All about the bird in the colophon

By Jim Wright

Wonder why the colophon for Ian Fleming Publications features a bird, and what kind of bird it is?

For the answers, look no farther than For Your Eyes Only, arguably the best short story in the 1960 compilation of the same name. Fleming begins the tale in a most atypical fashion. He spends the first 105 words waxing poetic about the bird that would become integral to the colophon and Ian Fleming Publications’ logo:

The most beautiful bird in Jamaica, and some say the most beautiful bird in the world, is the streamertail or doctor hummingbird. The cock bird is about nine inches long, but seven inches of it are tail – two long black feathers that curve and cross each other and whose inner edges are in a form of scalloped design. The head and crest are black, the wings dark green, the long bill is scarlet, and the eyes, bright and confiding, are black. The body is emerald green, so dazzling that when the sun is on the breast you see the brightest green thing in nature. (Ian Fleming, For Your Eyes Only, 1960)

The Red-billed Streamertail

Photo by Jim Wright from The Real James Bond

Appropriately, the Red-billed Streamertail also takes centre stage on the front cover of Ian Fleming Publications’ new reissue of For Your Eyes Only. Webb & Webb Design Ltd. surely must have taken Fleming’s description to heart when they created the cover. If you look closely, you can see one of those long tailfeathers arching behind the first “0” in 007.

Cover design by Webb & Webb Ltd.

The hummingbirds of Jamaica were a big Fleming favourite. After he built Goldeneye on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean in the late 1940s, he planted hibiscus and bougainvillea flowers to attract these dynamic little fliers – especially the Red-billed Streamertails that grace the property to this day. 

Fleming’s stepson Raymond O’Neill once commented about Goldeneye: “Hummingbirds buzzing all around you – it was absolute paradise.”

The plantings and a local tree known as a Poor Man’s Orchid also likely attracted the two other hummers known only to this island nation: The muscular Jamaican Mango, with its iridescent green and purple feathers, and the Vervain, just a wisp or two larger than neighbouring Cuba’s Bee Hummingbird, the smallest in the world.

The Vervain Hummingbird

Photo by Jim Wright

The Jamaican Mango

Photo by Ricardo Miller

The Streamertail is also called the Doctor Bird, most likely as a result of its stiff black crest and elongated tail feathers, which were said to resemble the old-fashioned top hat and long tailcoats that Jamaican doctors once wore. Another theory maintains that the name originates from the way these birds pierce the flowers with their bills to extract nectar like a doctor with a syringe.

Not only are these scissor-tailed hummers beautiful to watch, but they make distinct sounds with both their wings and their bills. Even with their oversized tail feathers, they weigh just 6 grams, but you can hear them coming 50 yards away.

When Fleming and Ann Charteris Harmsworth married in March 1952, he described “a marvellous honeymoon among hummingbirds and barracudas.” Later that same year, back in Britain and increasingly homesick for Jamaica, he told his friend and literary critic Cyril Connolly that “the Doctor Birds are waiting in the Crown of Thorns bushes and the butterfly fish on the reef.”  

Another literary friend of the family, Peter Quennell, talked of visiting Goldeneye and seeing Doctor Birds appear “in a spark of celestial brilliance.”

Goldeneye, Ian Fleming’s home in Jamaica,

Photo courtesy of Island Outpost

Unlike most of the wild birds that make cameo appearances in the 007 thrillers, the Streamertails at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only are not gunned down by a villain. Perhaps it’s because they are never within shooting range. Perhaps the birds are too small for a villain to shoot. Or perhaps Fleming could never bring himself to kill such a beautiful bird, even on paper.

Jim Wright is the author of The Real James Bond, the biography of the ornithologist whose name was appropriated by Ian Fleming for his 007. Jim’s next book is The Screech Owl Companion, to be published this autumn by Timber Press.

Cover courtesy of Schiffer Publishing

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