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Art. IV. Facts on Humming-Birds, their Food, the Manner in
which they take it, and on their Habits; with Directions for preserving the Eggs of Humming-Birds, and the Forms of the Bodies of Spiders, and Pupa and Larve of Insects. By the late Rev. LANSDOWN Guilding, B.A. F.L.S. &c.
[In the collection of notes by Mr. Guilding, which we have spoken of in p. 558., there are the following, in relation to Professor Rennie's remarks on the “ Food of the Hummingbird,” published in I. 371.]
By far the greater portion of the food of the Trochilidæ consists of honey. I have often shot humming-birds, through whose beaks, when not wounded in the throat, I have sucked a teaspoonful of the purest nectar. When the fluid is hard to reach, as in the flowers of the Hibiscus Rosa sinensis, I have known the calyx pushed aside or perforated; or the tongue passed along the calyx through the petals, when the corolla is large and deep, or closed up by the internal organs. They do sometimes, indeed, feed on soft insects; but it must be a food rarely sought for. In twelve years, I have only seen a single instance of a Tróchilus poised in the centre of a dancing swarm of gnats; which, for a considerable time, it continued to peck at and devour, though my garden had the blossoms in perfection about which it is commonly found.
Mr. Rennie asserts that birds have little power of suction, in consequence of the rigidity of the tongue: he will be surprised to find how differently constructed is that of the humming-bird. I am preparing a drawing to represent the details of this organ (so beautiful, complex, and perfect in this family); which I must send to the Linnean Society, as it cannot be well represented by a wood-engraving.
The tongue is long, sublinear, and capable of considerable protrusion. Its principal free portion consists of two diaphanous united tubes (fistulæ vel tubi nectariferi [Mr. Guilding has added, in a footnote: like the tubes in the antlia of lepidopterous insects]), pouring the nectar, by suction and capillary attraction, through a common aperture (foramen nectariferum), into the oesophagus. At the apex, the tubes terminate in two distinct, Aattened, acuminate, elastic processes, cut into liplets (labrella), by which the nectar is wiped up from the vegetable organs which contain it.
It may not be improper to add here a few observations which occur to me when writing of these splendid ornaments of the tropical landscape. · The spider sometimes proves an enemy to the humming
bird. I have seen the small Tróchilus cristātus caught, and nearly perishing, in the nets of a spider (which I purpose to describe, from its pretty coat of burnished silver, and the singularity of its characters). This bird, though remarkable for strength of wing, was unable to extricate itself: indeed, the yellow threads of this spider, pressing across the face, or touched by the finger, afford a resistance which would hardly be credited by those who have only noticed [the nets of] the smaller species of Europe. [The net of the European Epeira diadèma has the spiral lines of it studded with globules of gum : see V. 691, 692. This gum contributes very much to the detention of objects which have come in contact with the net: the nets of some tropical species may be similarly gummed.] Small birds are sometimes, also, held in captivity, as well as hosts of insects, by the seeds of various plants furnished with pedunculated glutiniferous glands; or those singular microscopic multiform prickles and hooks by which nature has intended they shall adhere to passing animals, and be thus scattered over the earth. It has not been noticed how these humming-birds connect their nests. These ingenious mechanics would find it impossible to construct their egg-shell nidus, as other birds do, from grasses and sticks, on account of its minuteness; but in stolen cobwebs an admirable substitute is found. The interior is softened with the silken pappus [down] of the Asclepias curassávica, and the exterior defended by a coating of moss and lichens: the whole being bound together by the webs of spiders. In my stable, I often see the bird poised in the air, and collecting these necessary materials. Tróchilus cristatus sometimes deviates from its usual habits. In general it is remarkably wild, and soon disturbed; when it darts away through the air with the velocity of an arrow. I once, however, saw a pair of this species almost domesticated, in the house of a gentleman, whose kindness and humanity had brought round him many a lizard and winged pet. They built for many years on the chain of the lamp suspended over the dinner-table; and here they educated several broods, in a room occupied hourly by the family. I have been seated with a large party at the table, when the parent bird has entered; and, passing along the faces of the visiters, displaying his gorgeous crest, has ascended to the young without alarm or molestation. Mr. Rennie's supposition [I. 372.], that all nectariphagous birds will be found, on proper scrutiny, to feed on insects exclusively, is equally void of foundation. The tongue of the
Nectaríneæ, though much more simple, is well adapted, from its expanded, ciliate, or spinose tip, for taking up the nectareous juices, which are yielded by plants much more profusely than Mr. Rennie supposes (I. 371.].
[St. Vincent, May 1. 1830.].
[Mr. Sells has related, in V. 473, 474., two instances of humming-birds nidificating in domestic situations. He has also presented, in p. 474., facts, and argument from them, in proof that the humming-birds feed on the nectar of flowers. Mr. Waterton has remarked, in his Wanderings in South America (see an extract from them in our V. 475, 476.), that " it seems to be an erroneous opinion that the hummingbird feeds entirely on honey-dew," that is, the nectar of flowers; and that, "on opening the stomach of the hummingbird, dead insects are almost always found there." Mr. Waterton, besides using, in these remarks, the words "entirely” and “ almost,” has also this observation, quoted in our V. 475.: -“See it (the humming-bird] darting through the air almost as quick as thought! Now it is within a yard of your face : in an instant, gone ! Now it flutters from flower to flower, to sip the silver dew,” &c. From these expressions, we may learn that, while Mr. Waterton has taught that the humming-birds feed on insects, he has not denied that they also partake of the nectareous juices of Aowers.
