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Descent of Man [ 1871]

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Author Topic: Descent of Man [ 1871]  (Read 2925 times)
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Posts: 230

« Reply #135 on: February 09, 2009, 03:11:49 pm »

Various birds have spurs on their wings. But the Egyptian goose
(Chenalopex aegyptiacus) has only "bare obtuse knobs," and these
probably shew us the first steps by which true spurs have been
developed in other species. In the spur-winged goose, Plectropterus
gambensis, the males have much larger spurs than the females; and they
use them, as I am informed by Mr. Bartlett, in fighting together, so
that, in this case, the wing-spurs serve as sexual weapons; but
according to Livingstone, they are chiefly used in the defence of
the young. The Palamedea (see fig. 38) is armed with a pair of spurs
on each wing; and these are such formidable weapons that a single blow
has been known to drive a dog howling away. But it does not appear
that the spurs in this case, or in that of some of the spur-winged
rails, are larger in the male than in the female.* In certain plovers,
however, the wing-spurs must be considered as a sexual character. Thus
in the male of our common peewit (Vanellus cristatus) the tubercle
on the shoulder of the wing becomes more prominent during the
breeding-season, and the males fight together. In some species of
Lobivanellus a similar tubercle becomes developed during the
breeding-season "into a short **** spur." In the Australian L.
lobatus both sexes have spurs, but these are much larger in the
males than in the females. In an allied bird, the Hoplopterus armatus,
the spurs do not increase in size during the breeding-season; but
these birds have been seen in Egypt to fight together, in the same
manner as our peewits, by turning suddenly in the air and striking
sideways at each other, sometimes with fatal results. Thus also theydrive away other enemies.*(2)

  * For the Egyptian goose, see Macgillivray, British Birds, vol. iv.,
p. 639. For Plectropterus, Livingstone's Travels, p. 254. For
Palamedea, Brehm's Illustriertes Thierleben, B. iv., s. 740. See
also on this bird Azara, Voyages dans l'Amerique merid., tom. iv.,
1809, pp. 179, 253.
  *(2) See, on our peewit, Mr. R. Carr in Land and Water, Aug. 8,
1868, p. 46. In regard to Lobivanellus, see Jerdon's Birds of India,
vol. iii., p. 647, and Gould's Handbook of Birds of Australia, vol.
ii., p. 220. For the Hoplopterus, see Mr. Allen in the Ibis., vol. v.,
1863, p. 156.

  The season of love is that of battle; but the males of some birds,
as of the game-fowl and ruff, and even the young males of the wild
turkey and grouse,* are ready to fight whenever they meet. The
presence of the female is the teterrima belli causa. The Bengali
baboos make the pretty little males of the amadavat (Estrelda
amandava) fight together by placing three small cages in a row, with a
female in the middle; after a little time the two males are turned
loose, and immediately a desperate battle ensues.*(2) When many
males congregate at the same appointed spot and fight together, as
in the case of grouse and various other birds, they are generally
attended by the females,*(3) which afterwards pair with the victorious
combatants. But in some cases the pairing precedes instead of
succeeding the combat: thus according to Audubon,*(4) several males of
the Virginian goat-sucker (Caprimulgus virgianus) "court, in a
highly entertaining manner the female, and no sooner has she made
her choice, than her approved gives chase to all intruders and
drives them beyond his dominions." Generally the males try to drive
away or kill their rivals before they pair. It does not, however,
appear that the females invariably prefer the victorious males. I have
indeed been assured by Dr. W. Kovalevsky that the female
capercailzie sometimes steals away with a young male who has not dared
to enter the arena with the older cocks, in the same manner as
occasionally happens with the does of the red-deer in Scotland. When
two males contend in presence of a single female, the victor, no
doubt, commonly gains his desire; but some of these battles are caused
by wandering males trying to distract the peace of an already mated

  * Audubon, Ornithological Biography, vol. ii., p. 492; vol. i.,
pp. 4-13.
  *(2) Mr. Blyth, Land and Water, 1867, p. 212.
  *(3) Richardson on Tetrao umbellus, Fauna Bor. Amer.: Birds, 1831,
p. 343. L. Lloyd, Game Birds of Sweden, 1867, pp. 22, 79, on the
capercailzie and black-****. Brehm, however, asserts (Thierleben, B.
iv., s. 352) that in Germany the grey-hens do not generally attend the
Balzen of the black-cocks, but this is an exception to the common
rule; possibly the hens may lie hidden in the surrounding bushes, as
is known to be the case with the grey-hens in Scandinavia, and with
other species in N. America.
  *(4) Ornithological Biography, vol. ii., p. 275.
  *(5) Brehm, Thierleben, &c., B. iv., 1867, p. 990. Audubon,
Ornithological Biography, vol. ii., p. 492.

