A Lavishly Illustrated Catalog of All Hummingbird Species Known in the 19th Century Gets Restored & Put Online

If you don’t live in a part of the world with a lot of hum­ming­birds, it’s easy to regard them as not quite of this earth. With their wide array of shim­mer­ing col­ors and fre­net­ic yet eeri­ly sta­ble man­ner of flight, they can seem like qua­si-fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures even to those who encounter them in real­i­ty. They cer­tain­ly cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of Eng­lish ornithol­o­gist John Gould, who between the years of 1849 and 1887 cre­at­ed A Mono­graph of the Trochilidæ, or Fam­i­ly of Hum­ming-Birds, a cat­a­log of all known species of hum­ming­bird at the time. As you might expect, this is just the kind of old book you can peruse at the Inter­net Archive, but now there’s also an online restora­tion that returns Gould’s illus­tra­tions to their orig­i­nal glo­ry.

A Mono­graph of the Trochilidæ “is con­sid­ered one of the finest exam­ples of ornitho­log­i­cal illus­tra­tion ever pro­duced, as well as a sci­en­tif­ic mas­ter­piece,” writes the site’s cre­ator, Nicholas Rougeux (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his dig­i­tal restora­tions of British & Exot­ic Min­er­al­o­gy and Euclid­’s Ele­ments).

“Gould’s pas­sion for hum­ming­birds led him to trav­el to var­i­ous parts of the world, such as North Amer­i­ca, Brazil, Colom­bia, Ecuador, and Peru, to observe and col­lect spec­i­mens. He also received many spec­i­mens from oth­er nat­u­ral­ists and col­lec­tors.” Tak­en togeth­er, the work’s five vol­umes — one of them pub­lished as a sup­ple­ment years after his death — cat­a­log 537 species, doc­u­ment­ing their appear­ance with 418 hand-col­ored lith­o­graph­ic plates.

All these images were “ana­lyzed and restored to their orig­i­nal vibrant col­ors in a process that took near­ly 150 hours to com­plete. As much of the orig­i­nal plate was pre­served — includ­ing the del­i­cate col­ors of the scenic back­grounds in each vignette.” You can view and down­load them at the site’s illus­tra­tions page, where they come accom­pa­nied by Gould’s own text and clas­si­fied accord­ing to the same scheme he orig­i­nal­ly used. You may not know your Phaëthor­nis from your Spheno­proc­tus, to say noth­ing of your Cyanomyia from your Smarag­dochry­sis, but after see­ing these small won­ders of the nat­ur­al world as Gould did (all arranged into a chro­mat­ic spec­trum by Rougeux to make a strik­ing poster), you may well find your­self inspired to learn the dif­fer­ences — or at least to put a feed­er out­side your win­dow.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Hum­ming­bird Whis­per­er: Meet the UCLA Sci­en­tist Who Has Befriend­ed 200 Hum­ming­birds

Explore an Inter­ac­tive Ver­sion of The Wall of Birds, a 2,500 Square-Foot Mur­al That Doc­u­ments the Evo­lu­tion of Birds Over 375 Mil­lion Years

What Kind of Bird Is That?: A Free App From Cor­nell Will Give You the Answer

A Beau­ti­ful­ly Designed Edi­tion of Euclid’s Ele­ments from 1847 Gets Dig­i­tized: Explore the New Online, Inter­ac­tive Repro­duc­tion

Explore an Inter­ac­tive, Online Ver­sion of the Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed, 200-Year-Old British & Exot­ic Min­er­al­o­gy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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