New exhibit features Victorian lithographs of exotic birds
“The Art of Hummingbirds,” a new exhibit featuring 20 original 19th-century hand-colored lithographs of exotic hummingbirds, is opening Friday at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
The summer exhibit is on view through Sept. 5 and is included in museum admission.
“Hummingbirds have captivated gardeners and bird watchers alike for their delicate beauty and avian maneuvers,” said Linda Miller, Maximus Gallery curator, who has been waiting to share this exhibition since 2020.
Lining the walls of the gallery, the exhibit’s lithographs represent a sample of 360 plates by the British ornithologist and publisher, John Gould.
“While all of Mr. Gould’s books on birds were popular, it was his five-volume monograph on ‘The Family of Hummingbird,’ published between 1849 to 1861, that drew the most attention,” said Ms. Miller. “His work on hummingbirds provided the most reliable attempt to arrange the species systematically and became the definitive reference for the Victorian era.
“As a trained taxidermist, Mr. Gould did not see a living hummingbird until a decade after creating his monograph. However, he was able to study taxidermy specimens and developed a technique to capture the reflective iridescence of hummingbird feathers.
“After a trip to the U.S., he was finally able to observe these unique birds’ blurry, dynamic wings in real life. Nevertheless, Mr. Gould continued to publish illustrations with birds in poses that evoked his romantic dreams more than their bumblebee-like physicality. The exhibition counterbalances these mythic gems with high-speed photography and the zipping sounds of living birds,” Ms. Miller said.
Native to the Western Hemisphere, there are more than 320 species of hummingbirds, mostly found in Central and South America. Of the 17 species found in North America, only six are routinely found on the Central Coast. Prints of two of these six will be on display as new museum acquisitions: The Black-chinned and Costa’s Hummingbirds.
An online search revealed the following fascinating facts about hummingbirds:
— They are the smallest migrating bird. They don’t migrate in flocks like other species, and they typically travel alone for up to 500 miles at a time.
— The name, hummingbird, comes from the humming noise their wings make as they beat so fast.
— Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backward.
— The average weight of a hummingbird is less than a nickel.
— Their tiny legs are only used for perching and moving sideways while perched. They can’t walk or hop.
— Hummingbirds drink the nectar found in feeders by moving their tongue in and out about 13 times per second. They can consume up to double their body weight in a day.
— The average number of eggs laid by female hummingbirds is only two. These eggs have been found in nests smaller than a half dollar and compare in size to a jellybean or a coffee bean.
— A flock of hummingbirds can be referred to as a bouquet, a glittering, a hover, a shimmer or a tune.