National Geographic : 1914 May
RUBY-THROAT (Archilochus colubris). Length, about 34 inches. Needs no description as it is the only hummer living in the eastern states. Range: Breeds from southeastern Saskatchewan and central Quebec south to Gulf Coast, west to North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and central Texas; winters from middle Florida and Louisiana through southern Mexico and Central America to Panama. Of the five hundred or more species of this strictly American family, the eastern United States is favored by the presence of only one, the ruby-throat, nor is this species as common as might be desired. Compared to the abundance of its kind in the far west it is rare indeed. As if afraid of being too prodigal of her gifts, Nature has denied the humming bird song, and the harsh squeaks of these tiny sprites are far better adapted to making war than love. Truth is, the hummer has a sharp temper and not only engages in warfare with its own kind but attacks any bird, however large, that ventures to dispute its territorial rights. These are not small, for in its own estimation it is literally "Lord of all it surveys." The male is an inconstant swain and no sooner is the nest made-and in the making he takes no part-and the eggs laid than he departs, leaving the joys and cares of housekeeping to his erstwhile mate. While the nectar of flowers is eaten in large quantities, a creature so vivacious as the hummer could hardly sustain life on diet so thin, and the bird adds to its bill of fare a liberal supply of minute insects and spiders of various sorts. WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostemus vociferus). Length, about 10 inches. Not to be confused with the nighthawk, which flies by day and has white wing bars, while the whip-poor-will is crepuscular and nocturnal. Range: Breeds from the Atlantic to the plains, and from Manitoba and the eastern Canadian Prov inces south to northern parts of Louisiana, Mis sissippi and Georgia; winters from South Carolina and the Gulf States to Central America. This bird of the night, whose day begins with the going down of the sun when the nighthawk's ends, is common hr throughout the east in open woodlands, on the edges of which it likes to hunt. It dozes away the hours of daylight squatting on the ground among the leaves where its marvelous protective coloration affords it safety. No sooner have the shadows lengthened, however, than it becomes active and its characteristic note resounds through the forest glades. So plaintive is its cry and so mysterious its comings and goings, that in the minds of many its notes are associated with misfortune, as a death in the house near which it persistently calls. Its two eggs are laid among the leaves, needing no other protection than the cover of the mother's body. The whip-poor-will may be accounted one of our most efficient insect destroyers, as its immensely capacious mouth beset with bristles, a regular insect trap, would suggest. Among its prey it includes May beetles and moths. These two form the principal articles of food and as they are parents respectively of the white grub worm and an innumerable host of caterpillars their destruction is of marked benefit to agriculture. RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus). Length, from 34 to 34 inches. The reddish brown body color, red and green gorget, and the notch in tail feathers serve to distinguish this species from our other hummers. Range: Breeds from the Alaskan coast, east central British Columbia, and southern Alberta south to the mountains of central California, and southern Idaho. One can but wonder at the hardihood of this little wanderer from the tropics in including in its summer itinerary a journey to distant Alaska. It reaches a latitude of 61°, much farther north than any other' of its kind. In favored glades of the forests in the Rocky Mountains and'the Sierras during the migra tion this and other species of hummers are to be seen literally by hundreds. The rufous hummer has temper and courage to match its fiery hues, and spends no small part of its time doing battle with its fellows. The contestants after several fierce rounds fly away not only fit but eager for another fray on the first occasion. In addition to the nectar of flowers, its standard fare, this hummer includes in its diet "honey dew," the sugary secretion of plant lice which is deposited on vegetation. Like all other hummers it eats large numbers of minute insects which it finds inside the flowers. It is inter esting to note that hummingbirds discover the flowers they frequent by sight alone and any bit of bright color in the distance is sure to attract their notice, as a bright red handkerchief on a bush or about the neck. More than once I have observed them poising within a few inches of my head evi dently endeavoring to ascertain the nature of the red handkerchief I wore. ROAD RUNNER (Geococcyx californianus). Length, 20 to 24 inches, mostly tail. Quite unlike any other North American bird in form and color. Range: From the upper Sacramento Valley south through California and the peninsula and from Colorado, Kansas, middle and western Texas, Arizona and New Mexico southward; resident. The name "road runner" when applied to a cuckoo may seem an anomaly to those who know only our eastern cuckoos, but in truth the road runner is anomalous in many ways. It is distinguished by curiously marked plumage, the possession of a long bill and a disproportionally long tail. As a result of its strange appearance, an ad stranger antics, the road runner is made the hero of many a fable. Among other wonders it is claimed that it can out run the swiftest horse and kill the biggest rattle snake. It is said to accomplish the latter feat by surrounding the reptile while asleep with a rampart of cactus spines on which the enraged reptile accom modatingly impales itself. The truth is that when in a hurry this ground cuckoo can run with great speed, though as yet no official record of its best time has been made. Its food consists of a great variety of harmful insects, among which the snout beetles or weevils are con spicuous. It devours also mice, horned lizards, centipedes, land shells and small snakes; probably a young rattlesnake would fare no better than any other small snake. Its notes are difficult to inter pret with words, but are not likely to be forgotten when once heard, and they are frequently uttered in the early morning from the topmost bough of a mesquite or other tree.