The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 676/Field Notes on Some West Indian Birds

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Field Notes on Some West Indian Birds (1897)
by Percy Rendall

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 1, issues 676 (October, 1897), p. 444–448

4065543Field Notes on Some West Indian Birds1897Percy Rendall


By Percy Rendall, M.D., F.Z.S.

The Indian name for Trinidad is "Iëre," of which the translation is "The Land of the Humming Bird"; and amongst the birds I collected the Trochilidæ were one of the chief features. Special interest attached to these collections, since little accurate knowledge was available, owing to the fact that the skins exported had been procured in consequence of the hateful demands created by French plumassiers, &c. Though labelled indiscriminately "Trinidad," many of them had been collected on the mainland of Venezuela. Wise legislation in the West Indies has placed some check upon the slaughter of the Hummers, though it has not been entirely stamped out.

There is an old collection of birds in the Victoria Institute which comprises 356 separate species, made by the late Dr. Leotaud, and it includes fourteen different kinds of Humming Birds. The following birds I obtained:—

Lampornis violicauda, Bodd. "The Mango-hummer."—As with most other members of this family at the time of year I collected, the chief resort of this species was the "bois immortel" tree, which was then in flower. Two varieties of this tree have been imported, and it is extensively used as "shade" for young cocoa and nutmeg plantations. Though the flowers are different in shade and size, they are apparently both very melliferous, being equally patronized by these birds. There is a popular belief, as ill-grounded as most others, that Humming-birds never perch; this seems almost superfluous to contradict, but let me say that it is their constant practice (though they feed on the wing only, and may visit several trees for that purpose) to resort to a favourite perching-twig to rest in the intervals.

Chrysolampis mosquitus, Linn. "Ruby Topaz."—The commonest species in both Trinidad and Tobago; the specimens I collected cleared up a doubtful point bearing on the plumage of the adult female (see 'Ibis,' July, 1897, p. 431). I found its nest in February, 1897, and watched it rear its two young in safety.

Chlorestes cærulea, Vieill. "Small Emerald."—Under this heading I will describe a ruse I used for attracting small birds, as I believe the necessitated victim belonged to this species. By imitating the high-pitched whistling call of the Pearl Spotted Owlet, I attracted a fine assortment of all the small birds within hearing, who promptly held an indignation meeting. As this procedure generally brought the Owlet as well, it produced the the most amusing scenes. Two of these small spitfires repeatedly hurled themselves, like flashes of light, at the intruder, who seemed only half-awake, whilst the other small birds shrieked in unison. Presently, however, it chanced that Mr. Blinks turned his head just in time to see the winged bullet approaching; up went a feathered leg, a claw closed like a rat-trap, his mouth opened, and there was one gulp, and, quicker than one can write, this little Hummer's career was ended.

Chlorostilbon carribæus, Lawr.—This species was far from common, and I only took it in one locality, i.e. Caparo, in Trinidad.

Phæthornis guyi, Lesson.—It was in the depths of the high woods near Moruga, in the Savana Grande district of Trinidad, that I secured this bird, and the discovery was due to its curious harsh notes, which could scarcely be dignified by the term song; these are uttered whilst the birds rest on bushes only a few feet above the ground, and the position assumed is so erect that the beak is in a straight line with the tail-feathers, which point directly downwards.

Phæthornis longuemareus, Lesson.—This species was taken in the high woods, in a very shady spot close to a clump of Borassus Palms. Its shrill, weak, grating song was uttered whilst it was on the wing, and was sustained for some minutes. It was so small that it might easily have been mistaken for a large bumblebee in motion.

Lophornis ornatus, Bodd. "Whiskerandos."—The only two I shot were obtained at Tacarigua, in Trinidad, and I never saw them elsewhere.

Florisuga mellivora, Linn. "The Jacobin."—This lovely bird I never met with in Trinidad, but whilst I was staying with my kind friends Capt. M. Short and Mr. Trochilus Tucker in Tobago, I found it to be fairly common on the windward side of the island. It will not be out of place to mention that the last-named gentleman's father collected Humming-birds for the late Mr. Gould nearly thirty years ago, and, visiting him one morning by appointment in London, mentioned that he had received news by cable of the birth of another son. "Call him Trochilus," said Gould; and it was so arranged when Mr. Tucker returned to Iëre! The young birds have a barred throat and dirty white breast, as immature plumage.

Glaucis hirsuta, Gm. "Rachette."—This bird was very partial to the flowers of the balisiers which abound on the banks of streams and damp shady places. I took it both at Claxton's Bay in Trinidad and Tobago.

Agyrtria niveipectus, Cab. and Heine. "Gorge blanc."—Found both in the Caparo Valley and Savana Grande districts of Trinidad, but I did not observe it in Tobago.

