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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Humming-Bird
By Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–1788)
 
From the ‘Natural History’

OF all animated beings this is the most elegant in form and the most brilliant in colors. The stones and metals polished by our arts are not comparable to this jewel of Nature. She has placed it least in size of the order of birds, maxime miranda in minimis. Her masterpiece is the little humming-bird, and upon it she has heaped all the gifts which the other birds may only share. Lightness, rapidity, nimbleness, grace, and rich apparel all belong to this little favorite. The emerald, the ruby, and the topaz gleam upon its dress. It never soils them with the dust of earth, and in its aërial life scarcely touches the turf an instant. Always in the air, flying from flower to flower, it has their freshness as well as their brightness. It lives upon their nectar, and dwells only in the climates where they perennially bloom.  1
  All kinds of humming-birds are found in the hottest countries of the New World. They are quite numerous and seem to be confined between the two tropics, for those which penetrate the temperate zones in summer only stay there a short time. They seem to follow the sun in its advance and retreat; and to fly on the wing of zephyrs after an eternal spring.  2
  The smaller species of the humming-birds are less in size than the great fly wasp, and more slender than the drone. Their beak is a fine needle and their tongue a slender thread. Their little black eyes are like two shining points, and the feathers of their wings so delicate that they seem transparent. Their short feet, which they use very little, are so tiny one can scarcely see them. They alight only at night, resting in the air during the day. They have a swift continual humming flight. The movement of their wings is so rapid that when pausing in the air, the bird seems quite motionless. One sees him stop before a blossom, then dart like a flash to another, visiting all, plunging his tongue into their hearts, flattening them with his wings, never settling anywhere, but neglecting none. He hastens his inconstancies only to pursue his loves more eagerly and to multiply his innocent joys. For this light lover of flowers lives at their expense without ever blighting them. He only pumps their honey, and to this alone his tongue seems destined.  3
  The vivacity of these small birds is only equaled by their courage, or rather their audacity. Sometimes they may be seen chasing furiously birds twenty times their size, fastening upon their bodies, letting themselves be carried along in their flight, while they peck them fiercely until their tiny rage is satisfied. Sometimes they fight each other vigorously. Impatience seems their very essence. If they approach a blossom and find it faded, they mark their spite by hasty rending of the petals. Their only voice is a weak cry, “screp, screp,” frequent and repeated, which they utter in the woods from dawn, until at the first rays of the sun they all take flight and scatter over the country.  4
 
 
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