Wilson, also, according to Professor Rennie, in our I. 371., “ found, upon repeated dissection, that the Tróchilus cólubris had a quantity of insects in its stomach, either whole or in fragments.
Our correspondent 0. has communicated, in VII. 510., some facts on the habits of the Trochilus cólubris, as observed by him in Lower Canada. We believe, with him, “that very little honey is secreted in flowers while the sun is shining hot upon them; ” but the absence of the humming-bird during the middle of the day, which he has attributed to this cause, is ascribed to another by Mr. Waterton : see in V. 476.
Other information on humming-birds will be found in V. 676., VII. 71. 90. For notices of Sir William Jardine's Natural History of Humming-Birds, in two volumes, with coloured figures of many of the species, see VI. 259., VII. 90.
Humming-Birds perforate Flowers to obtain the Nectar they include, when this is not otherwise accessible. See in p. 569.
Insects perforate Flowers to obtain the Nectar they include, when this is not otherwise accessible. See in IV. 93. 479.; V. 74. 86. 753.; VI. 469.; and The Entomological Magazine, ii. 328. The perforator in this last case was “ the great humble
bee (Bombus terrestris),” “the nectaries of the common columbine” were the subject of its perforations, and the mode in which it perforated them, this :-“ The bee settles on the outside of the flower looking upwards, then bites a small hole in the nectary with its mandibles, and instantly thrusts its proboscis into the aperture.” The observer of this fact has added :-“ On examining a number of flowers, not less than 250, I found that at least two thirds of them were thus perforated."]
[PRESERVING the Eggs of Humming-Birds and those of other Birds.]— The eggs even of the smallest humming-birds cannot be long kept in hot countries. They retain for some time in our cabinets their natural colour, but afterwards become discoloured, and burst: they should all be emptied, and injected with plaster of Paris, or chalk made into a paste. Small perforated brass or silver points of this shape should be always at hand. [The drawings represent two miniature funnels; one about an inch long, with the upper or receiving part cylindrical, but the greater portion of its length composed of the conducting part, which is gracefully tapered to a fine point; the other funnel is shorter, less slenderly tapered, and its point not so fine: each is represented as banded with a ring in relief round the centre of the cylindrical portion of its length, as if to render holding by the finger and thumb more ready.) A small aperture is to be made at each end of the egg, rather laterally, and, one of the tubes being fixed on a goose quill, the contents are to be expelled by blowing. A common pewter syringe is then to be filled with the paste, and, the tube being pressed on its point, the egg is filled in a moment. Any ingenious silversmith could make them neatly: the only ditficulty is in filing away the metal carefully from the point. They are very useful at all times; in
The Injection of Pupa and Larve, the Bodies of Spiders, and other fleshy and perishable objects. [Mr. Guilding has, in another note relative to the query on preserving spiders, in II. 291., pursued this subject.]
Spiders, I find, are easily preserved by means of the perforated pointed tubes I have above alluded to. Sand, or any heavy substance, should be avoided in distending them. Process :-Puncture the abdomen rather laterally beneath ; gently press out the contents on a rag, and with the forceps remove the remaining viscera : place the pin in the thorax on the right side ; take the tube on a quill, and distend the abdominal skin with air: fill the syringe, with its tube, with any size-preparation (see Pole's Anatomical Instructor) used
for fine injections, or with thick flour-paste, or even (paste of] pounded chalk, and inject gently till every part is plump and well extended. Let the specimen hang up to dry for a few hours till the injection is firm; then clean the aperture with a penknife, and extend the legs as you would those of insects. I have minute spiders as well as the giant Arànea aviculària L. [Mygale aviculària W.]; dull-coloured kinds, as well as those clad in robes of gold and silver (see in p. 570.), so well preserved, that they could not be told from living specimens; and all is done in less time than is taken to describe the process. In my case of preserving instruments, I have coloured powders to tinge the injections: but they are seldom used. A small portion of corrosive sublimate or arsenic mixed with it would expel mites, but this would not be necessary in well-kept camphorated cabinets.
St. Vincent, May 1. 1830.
[On preserving the Shells of Eggs for Cabinets, see, besides the advice above by Mr. Guilding, that of Mr. Waterton in V. 515.: see, also, in IV. 145., An Observer of Nature's figure and description of an instrument (similar in principle to that of Mr. Guilding) which he had had made for withdrawing from egg-shells their contents : see in VI. 171., Mr. Murray's suggestion of the employment of the air-pump for this purpose :
: see in I. 492. On the Preservation of the Colours of the Fleshy Bodies of certain Insects, see Mr. Waterton in VI. 90. servation of dead insects generally, see V. 495. 683. 746.; VI. 90, 91. 554, 555.]
On the pre
ART. V. The Accumulation of all possible Information respecting
the Habits of the Rock Birds of Britain, by the cooperative Agency of Naturalists residing near Headlands on the Coasts, suggested. By J. D. Salmon, Esq.
In the notices with which naturalists have favoured us of the arrival in, and departure from, Britain of the birds of passage, they have confined themselves, for the most part, to the species which visit, for the purpose of incubation, during summer, the interior of the country; while scarcely any information has been published on the migratory movements of the equally numerous species of rock birds; although some of these, like a greater part of the others, leave, on the approach of autumn, their place of nidification, to migrate to other countries, from north to south, or vice versa.
I wish to draw the attention of those who reside nearest