October 13, 2015

Hummingbirds, a cactus, and John Gould

Buffon's Plumeteer, now White-vented Plumeleteer, from John Gould's A Monograph of the Trochilidae or Humming Birds, Vol. II. "The figures are of the size of life." 

He was the son of a gardener. "Scanty education," says Wiki. John Gould was also a gardener himself (employed at Windsor in his teens), and a taxidermist, an ornithologist, an author, a publisher, an artist, and the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London:
His identification of the birds now nicknamed "Darwin's finches" played a role in the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Gould's work is referenced in Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species.
A number of birds are named for him — check out the amazing Dot-eared Coquette (Lophornis gouldii). Gould collected birds in Australia and Tasmania, but didn't see much of the west. This killed me a little: 
Throughout his professional life Gould had a strong interest in hummingbirds. He accumulated a collection of 320 species, which he exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite his interest, Gould had never seen a live hummingbird. In May 1857 he travelled to the United States with his second son, Charles. He arrived in New York too early in the season to see hummingbirds in that city, but on 21 May 1857, in Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia, he finally saw his first live one, a ruby-throated hummingbird. He then continued to Washington D.C. where he saw large numbers in the gardens of the Capitol. Gould attempted to return to England with live specimens, but, as he was not aware of the conditions necessary to keep them, they only lived for two months at most.[Quotes from Wiki.]
Poor creatures.

Gould never traveled to South America, so I imagine the plants in his illustrations were drawn from botanical collections. I wonder why he chose that cactus. (Echinopsis?) This species of plumeleteer is a forest bird, I think, though the print above looks like savanna or desert (one reason I bought a copy of it ages ago, at the Huntington). Unimaginable challenges for naturalists back in the day, and now anyone with a bit of tech can find information on DNA sequencing and dozens of photos and videos of the birds in habitat. We're lucky, and luckier still if we can see hummingbirds any time we look out the window.

White-vented Plumeleteer (Chalybura buffonii)
White-vented Plumeleteer (Chalybura buffonii) photographed by Ron Knight in Colombia.

Heliodoxa aurescens
Gould's Jewelfront (Heliodoxa aurescens) photographed by Joao Quental in Perú.

Gould's Inca humming bird, Machu Picchu, Peru
Gould's Inca (Coeligena inca) photographed by Phillip Edwards in
 Machu Picchu, Perú.

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