National Geographic : 1932 Jul
SEEKING THE SMALLEST FEATHERED CREATURES Humming Birds, Peculiar to the New World, Are Found from Canada and Alaska to the Strait of Magellan. Swifts and Goatsuckers, Their Nearest Relatives BY ALEXANDER WETMORE Assistant Secretary, Smithsonian Institution AUTHOR OP "BIRD LIFE AMONG LAVA ROCK AND CORAL SAND," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE With Paintingsfrom Life by Maj, Allan Brooks THE GEOGRAPHIC presents in this number the first of a comprehensive series' of paintings descriptive of all the important families of birds of North America. The series will be the most complete illustrated presentation of American bird life yet undertaken. About 500 familiar land and sea birds will be depicted in lifelike colors by the distinguished artist-naturalist,Maj. Allan Brooks, and described in entertaining,accurate text by ornithologistsof recognized standing. The second of the series will appear in an early number of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE. -E DITOR. THE smallest birds in existence are humming birds-the Trochilidae. They are found only in the New World, where they range from the Strait of Magellan to Canada and Alaska, con stituting one of the most brilliantly colored and specialized families of birds found in this vast region. Approximately 488 species of humming birds are known, with 150 or more addi tional subspecies or geographic races, mak ing a total of more than 600 recognized kinds. The family is most abundant, as regards species, near the Equator, in the Andean region of South America. The Republic of Ecuador has 148 kinds of hummers and Colombia 105 known forms. In passing north and south from these centers of maximum abundance, species become fewer; so that in North America north of Mexico (but including Lower Cal ifornia) only 16 kinds of humming birds are found regularly, while three others may come casually within these limits. ONLY THE RUBY-THROAT RANGES EAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI In the United States humming birds are found in greatest variety in the Southwest, only one species, the ruby-throat, ranging east of the Mississippi River. The mountain meadows of our South western States in midsummer, when their rich assortments of flowers are in bloom, frequently swarm with humming birds of a number of species feeding at the blos soms and pursuing one another pugna ciously in pure exuberance of life. It is under such circumstances that these sprightly birds appear at their best, and one never tires of watching them. Humming birds are most abundant in regions where there are thickets or other woodland interspersed with meadows and openings where the birds may feed and dis port themselves in the sunshine. Some kinds are inhabitants of heavy forests,these being found mainly in tropical regions, where certain species have become adapted to life in the dense rain forests. The emerald humming bird (Riccordia swainsonii) of Haiti and the Dominican Republic lives in the densest of forest growths, where the vegetation drips con stantly with water from the daily rains, and comes only occasionally into little openings to feed at flowers. Its deep-green colora tion blends with its forest background, so that often the subdued humming of its wings, as it moves among the branches, may be heard for some time before one can distinguish the form of the bird in the som ber shadows.