Chile and Juan Fernandez
If our celebrated voyager Captain Cook added to his renown as a circumnavigator by discovering that the Rufous Flame-bearer (Selasphorus rufus) is an inhabitant of the high north-western regions of America, scarcely less interesting was the discovery made by Captain King, that the present fine species is a denizen of Terra del Fuego, the extreme southern limits of that great continent, where it was observed by him flitting about among flowering shrubs in the midst of a snow-storm.
It is impossible to conceive why so delicate a creature should voluntarily resort to situations apparently so opposite to those for which it seems fitted; and our wonder that it does so is much increased, when we find that it is capable of performing migrations over a vast extent of country, passing, as it does, the summer in Patagonia and the southern parts of Chili, and retiring northwards to the confines of Peru, when the season becomes too rigorous for it to sustain life in those regions.
Mr. Darwin has given so admirable an account of this species in his Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (where by some inadvertence the name and synonyms belonging to another species have been given to it), that it would be an act of injustice to this accomplished naturalist were I not to give the entire passage in his own words
This species is found over a space of 2500 miles on the west coast, from the hot dry country of Lima to the forests of Terra del Fuego, where it has been described by Captain King as flitting about in a snow-storm. In the wooded island of Chiloe, which has an extremely damp climate, this little bird, skipping from side to side amidst the humid foliage, and uttering its acute chirp, is perhaps more abundant than any other kind. It there very commonly frequents open marshy ground, where a kind of Bromelia grows: hovering near the edge of the thick beds, it every now and then dashes in close to the ground; but I could not see whether it ever actually alighted. At that time of the year there were very few flowers, and none whatever near the beds of Bromelia. Hence I was quite sure that they did not live on honey; and on opening the stomach and upper intestine, by the aid of a lens I could plainly distinguish, in a yellow fluid, morsels of the wings of Diptera, probably Tipulide. It is evident that these birds search for minute insects in their winter-quarters under the thick foliage. I opened the stomachs of several specimens which were shot in different parts of the continent, and in all remains of insects were numerous, forming a comminuted mass. In one killed at Valparaiso, I found portions of an ant. Amongst the Chonos Islands, at a season when there were flowers in open places, the damp recesses of the forests appeared their favourite haunt. In central Chili these birds are migratory; they make their appearance there in autumn: the first arrival which I observed was on the 14th of April (corresponding to our October), but by the 20th they were numerous. They stay throughout the winter, and begin to disappear in September: on the 12th of October, in the course of a long walk, I saw only one individual. During the period of their summer migration, nests were very common in Chiloe and the Chonos Islands, countries south of Chili. Near the south end of Chiloe, I found on the 8th of December a nest with eggs nearly hatched. It was of the ordinary form, rather more than an inch in internal diameter, and not deep, composed externally of coarse and fine moss neatly woven together, and lined with dry confervee, forming a very fine reddish fibrous mass. I feel no doubt regarding the nature of this latter substance, as the transverse septa were quite distinct; hence we may infer that this Humming-bird builds its nest entirely of cryptogamic plants. The eggs were perfectly white, elongated, or rather almost cylindrical, with rounded ends; ·357 of an inch in length, and ·352 of an inch in transverse diameter. In January, at the Chonos Islands, when there were young in the nest, a considerable number of old birds were shot; of these, however, few or scarcely any had the shining crest of the male. In the only specimen, which I carefully examined, the metallic tips of the young feathers of the crest were just beginning to protrude. Several of these males without their crest had a yellowish gorge, and I saw some with a few light brown feathers on their backs; these appearances being doubtless connected with their state of moult.
The description of this bird in Molina’s ‘History of Chili,’ where it was first named, is so very inaccurate, that, had we not other evidence upon which we can rely, that his description cannot refer to any other species, I should have hesitated about adopting his specific appellation; as, however, there can be no doubt on the subject, and the name has priority over that assigned to it by Mr. Vigors in honour of Captain King, I have, like other ornithologists, retained the name originally given.
The male has the crown of the head rich, deep, glittering, fiery orange-red; upper surface, wing-coverts and tail bronzy green; wings purplish brown; throat greyish white, with a small oval spot of brown near the tip of each feather; breast and abdomen greyish brown, glossed on the flanks and spotted on the breast with bronzy green; under tail-coverts pale bronzy green, margined with greyish white; bill black; feet brown.
The female and young males of the year are similar in colour to the male in every respect, except in being entirely destitute of the luminous crown, that part being of a dull brown.
The figures represent two males and a female, on the Lardizabala biternata, of the natural size.
Featuring all 422 illustrated species from John Gould’s A Monograph of the Trochilidæ, or Family of Humming-Birds arranged by color.