Humming Bird, the common name of a large family (trochilidae) of beautiful slender-billed birds, found in America and its adjacent islands. There are three subfamilies, grypinae or wedge-tailed humming birds, lamporninae or curved-billed humming birds, and trochilinae or straight-billed humming birds. The most brilliant species live in the tropical forests, amid the rich drapery of the orchids, whose magnificent blossoms rival the beauty of the birds themselves. As we leave the tropics their numbers decrease, and but a few species are found within the limits of the United States, some however reaching as high as lat. 57° N. In whatever latitude, their manners are the same; very quick and active, almost constantly on the wing, as they dart in the bright sun they display their brilliant colors. When hovering over a flower in which they are feeding, their wings are moved so rapidly that they become invisible, causing a humming sound, whence their common name, their bodies seeming suspended motionless in the air. They rarely alight on the ground, but perch readily on branches; bold and familiar, they frequent gardens in thickly settled localities, even entering rooms, and flitting without fear near passers by; they are very pugnacious, and will attack any intruder coming near their nests.
The nest is delicate but compact, and lined with the softest vegetable downs; it is about an inch in diameter, and the same in depth, and placed on trees, shrubs, and reeds. The eggs, one or two in number, average about one half by one third of an inch, and are generally of a white color, and hatched in 10 or 12 days. It is very difficult to keep these birds in cages; but they have been kept in rooms and conservatories for months, feeding on sugar or honey and water and the insects attracted by these, and have become so tame as to take their sweetened fluids from the end of the finger. They are incidentally honey eaters, but essentially insectivorous; their barbed and viscid tongue is admirably adapted for drawing insects from the depths of tubular flowers, over which they delight to hover. The family of trochilidae may be recognized by their diminutive size, gorgeous plumage, long, slender, and acute bill, but little cleft at the base, and peculiar tongue; the species are very numerous, probably as many as 400, some of which have a very limited range.
The bill when closed forms a tube, through which the long, divided, and thread-like tongue may be protruded into deep flowers; there are no bristly feathers around its base, as in birds which catch insects on the wing; the tongue has its cornua elongated backward, passing around the back to the top of the skull, as in woodpeckers; the wings are long and falciform, with very strong shafts, the first quill of the ten the longest; the secondaries usually six; the tail is of various forms, but always strong, and important in directing the flight; the tarsi short and weak; the toes long and slender, and capable of sustaining them in a hanging position, as is known from their being not unfrequently found hanging dead from branches in the autumn after a sudden cold change in the weather. - The subfamily gry-pinae have the bill slightly curved, and the tail long, broad, and wedge-shaped; of these the genus phaetornis (Swains.) is found in the warmer parts of South America, and is numerous in species; oreotrochilus (Gould) inhabits the mountains of the western side of South America immediately beneath the line of perpetual snow, feeding upon the small he-mipterous insects which resort to the flowers; grypus (Spix) is found in the neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. The ruff-necked humming bird (selasphorus rufus, Swains.), of the western parts of North America, is about 3 1/2 in. long, with a wedge-shaped tail; in the male the upper parts, lower tail coverts, and tail are cinnamon-colored, the latter edged or streaked with purplish brown; throat coppery red, with a ruff, and below it a white collar; in the female the back is greenish, and the metallic reflections are less brilliant.
The Anna humming bird (althis Anna, Reich.) is somewhat larger, also inhabiting California and Mexico; the tail is deeply forked; top of head, throat, and ruff metallic red, with purple reflections; rest of upper parts and band on breast green; tail purplish brown; in the female the tail is somewhat rounded, barred with black and tipped with white, and the general color above metallic green. A second species of the last two genera is described by Prof. Baird in vol. 1x. of the Pacific railroad reports. - The curved-billed humming birds, more than 100 species, are not represented in the United States, unless the mango humming bird (lampornis mango, Swains.) be admitted; this may be distinguished from the common species by the absence of metallic scale-like feathers on the throat, and by the serrations of the end of the bill; the prevailing colors are metallic green and golden above, and velvety bluish black below, with a tuft of downy white feathers under the wings. - The common species throughout the eastern states, extending to the high central plains, and south to Brazil, is the ruby-throated humming bird (trochilus colubris, Linn.). The length of this " glittering fragment of the rainbow " (as Audubon calls it) is about 3 1/4 in. with an extent of wings of 4 1/4 in.; the upper parts are uniform metallic green, with a ruby red gorget in the male, a white collar on the throat, and the deeply forked tail brownish violet; the female has not the red throat, and the tail is rounded, emarginate, and banded with black.
The corresponding species on the Pacific coast is the black-chinned T. Alexandri (Bourc. and Mulsant). The last two belong to the subfamily of trochilinae or mellisuginae, having straight bills; their genus is given by Gray as mellisuga (Briss.), of which there are more than 100 species. The largest of the humming birds belongs to this subfamily, and is the hylocharis gigas (Vieill.); it is nearly 8 in. long, brownish green above and light reddish below; the wings are longer than the deeply forked tail, and the general appearance is that of a brilliant swallow, with a long straight bill. - Those wishing to study in detail the complicated arrangement of this beautiful family are referred to the illustrated works of Lesson, Temminck, Audebert, and Vieillot, and especially to Gould's monograph on the trochilidae; also to vols. xiv. and xv. of the "Naturalists1 Library."
Kuff-necked Humming Bird (Selasphorus rufiis). 1. Male. 2. Female.
Anna Humming Bird (Althis Anna). 1. Male. 2. Female.
Mango Humming Bird (Lampornis mango). 1. Male. 2. Female.
Ruby-throated Humming Bird (Trochilus colubris).