Saturday, July 13, 2013

Two Hummers - What's in a Name

I stumbled upon the source of the names of Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds, and the people who honored those namees, in an old edition of the Condor magazine - Vol XXX Number 6 (PDF):
Charles Andrew Allen.  Born in Milton (Lower Mills), Massachusetts, August 21, 1841. A well known collector of Marin County, Californina, who secured the types of several new species, amount others that of the Hummingbird (Selasphorus alleni) named in his honor by Henry W. Henshaw in 1877.
Anna, Duchess of Rivoli.  Wife of Prince Victor Massena, son of Field Marshal Andre Massena, Duc de Rivoli and Prince d’Essling. Prince Massena’s collection of birds, containing the type specimen of Anna’s Hummingbird, was acquired by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, in September, 1846. This beautiful and now well known Hummingbird (Calypte annu), the first described from California, was named in her honor by Lesson in 1829. The Duchess was then in the full bloom of youth according to Audubon who met her in Paris in September, 1828, and described her as a “beautiful young woman, not more than twenty, extremely graceful and polite” (Audubon and his Journals, I, 1897, p. 314).

The naming ornithologist of Anna's hummingbird would be RenĂ© Primevère Lesson, a pharmacist of some repute as well as an ornithologist.
Rene Primevere Lesson, named the Anna's Hummingbird after the Duchess of Rivoli
So many interesting people - I could spend all day wandering about in the annals of the history of natural history!

Hunt as I might I could not find pictures of either Prince Victor or his charming wife. Victor was a collector of birds - perhaps he was a patron of M. Lesson - of whom you can find several pictures, but we stray from our point. What was our point?

Via more pointless Google wanderings I also found this article:

Anna's Hummingbird declared fastest animal on earth - in the London Telegraph newspaper, which my grandfather used to read, and solved its crossword puzzle daily. The speed referred to is the courtship dive - we see this a lot around here - the makes climb up up up to over 130 feet, then zoom plummet down and at the last minute curve up and make a squeeking noise with their tail feathers, right in front of their lady-love. I think young males may do the dive just for fun, or maybe competitively.

And on the All About Birds page for Anna's I learned that their range has been greatly extended by the introduction of garden trees and plants, and bird feeders. They used to be only in northern Baja California and southern California.

12/30/13 UPDATE! - I shared this factoid on the CNPS Facebook group, and a group member told me, "Cornell has that wrong! I just checked Irene Wheelock's 1904 Birds of California and she states that Anna's Hummingbirds were then found as far north as Mt. Shasta and Yreka, in extreme northern California." - Hmm. maybe I should contact Cornell!

About Charles Andrew Allen, I learn on this page that he was a "timber guardian" in Marin, little educated, but a great amateur ornithologist.
Allen, after whom the Allen's Hummingbird is named
It was he who established a difference between two birds formerly lumped together as the Rufous hummingbird. He sent a set of skins to William Brewster along with his observations, and Brewster handed them on to Henshaw, who agreed, and named the new bird for its discoverer.

And what of Henry Wetherbee Henshaw, he who named the Allen's hummingbird in honor of Charles Andrew Allen? He sounds like a delightful chap.

Henry Wetherbee Henshaw as a young man
I read an appreciation of him in the Auk, another ornithological journal. Vol XLIX No. 4, Oct 1932 (PDF here if you have patience for it to load):
He was an acute and sympathetic observer of nature and her ways and loved all living things and their habits and relations to their surroundings
Sounds like a modern behavioral biologist.
... it appears evident that much of his work was done for the sheer pleasure of satisfying his desire for knowledge in regard to whatever interested him. He might readily have become an outstandinag authority in several branches of science but appeared wholly devoid of ambition in the direction of specialization.
Sounds like someone I'd like to know! At Harvard he met William Brewster, another famous naturalist - and they remained lifelong friends. I read and greatly enjoyed a book of Brewster's letters: Up and Down California in 1860 to 64. Different days, different values - but wonderful glimpses into California's past. I don't recall if I did a post on that book but it is certainly worth one.

Well, enough rambling through time - I'm off for a ramble through space -- with Duncan the Dog!






1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I did not know that Anna was the fastest animal on Earth. I had Anna's performing his courtship dive right on my patio, right in front of me, for three months last Spring. I have never been courted so gallantly before. :)
Does one kind of hummingbirds fight against another one, Anna's against Allan? I have only Anna's.
Monika