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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

GLEN VAUDREY: The riddle of the Sumatran humming bird.

Glen is one of the newer additions to the bloggo family. He wrote to me out of the blue last year to ask wherther we wanted a Western Isles volume in our Mystery Animals of Britain series. We argeed that we did indeed want one, and commissioned him. What we were not expecting was such a bloody good writer and all round nice guy, who - by the way - is writing several other volumes for us...

The hummingbird (family Trochilidae) is famed for many things - not least their ability to fly backwards. Of course, not forgetting their small size; the world’s smallest known bird is the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) which measures in at just 2.24 inches.

What is less well reported is that the range where these magnificent flying marvels can be found? In case you don’t know there range is restricted to the Americas and the Caribbean, which makes the report of a sighting of a Sumatran humming bird all the more remarkable. You see Sumatra is part of Indonesia, and that is on the other side of the Pacific from where you would normally expect to find hummingbirds fluttering about the blooms.

It was in the late 1950’s when Otto and Nina Irrgang reported that they had sighted a new species of hummingbird, one that was only half the size of the bee hummingbird; at 1.5 inches it was a seriously short fellow. Luckily one of their sightings occurred when one bird hovered within a foot of their faces. Given this close encounter it is hardly surprising that the pair managed to get a good description of the mystery bird, describing it as having a stripped yellow back and with a brown underside.

As befitting a true mystery cryptid it is needless to say no known Indonesian bird fits the description neither sharing the colour pattern or the birds small size, for even the smallest bird in the island chain measures 3.5 inches at maturity.

So the question has to be asked is there really a Sumatran humming bird awaiting discovery or could this whole report be based on the sighting of an unidentified insect

3 comments:

Josh said...

My wife and I, live in Jakarta, Indonesia, and keep seeing a little red bird that doesn't show up in our bird book of indonesia but Had I been East of the Pacific I'd have Called it a hummingbird. He's about the size of ruby throated hummingbird, largely red and black has a long bill and most importantly fly's hoveringly and can be quite slow like a humming bird. The closest thing he could be in my book is a scarlet sun bird. Wow, does it ever fly like a humming bird though.

Mike Irrgang said...

Otto and Nina Irrgang are my parents -- they still say they are quite sure it was a hummingbird. When we lived in Sumatra 1957-1964 we had many contacts with animals that are now near extinct since the massive resettlement of Sumatra from Java in the 1970's and the massive jungle clearing for the palm oil plantations. I was there early this year and the place is unrecognizable -- Pekanbaru was a town of 20,000 in my time and it now has over a million.

Mike Irrgang said...

Also, how "big" a hummingbird is depends on what you measure. I lived in Jamaica and saw many bee hummingbirds -- I call them 1 1/2 inches long because I am only measuring the body and head length -- not the beak or tail. The Sumatran bird was the same size as a bee bird.