Summer 2014

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The sword-billed humming­bird of South America is noted as the only bird to have a bill longer than the rest of its body. The long bill allows the bird to feed on flowers with long corollas. One of the largest species of hummingbirds, it measures around 9.5 inches and weighs about half an ounce. From "A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of ­Hummingbirds" by John Gould. London: The author, [1849]-1861. Gift of Charles Deering. Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library.

Collections: Humming Along

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Londoner John Gould had never actually seen a hummingbird dip and dart in flight when he started publishing his multivolume A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds in 1849. In fact, Gould did not see a live hummingbird — which are native to the Americas — until a trip to Philadelphia in 1857, four years before he completed the five-volume set.

An expert ornithologist, Gould produced a number of other “big, deluxe bird books,” says Scott Krafft, curator of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, including Birds of Asia, Birds of Australia and Birds of Europe. But hummingbirds were Gould’s passion.

Gould, who earned the nickname “Bird Man,” had a personal collection of more than 5,000 hummingbird specimens. He created a buzz when he displayed more than 300 species of hummingbirds during London’s Great Exhibition in 1851.

A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds includes 360 nearly 23-inch colored plates that show hummingbirds in action. “The book is splendid,” says Krafft.

Avid bird watcher Charles Deering included Gould’s hummingbird volumes in a 1918 gift to the University that also included a copy of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America.