parts of the country, they abound in the gardens, and seem to delight in society, becoming familiar and destitute of fear, hovering over one side of a shrub while the fruit or flowers is plucked from that opposite. As we recede from the tropics, on either side, the numbers decrease, though some species are found in Mexico, and others in Peru, which do not appear to exist elsewhere. Thus Mr. Bullock discovered several species at a high elevation, and consequently low temperature, on the lofty table lands of Mexico, and in the woods in the vicinity of the snowy mountains of Orizaba; while Captain King, in the late survey of the southern coasts, met with numerous members of this diminutive family flying about in a snow-storm near the straits of Magellan, and discovered two species which he considered undescribed in the remote island of Juan Fernandez. Two species only extend far into the northern continent of America: the one, the Ruff-necked Humming-Bird, was discovered by Captain Cook in Nootka Sound, and has been traced by Kotzebue to 61° along the western shores; the other, the Northern Humming-Bird, (ruby throated,) so beautifully described by Wilson, has been obtained from the plains of the Saskachewan, and was found breeding by Mr. Drummond near the sources of the Elk river. It is known to reach as far north as the 57th parallel.”
Lively and full of energy, these gilded fairies of the feathered race are almost incessantly on the wing, darting from one object to another, and displaying their gorgeous hues in the beams of the sun.
performing a lengthened flight, as during migration, they pass through the air in long undulations, raising them selves for some distance, and then falling in a curve. When about to feed, or in search of a favourite flower, they hover stationary, surveying all around, and suddenly dart off to the object.” Bullock observes, that “ they remain suspended in the air in a space barely sufficient for them to move their wings, and the humming noise proceeds entirely from the surprising velocity with which they perform that motion, by which they will keep their bodies in the air, apparently motionless, for hours together.”
From the circumstance of the length of the wings, and the extreme shortness of the tarsi, they never voluntarily settle on the ground, but perch on twigs and branches, where they are observed to amuse themselves by pluming and dressing their burnished feathers, and arranging the apparatus of their wings.
In their disposition they are intrepid, but quarrelsome, and cannot bear the approach of one of their own species near the precincts of their breeding-place. Of one minute but beautiful species, the Mexican Star, Mr. Bullock