Amazilia tobaci, Gm.—It was not until I visited Tobago that I secured skins of this bird; the first one I shot was on my way to Robinson Crusoe's cave. Though I visited this historic cave in a vain attempt to secure the Fish-eating Bat, Noctilio leporinus, Linn., it was a sad awakening to view the reality, after the boyish remembrances I retained of Defoe's charming romance. In a few years there will no cave at all, and now the action of the waves—for it is on the windward side of the island—has reduced it to a mere cupboard of stalactitic limestone, in which you cannot stand upright, and the roof is so cracked that it looked as if the report of a gun might bring the whole thing down about one's ears.

Campylopterus ensipennis, Sw.—In size this was the largest of all my West Indian Hummers. I saw it nowhere, save on the Richmond Estate in Tobago, and then always on the wing.

Bellona ornata, Gould.—Though the male of this bird was very common in St. Vincent, I still had the greatest difficulty in obtaining a female, and when I did I also obtained the nest and eggs of the bird. The nest was built in the mouth of a small cave high up in the Wallilabo Valley, where I stayed with my hospitable friends, the MacDonalds, for the purpose of collecting.

Eulampis holosericeus, Linn.—I found this bird hard to obtain, and during a fortnight's collecting only took two specimens.

Eulampis jugularis, Linn.—Very partial to the flowers of the "bois immortel" trees, which have been introduced into St. Vincent for shade purposes.

The four following birds, or, as they are locally called, Honey-suckers, may almost be termed the first cousins to the Trochilidæ:

Cœreba cærulea, Linn.—In the Savana Grande district of Trinidad only.

Cœreba cyanea, Linn.—Very common in Tobago at the flowers of the "bois immortel."

Chlorophanes spiza, Linn.—From Trinidad; collected in Savana Grande, at Moruga.

Certhiola atrata, Linn.—This bird, which is peculiar to St. Vincent, was observed in extraordinary abundance at "immortel" flowers, a dozen on one tree being no rare occurrence.

Aramides cajanea, P.L. Müll.—This waterfowl fell a victim to one of the traps I had set for Water Rats, Nectomys palmipes, baited with Indian corn.

Momotus swainsoni, Scl.—Shot in the high woods near Moruga, Trinidad.

Icterus xanthornus, Gm. "Corn Bird."—I shot one of these in Trinidad, but found it nesting in Tobago, where a colony had their pendulous nests in a large cotton tree.

Trogon meridionalis, Sw.—I obtained a pair of these birds in the Savana Grande district.

Rhamphastos vitellinus, Licht.—I secured one out of a flock, which fluttered down to the ground calling loudly for help, bringing up its companions, whose yells and screams reminded me of the parrot-house at the Zoo.

Nyctibius jamaicensis, Gm. "Poor me One" Bird.—The cry of this large Nightjar used to be attributed to a Sloth which is found in Trinidad (Cholœpus didactylus). It is a long-drawn chromatic whistle, with clear intervals between each note. This bird is far from common.

Pipra auricapilla, Briss. "Louis d'or."—This beautiful little bird was only met with on one occasion near Moruga, Trinidad.

Tanagra sclateri, Berlep.—Mention of this species must not be omitted, as it generally formed one of the crowd which frequented the flowers of the "immortel." It was specially abundant in Tobago.

Mimus gilvus, Vieill. "St. Vincent Nightingale."— The local name of this bird expresses the common opinion of its vocal powers; occasionally I heard it sing really well, but on the whole I think it is a lazy songster.

Ortalis ruficauda, Jard. "The Cockrico."— This bird I only met in Tobago; it is much sought after for the table, and is fast retiring before "civilization." Its flesh is somewhat similar to a Pheasant. I found it very wary, and its note is fairly described by its local name, many times repeated, which is to be heard at a great distance.

Momotus swainsoni, Scl. "King of the Woods."—Only procured in Tobago.

Turdus gymnophthalmus, Cab.—Plentiful in both Trinidad and Tobago, but more wild in the latter island, where it is shot for the table.

Galbula ruficauda, Cuv. "The Jacomar."—This lovely bird is one of the most expert flycatchers I ever observed. A pair were seen digging their nesting site in a bank of earth in Savana Grande.

Actitis macularia, Linn. "Sandpiper."—Common on the shores of Trinidad and Tobago.

Myiadectes sibilans, Lawr. "The Souffrière Bird."—So retiring is this bird, which is found round the twin craters of St. Vincent, that I could obtain no description even of its colours. Not until an altitude of 4000 ft. is attained is its exquisite and varied flute-like whistle heard. It is so marvellously shy that I had to make two ascents before I obtained a specimen; it seemed almost to possess ventriloquistic powers.

In conclusion, I desire to express my indebtedness to Mr. Ernst Hartert for the identification of the species.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1952, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 71 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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