Loddigesia mirabilis

Marvellous Humming-Bird

Chachapoyas in Peru

I scarcely know how to commence my account of a Humming-Bird which has for so many years been an object of the highest interest, not only to myself, but to every one who has paid attention to the Trochilidæ, and which I have made the type of my genus Loddigesia, a term proposed in honour of my much-valued and lamented friend the late Mr. George Loddiges.

This extraordinary and beautiful bird was killed by Mr. Andrew Mathews, a botanist, who proceeded to Peru some thirty years ago for the purpose of collecting any rare and beautiful plants he might discover, and who, alas for science! like too many others whose enthusiasm has led them to distant lands for the like purpose, met with an untimely death. Thanks to the kindness of Miss Loddiges, I have now before me the original letter from Mr. Mathews to her father respecting this bird, sent prior to the transmission of the specimens. In it are tolerably accurate coloured sketches of two Humming-Birds which he conceived to be new to science, as indeed they were at the time: one of them is the bird in question, the other is the Spathura Peruana. Although this letter principally relates to other matters, it will be as well, perhaps, to transcribe the greater portion of it.

Chachapoyas, October 11th, 1835.

Dear Sir,

Your esteemed favour of the 6th reached me yesterday, per post from Lima. Since I left Lima I have added considerably to my collections, and also in Humming-Birds—several different from the 25 species sent you—and only wait a safe opportunity to send them from this to Lima. The two birds represented in the rough sketches sent herewith appear to me to be new. As yet I have met but one of each, and I believe them to be rare in the situations in which I shot them. The country has been in such a state of revolution for some time past, that it is very difficult to send large collections from this to the coast. I have sent two boxes of Epiphytes to Mr. Maclean at Lima, and am waiting an opportunity to forward more. But very few are known. Some of them are large-flowered and beautiful. Those from the Cordillera of this province are very hardy, but generally small-flowered. I had heard of the death of poor Douglas from Mr. Maclean, and regret it extremely. Science has lost one of its ablest and most indefatigable collectors. I can assure you that many times whilst travelling in this country my life has been exposed to imminent danger in the quelrados and bad roads of the Cordillera.

I have the nests of three species of Humming-Birds of this province. It is difficult to meet with them (the boys of this country are not bird-nest hunters like those of England); it is only by chance I run against one whilst out collecting.

With respects to Mr. William Loddiges, I beg to remain,

Dear Sir,

Yours very truly,

Andrew Mathews.

To George Loddiges, Esq., Hackney, London.

No. 1 (Spathura Peruana) I shot at Moyobamba, the capital of the province of Maynas; and No. 2 (Loddigesia mirabilis) at Chacapoyas, the capital of the department of the Amazonas. The latter is situated in the Cordillera, but is of a mild and even temperature, its average 64° Fahr.

Mr. Mathews’s sketch of Loddgesia mirabilis is very similar to that of the bird in a sitting position on the lower part of my plate; but Mr. Loddiges informed me that he had fully satisfied himself that, while the bird is flying, the outer tail-feathers cross each other in the manner represented in the upper figures, which are an exact representation of the mounted specimen in the Loddigesian collection. Mr. Loddiges came to this conclusion in consequence of finding that they naturally fell into this position upon the skin being thoroughly damped for the purpose of mounting. These feathers cross each other twice, first near the base, and secondly towards the middle; consequently each spatule, as represented in the drawing, belongs to the feather of that side. How very remarkable is this arrangement, and how different from what is found to occur in any other known species!

It would be very interesting to see this bird on the wing; for I have no doubt that its greatly developed spatules serve in some way to sustain it in the air; and if so, this may account for the very diminutive size of its wings. It is just possible that, when the tail is fully spread, the spatules may be projected in front of the line of the head. Ornithologists will remember that several of the Caprimulgidæ possess enormously developed plumes—some in their wings, others in the tail. Can this, then, be a nocturnal bird—a representative of the Goatsuckers among the Humming-Birds? Such an idea has more than once recurred to me; and if so, its rarity would be readily accounted for.

Anxious to obtain examples of this singular bird for my own collection, I have repeatedly offered large sums to various persons for their procuration, but hitherto, I regret to say, without success. The specimen in the Loddigesian collection, which is beautifully mounted, and in the finest state of preservation, therefore remains unique; I need scarcely add that the female is unknown.

Crown of the head brilliant blue; neck, scapularies, back, wing- and tail-coverts golden green; on the throat a gorget of very brilliant green, tinged with blue in the centre, and bounded on each side bya narrow band of coppery red; sides of the breast and flanks dull white; the greatly prolonged shaft of the outer feather on each side and the large spatule at its tip violaceous black; centre tail-feathers shining glaucous green, passing into brown at their tips; bill and feet black.

The figures are of the natural size. The plant is the Æchmea mucroniflora.


  • Trochilus mirabilis, Bourc. in Proc. of Zool. Soc., part xv. p. 42.
  • Loddiggiornis mirabilis, Bonap. in Rev. et Mag. de Zool. 1854, p. 256.
  • Mulsantia mirabilis, Reichenb. Aufz. der Col., p. 12.
  • Orthorhynchus mirabilis, Reichenh. Troch. Enum., p. 9.
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