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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote: The Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Air Date: Week of

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Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have a brilliant iridescent red throat. (Photo: Tibor Nagy)

Birdnote’s Michael Stein explains why the Ruby-throated Hummingbird fascinated John James Audubon, and the rather sneaky way he acquired specimens to paint.




CURWOOD: John James Audubon was a master at capturing the images of exotic birds. And as Michael Stein explains in today’s Birdnote, sometimes his methods were rather sneaky.


Audubon and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird

[Sounds of Ruby-throated Hummingbird]

STEIN: Have you ever watched a hummingbird, hovering as it sips from blossoms filled with nectar?

Early explorers to the New World were fascinated with these tiny iridescent jewels. Strictly birds of the Americas, hummingbirds don’t exist in the Old World.

John James Audubon, the French naturalist who spent his adult life studying and painting the birds of North America, described them as a “glittering fragment of the rainbow.” The only hummingbird species that Audubon observed in nature was this Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a summer visitor to eastern North America.

[More Ruby-throated Hummingbird sounds]

The symbiotic relationship of hummingbirds with the flowers from which they feed—and in turn pollinate—was clearly understood by Audubon. He noted in his journal how the birds “advance on fairy wings, carefully visiting every opening flower cup.”

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Photo: Mark Moschell)

In order to study and paint these exquisite creatures, Audubon abandoned his otherwise effective method of obtaining birds — namely, shooting them — and instead poured sweetened wine into the chalices of flowers. The innocent hummingbirds drank and fell intoxicated to the ground, allowing Audubon to carefully observe their every feather.

[More Ruby-throated Hummingbird sounds]


Written by Frances Wood
Sounds of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller.
Ambient track recorded by C. Peterson
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2010-2017 Tune In to Nature.org June 2017

Audubon’s account: http://www.audubon.org/bird/BoA/F24_G1c.html


CURWOOD: For some photos, buzz on over to our website LOE.org.



The story about Audubon and on Ruby-throat the BirdNote® website


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