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united. The extremities of the tubes are, however, flat and fibrous. This tubular and retractile tongue enables the bird to suck up honey from the nectaries of flowers, and also to capture small insects; but whether the latter pass down the tubes, or are entangled in the fibrous tips and thus draw back into the gullet, is not known. The only other birds with a similar tubular tongue are the sunbirds of the East, which however, as we shall presently explain, have no affinity whatever with the hummingbirds.
Colours and Ornaments. The colours of these small birds are exceedingly varied and exquisitely beautiful. The basis of the colouring may be said to be green, as in parrots; but whereas in the latter it is a silky green, in humming-birds it is always metallic. The majority of the species have some green about them, especially on the back; but in a considerable number rich blues, purples, and various shades of red are the prevailing tints. The greater part of the plumage has more or less of a metallic gloss, but there is almost always some part which has an intense lustre, as if actually formed of scales of burnished metal. A gorget, covering the greater part of the neck and breast, most commonly displays this vivid colour ; but it also frequently occurs on the head, on the back, on the tail-coverts above or below, on the upper surface of the tail, on the shoulders or even the quills. The hue of every precious stone and the lustre of every metal is here represented ; and such terms as topaz, amethyst, beryl, emerald, garnet, ruby, sapphire ; golden, golden-green, coppery, fiery, glowing, iridescent, refulgent, celestial, glittering, shining, are constantly used to name or describe the different species.
No less remarkable than the colours are the varied developments of plumage with which these birds are adorned. The head is often crested in a variety of ways; either a simple flat crest, or with radiating feathers, or diverging into two horns, or spreading laterally like wings, or erect and bushy, or recurved and pointed like that of a plover. The throat and breast are usually adorned with broad scale-like feathers, or these diverge into a tippet, or send out pointed collars, or elegant frills of long and narrow plumes tipped with metallic spots of various colours. But the tail is even a more varied and beautiful ornament, either short and rounded, but pure white or some other strongly contrasted tint; or with short pointed feathers forming a star; or with the three outer feathers on each side long and tapering to a point; or larger, and either square, or round, or deeply forked, or acutely pointed ; or with the two middle feathers excessively long and narrow; or with the tail very long and deeply forked, with broad and richly-coloured feathers; or with the two outer feathers wire-like and having broad spoon-shaped tips. All these ornaments, whether of the head, neck, breast or tail, are invariably coloured in some effective or brilliant manner, and often contrast strikingly with the rest of the plumage. Again, these colours often vary in tint according to the direction in which they are seen. In some species they must be looked at from above, in others from below; in some from the front, in others from behind, in order to catch the full glow of the metallic lustre ; hence, when the birds are seen in their native haunts, the colours come and go and change with their motions, so as to produce a startling and beautiful effect.
The bill differs greatly in length and shape, being either straight or gently curved, in some species bent like a sickle, in others turned up like the bill of the avoset. It is usually long and slender, but in one group is so enormously developed that it is nearly the same length as the rest of the bird. The legs, usually little seen, are in some groups adorned with globular tufts of white, brown, or black down, a peculiarity possessed by no other birds. The reader will now be in a position to understand how the four hundred species of hummingbirds may be easily distinguished, by the varied combinations of the characters here briefly enumerated, together with many others of less importance. One group of birds will have a short round tail, with crest and long neck-frill ; another group a deeply-forked broad tail, combined with glowing crown and gorget; one is both bearded and crested; others have a luminous back and pendent neck-plumes; and in each of these groups the species will vary in combinations of colour, in size, and in the proportions of the ornamental plumes, so as to produce an unmistakable distinctness ; while, without any new developments of form or structure, there is room for the discovery of hundreds more of distinct kinds of humming-birds.
Descriptive Names.—The name we usually give to the birds of this family is derived from the sound of their rapidly-moving wings, a sound which is produced by the largest as well as by the smallest member of the group. The Creoles of Guiana similarly call them Bourdons or hummers. The French term, Oiseau-mouche, refers to their small size ; while Colibri is a native name which has come down from the Carib inhabitants of the West
Indies. The Spaniards and Portuguese call them by more poetical names, such as Flower-peckers, Flowerkissers, Myrtle-suckers--while the Mexican and Peruvian names show a still higher appreciation of their beauties, their meaning being rays of the sun, tresses of the daystar, and other such appellations. Even our modern naturalists, while studying the structure and noting the peculiarities of these living gems, have been so struck by their inimitable beauties that they have endeavoured to invent appropriate English names for the more beautiful and remarkable genera. Hence we find in common use such terms as Sun-gems, Sun-stars, Hill-stars, Wood-stars, Sun-angels, Star-throats, Comets, Coquettes, Flamebearers, Sylphs, and Fairies ; together with many others derived from the character of the tail or the crests.
The Motions and Habits of IIumming-birds.—Let us now consider briefly, the peculiarities of flight, themotions, the food, the nests, and general habits of the hummingbirds, quoting the descriptions of those modern naturalists who have personally observed them. Their appearance, remarks Professor Alfred Newton, is entirely unlike that of
any other bird :-"One is admiring some brilliant and beautiful flower, when between the blossom and one's eye suddenly appears a small dark object, suspended as it were between four short black threads meeting each other in a cross. For an instant it shows in front of the flower; again another instant, and emitting a momentary flash of emerald and sapphire light, it is vanishing, lessening in the distance, as it shoots away, to a speck that the eye cannot take note of.” Audubon observes that the Ruby Humming-birds pass through the air in long undulations, but the smallness of their size precludes
the possibility of following them with the eye further than fifty or sixty yards, without great difficulty. A person standing in a garden by the side of a common althæa in bloom, will hear the humming of their wings and see the little birds themselves within a few feet of him one moment, while the next they will be out of sight and hearing. Mr. Gould, who visited North America in order to see living humming-birds while preparing his great work on the family, remarks, that the action of the wings reminded him of a piece of machinery acted upon by a powerful spring. When poised before a flower, the motion is so rapid that a hazy semicircle of indistinctness on each side of the bird is all that is perceptible. Although many short intermissions of rest are taken, the bird may be said to live in the air-an element in which it performs every kind of evolution with the utmost ease, frequently rising perpendicularly, flying backward, pirouetting or dancing off, as it were, from place to place, or from one part of a tree to another, sometimes descending, at others ascending. It often mounts up above the towering trees, and then shoots off like a little meteor at a right angle. At other times it gently buzzes away among the little flowers near the ground; at one moment it is poised over diminutive weed, at the next it is seen at a distance of forty yards, whither it has vanished with the quickness of thought.
The Rufous Flame-bearer, an exquisite species found on the west coast of North America, is thus described by Mr. Nuttall :-"When engaged in collecting its accustomed sweets, in all the energy of life, it seemed like a breathing gem, a magic carbuncle of flaming fire,