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The extreme pugnacity of humming-birds has been noticed by all observers. Mr. Gosse describes two mecting and chasing each other through the labyrinths of twigs and flowers till, an opportunity occurring, the one would dart with seeming fury upon the other, and then, with a loud rustling of their wings, they would twirl together, round and round, till they nearly came to the carth. Then they parted, and after a time another tussle took place. Two of the same species can hardly meet without an encounter, while in many cases distinct species attack each other with cqual fury. Mr. Salvin describes the splendid Eugenes fulgens attacking two other species with as much ferocity as its own fellows. One will knock another off its perch, and the two will go fighting and screaming away at a pace hardly to be followed by the eye. Audubon says they attack any other birds that approach them, and think nothing of assaulting tyrant-shrikes and even birds of prey that come too near their home.
Display of Ornaments by the Jule.-It is a wellknown fact, that when male birds possess any unusual ornaments, they take such positions or perform such evolutions as to exhibit them to the best advantage while · endeavouring to attract or charm the females or in rivalry with other males. It is therefore probable that the wonderfully varied decorations of humming-birds, whether burnished breast-shields, resplendent tail, crested head, or glittering back, are thus exhibited; but almost the only actual observation of this kind is that of Mr. Belt; who describes how two males of the Florisuga mellivora displayed their ornaments before a female lim. One would shoot up like a rocket, then, suddenly
expanding the snow-white tail like an inverted parachute, slowly descend in front of her, turning round gradually to show off both back and front. The expanded white tail covered more space than all the rest of the bird, and was evidently the grand feature of the performance. Whilst one was descending the other would shoot up and come slowly down expanded.
Food.—The food of humming-birds has been a matter of much controversy. All the carly writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers; but since that time every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been lissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching ynats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks :--“ All the hum. ming-birds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and old contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the olject of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me. I observed it carefully, and distinctly saw the minute flies in the air which it pursued and caught, and heard repeatedly the snapping of the beak. My presence scarcely disturbed it, if at all.”
| The Naturalist in Nicaragua, p. 112.
There is also an extensive group of small brown humming-birds, forming the sub-family Phaüthornithinæ, which rarely or never visit flowers, but frequent the shady recesses of the forest, where they hunt for minute insects. They dart about among the foliage, and visit in rapid succession every leaf upon a branch, balancing themselves vertically in the air, passing their beaks closely over the under-surface of each leaf, and thus capturing, no doubt, any small insects that may lurk there. While doing this, the two long feathers of the tail have a vibrating motion, serving apparently as a rudder, to assist them in performing the delicate operation. Others search up and down stems and dead sticks in the same manner, every now and then picking off something, exactly as a bush-shrike or a tree-creeper does, with the difference that the humming-bird is constantly on the wing; while the remarkable Sickle-bill is said to probe the scale-covered stems of palms and treefurns to obtain its insect food.
It is a well-known fact that although humming-birds are casily tamed, they cannot be preserved long in
captivity, even in their own country, when fed only on syrup. Audubon states, that when thus fed they only live a month or two and die apparently starved ; while if kept in a room whose open windows are covered with a fine net, so as to allow small insects to enter, they have been kept for a whole year without any ill-effects. Another writer, Mr. Webber, captured and tamed a number of the Ruby-throat in the United States. Ile found that when fed for three weeks on syrup they drooped, but after being let free for a dily or two they would return to the open cage for more of the syrup. Some which had been thus tamed and set free, returned the following year, and at once flew straight to the remembered little cup of sweets. Mr. Gosse in Jamaica also kept some in captivity, and found the necessity of giving them insect food; and he remarks that they were very fond of a small ant that swarmed on the syrup with which they were fed. It is strange that, with all this previous experience and information, those who have attempted to bring live humming-birds to this country have fed them exclusively on syrup; and the weakness produced by this insufficient food has no doubt been the chief cause of their death on, or very soon after, arrival. A box of ants would not be difficult to bring as food for them; but even finely-chopped meat or yolk of egg would probably serve, in the absence of insects, to supply the necessary proportion of animal food.
Nests.- The nests of the humming-birds are, as might Die experted, beautiful olujects, some being no larger inside than the half of a walnut-shell. These small cup-shaped vests are often placeil in the fork of a branch, and the outside is sometimes beautifully decorated with pieces of lichen, the body of the nest being formed of cottony substances and the inside lined with the finest and most silky fibres. Others suspend their nests to creepers hanging over water, or even over the sea ; and the Pichincha humming-bird once attached its nest to a straw-rope hanging from the roof of a shed. Others again build nests of a hammock-form attached to the face of rocks by spiders' web; while the little foresthaunting species fasten their nests to the points or to the under-sides of palm-leaves or other suitable foliage. They lay only one or two white eggs.
Geographical Distribution and Variation. — Most persons know that luumming-birls are found wiony in America ; but it is not so generally known that they are almost exclusively tropical birds, and that the few species that are found in the temperate (northern and southern) parts of the continent are migrants, which retire in the winter to the warmer landls near or within the tropics. In the extreme north of America two species are regular summer visitants, one on the cast and the other on the west of the Rocky Mountains. On the east the common N. American or Ruby-throated humming-bird extends through the United States and Canada, and as far as 57° north latitude, or considerably north of Lake Winnipeg; while the milder climate of the west coast allows the Rufous Flame-bearer to extend its range to beyond Sitka to the parallel of 61°. Here they spend the whole summer, and breed, being found on the Columbia River in the latter end of April, but retire to Mexico in the winter. Supposing that those which go furthest north do not return further south than the borders of the tropics, these little birds must make a journey of full