Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/301

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287
THE HUMMING-BIRDS.

the nearest approach to the nectar of flowers. While my sister ran to prepare it, I gradually opened my hand to look at my prisoner, and saw to my no little amusement as well as suspicion, that it was actually 'playing possum'—feigning to be dead, most skillfully. It lay on my open palm motionless for some minutes, during which I watched it in breathless curiosity. I saw it gradually open its bright little eyes to peep whether the way was clear, and then close them slowly as it caught my eye upon it. But when the manufactured nectar came, and a drop was touched upon the point of its bill, it came to life very suddenly, and, in a moment, was on its legs, drinking with eager gusto of the refreshing draught, from a silver teaspoon. When sated it refused to take any more, and sat perched with the coolest self-composure on my finger, and plumed itself quite as artistically as if on its favorite spray. I was enchanted with the bold, innocent confidence with which it turned up its keen black eyes to survey us, as much as to say, 'Well, good folks! who are you?' By the next day it would come from any part of either room, alight upon the side of a white China cup containing the mixture, and drink eagerly, with its long bill thrust into the very base. It would alight on my fingers, and seem to talk with us endearingly in its soft chirps." Mr. Webber afterward succeeded in taming several of the same species. He gave them their liberty occasionally, and they returned regularly. At the time for migration they left for the winter; but, the next spring, they sought their old quarters, and accepted the delicious nectar kindly provided for them, and by degrees brought their mates. "He frequently observed, while watching for their nest, that the ruby-throats, after leaving their station, shot suddenly and perpendicularly in the air until they became invisible. At last, he had the great satisfaction of seeing the female bird fall, like a fiery aërolite from the sky, upon the spot where she had built her nest." From this he inferred that, instinctively for concealment, such was their usual practice.

The ruby-throats generally prefer tubular flowers, such as those of the thorn-apple, trumpet-flower, honeysuckle, etc., though, in case of need, they appear not to reject any one that will furnish them food. But there is nothing that will attract them so effectually, under all circumstances, as a large cluster of gooseberry-bushes in full bloom. And any one having such a cluster, and a little leisure, can at the proper season have the opportunity of observing their beauty and studying their habits. And this is very desirable and satisfactory to an inquisitive mind; for words, engravings, paintings, and even cabinet specimens, fail to give a true and full impression of the vivid and changeful tints, like the flashings of the ruby, the topaz, and the emerald, that proceed from these exquisitely beautiful winged gems.