Ridgway on the Humming-birds

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MR. ROBERT RIDGWAY, curator of the bird department of the U. S. National Museum, has just published (in separate form), in the report of that institution for 1890, his monograph of the Trochili. Coming from such an authority and essaying to deal with such an interesting group, this work will undoubtedly command the attention of ornithologists, and be studied with the care it no doubt merits. It makes its appearance in octavo form, of some 130 pages, being illustrated by 46 full-page plates, and has besides a number of cuts in the text. The plates give us many species of humming-birds and their nests; they being all of the “electro-process” variety, and chiefly copied from Gould's princely work upon the Trochili. As is usually the case, most of the figures given have suffered by the method of reproduction employed, and not being coloured, they offer us, at the best, with but a poor idea of the “living gems” they are supposed to portray. With more or less thoroughness Mr. Ridgway has touched upon the early history and the literature of his subject; upon the geographical distribution of the various species; upon their number, which he makes out to be about 500; upon their natural history in general (treated in various brief sections); and there are descriptions of their external characters and a short note upon a few of their internal ones. It is with the statements made in the latter that I chiefly propose to deal in the present connection, and, aware as I am of our author's knowledge of the literature of what we may call the natural history and classification of the humming-birds, as contra-distinguished from their morphology and affinities, I must confess my surprise at his ignorance of the latter part of his subject. Mr. Ridgway remarks (p. 290) that “the humming-birds possess nothing absolutely peculiar, although certain features, shared by other groups of birds, notably the swifts (Micropodidœ"), are developed to an extreme degree; as, for example, the very high keel to the sternum and consequent excessive development of the pectoral muscles, the short armwing (humerus) and extremely long handwing (manus), and minute feet with relatively large, strongly curved, and sharp claws. The humming birds and swifts further agree in numerous anatomical characters, and there can be no doubt that they are more closely related to each other than are either to any other group of birds. In fact, except in the shape of the bill and structure of the bones of the face, the humming-birds and swifts present no definite differences of osteological structure.” As the present writer has probably published double the number of accurate figures illustrating the entire anatomy of a great many species of humming-birds as compared with any ether worker; and, further, has published correct accounts of the same to the extent exceeding that of any three living avian-morphologists, and those figures and descriptions having been very extensively accepted as correct, perhaps our author will consider me competent to criticize the statement which I have just quoted from his work. Notwithstanding the extensive and painstaking labour I have given to such matters, I reckon it but as little when compared with the opinions given us by Huxley and Kitchen Parker in the same premises.

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SHUFELDT, R. Ridgway on the Humming-birds. Nature 46, 465 (1892) doi:10.1038/046465b0

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