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Captain Cook's hummingbird nest

© 2003 The Natural History Museum

  • Banks's shells

    Banks's shells


Diameter: 45.000 mm (approx.)

Transferred to Department of Zoology from Department of Botany, 1901

On loan from the Natural History Museum 1901.1-30.15

Enlightenment: Natural world

    Captain Cook's hummingbird nest

    From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, AD 1768

    A rare survivor from Captain Cook's first voyage around the world

    Very few bird specimens survive from Captain James Cook's three voyages around the world. But this tiny nest has a label attached to it which reads 'Captain Cooks 1st Voyage. Rio de Janeiro. Banks & Solander'.

    Cook's vessel, HMS Endeavour, arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 13 November 1768. Cook and his crew received a rather hostile reception from the Portugese authorities there and access to the Brazilian mainland was strictly limited. But Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Dr Daniel Solander (1733-82), the naturalists on board the Endeavour, did manage to compile a detailed description of the bay and the city, and collected a few specimens before they departed in early December. Either Solander, who investigated the surrounding countryside by masquerading as surgeon's mate, or Banks, who spent a single day ashore against the order of the Portuguese authorities, may have collected the nest.

    The cup-shaped nest was probably made by the glittering-bellied emerald hummingbird (Cholorostilbon aureoventris), which is quite common around Rio de Janeiro. They nest only about one metre above the ground, so it would have been easy to collect.

    Unfortunately, the zoological collections from Cook's first voyage (1768-71) were split up and most of the specimens have been lost or destroyed. This nest survived because it had been kept with Banks's botanical collections, which came to the British Museum when he died in 1820.

    T. Rice, Voyages of discovery: three ce (London, Scriptum Editions and the Natural History Museum, 1999)

    F. Steinheimer, 'A hummingbird nest from James Cook's Endeavour voyage, 1768 -1771', Archives of Natural History-2, 30:1 (2003)

    P. Fara, Sex, Botany and Empire: The St (Icon Books, 2003)

    J. Cook, J. Barrow & S. Marshall, The Voyages of Captain Cook (Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1999)


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