National Geographic : 1960 Nov
Shrewish Ruby-throat Sometimes Pours Her Fury on the Male (opposite) Where females predominate in number, they attack males that are trying to feed. Only hummingbird of the eastern United States, Archilochus colubris winters in Central America. The male sports a ruby gorget, but his mate bests him in size. To fuel its 500-mile flight over the Gulf of Mexico, the bird adds fat up to half its weight. mile, or an hour, anywhere along the way. What is a hummingbird? When first I became interested, I put the question to my ornithological friends, hoping that the answer would pave the way to greater knowledge and understanding. Here-in part-is what they supplied, as embodied in Prof. Charles Sibley's highly reputable compilation: Suborder Trochili-Hummingbirds Schizognathous anisodactyle Apodiformes with 8 pairs of ribs; bill long and slender, gape not deeply cleft; tibial bridge absent; nostrils lat eral, broadly operculate; tongue extensile . . syrinx with 2 pairs of special intrinsic muscles; no Sterno-tracheal muscles ... no gall bladder; no adult down ... no claw on manus. And so on. Even though "gape not deeply cleft" has a fine Shakespearean swing, I must say that the definition leaves the lay student 660 little the wiser. I had to search elsewhere. Without their working clothes, ornitholo gists become much more lyrical. To Audubon, the hummingbird was a "glittering fragment of the rainbow . . . [a] lovely little creature mov ing on humming winglets through the air, suspended as if by magic in it, flitting from one flower to another, with motions as grace ful as they are light and airy, pursuing its course ... and yielding new delights wherever it is seen." Hummingbirds, Mr. Greenewalt's brilliant book on the Trochilidae to be published this month by Double day and Company, appears under the auspices and copyright of the American Museum of Natural His tory. Simultaneous NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC publica tion of this article and photographs from the book's extraordinary portfolio of high-speed color portraits has been made possible by the gracious permission and cooperation of the author and Dr. James Oliver, Director of the Museum.