  Even with the most pugnacious species it is probable that the
pairing does not depend exclusively on the mere strength and courage
of the male; for such males are generally decorated with various
ornaments, which often become more brilliant during the
breeding-season, and which are sedulously displayed before the
females. The males also endeavour to charm or excite their mates by
love-notes, songs, and antics; and the courtship is, in many
instances, a prolonged affair. Hence it is not probable that the
females are indifferent to the charms of the opposite sex, or that
they are invariably compelled to yield to the victorious males. It
is more probable that the females are excited, either before or
after the conflict, by certain males, and thus unconsciously prefer
them. In the case of Tetrao umbellus, a good observer* goes so far
as to believe that the battles of the male "are all a sham,
performed to show themselves to the greatest advantage before the
admiring females who assemble around; for I have never been able to
find a maimed hero, and seldom more than a broken feather." I shall
have to recur to this subject, but I may here add that with the Tetrao
cupido of the United States, about a score of males assemble at a
particular spot, and, strutting about, make the whole air resound with
their extraordinary noises. At the first answer from a female the
males begin to fight furiously, and the weaker give way; but then,
according to Audubon, both the victors and vanquished search for the
female, so that the females must either then exert a choice, or the
battle must be renewed. So, again, with one of the field-starlings
of the United States (Sturnella ludoviciana) the males engage in
fierce conflicts, "but at the sight of a female they all fly after her
as if mad."*(2)

  * Land and Water, July 25, 1868, p. 14.
  *(2) Audubon's Ornithological Biography; on Tetrao cupido, vol. ii.,
p. 492; on the Sturnus, vol. ii., p. 219.

  Vocal and instrumental music.- With birds the voice serves to
express various emotions, such as distress, fear, anger, triumph, or
mere happiness. It is apparently sometimes used to excite terror, as
in the case of the hissing noise made by some nestling-birds.
Audubon*, relates that a night-heron (Ardea nycticorax, Linn.),
which he kept tame, used to hide itself when a cat approached, and
then "suddenly start up uttering one of the most frightful cries,
apparently enjoying the cat's alarm and flight." The common domestic
**** clucks to the hen, and the hen to her chickens, when a dainty
morsel is found. The hen, when she has laid an egg, "repeats the
same note very often, and concludes with the sixth above, which she
holds for a longer time";*(2) and thus she expresses her joy. Some
social birds apparently call to each other for aid; and as they flit
from tree to tree, the flock is kept together by chirp answering
chirp. During the nocturnal migrations of geese and other
water-fowl, sonorous clangs from the van may be heard in the
darkness overhead, answered by clangs in the rear. Certain cries serve
as danger signals, which, as the sportsman knows to his cost, are
understood by the same species and by others. The domestic **** crows,
and the humming-bird chirps, in triumph over a defeated rival. The
true song, however, of most birds and various strange cries are
chiefly uttered during the breeding-season, and serve as a charm, or
merely as a call-note, to the other sex.

  * Ornithological Biography, vol. v., p. 601.
  *(2) The Hon. Daines Barrington, Philosophical Transactions, 1773,
p. 252.

  Naturalists are much divided with respect to the object of the
singing of birds. Few more careful observers ever lived than
Montagu, and he maintained that the "males of songbirds and of many
others do not in general search for the female, but, on the
contrary, their business in the spring is to perch on some conspicuous
spot, breathing out their full and armorous notes, which, by instinct,
the female knows, and repairs to the spot to choose her mate."* Mr.
Jenner Weir informs me that this is certainly the case with the
nightingale. Bechstein, who kept birds during his whole life, asserts,
"that the female canary always chooses the best singer, and that in
a state of nature the female finch selects that male out of a
hundred whose notes please her most."*(2) There can be no doubt that
birds closely attend to each other's song. Mr. Weir has told me of the
case of a bullfinch which had been taught to pipe a German waltz,
and who was so good a performer that he cost ten guineas; when this
bird was first introduced into a room where other birds were kept
and he began to sing, all the others, consisting of about twenty
linnets and canaries, ranged themselves on the nearest side of their
cages, and listened with the greatest interest to the new performer.
Many naturalists believe that the singing of birds is almost
exclusively "the effect of rivalry and emulation," and not for the
sake of charming their mates. This was the opinion of Daines
Barrington and White of Selborne, who both especially attended to this
subject.*(3) Barrington, however, admits that "superiority in song
gives to birds an amazing ascendancy over others, as is well known
to bird-catchers."

  * Ornithological Dictionary, 1833, p. 475.
  *(2) Naturgeschichte der Stubenvogel, 1840, s. 4. Mr. Harrison
Weir likewise writes to me; "I am informed that the best singing males
generally get a mate first, when they are bred in the same room,"
  *(3) Philosophical Transactions, 1773, p. 263. White's Natural
History of Selborne, 1825, vol. i., p. 246.

  It is certain that there is an intense degree of rivalry between the
males in their singing. Bird-fanciers match their birds to see which
will sing longest; and I was told by Mr. Yarrell that a first-rate
bird will sometimes sing till he drops down almost dead, or
according to Bechstein,* quite dead from rupturing a vessel in the
lungs. Whatever the cause may be, male birds, as I hear from Mr. Weir,
often die suddenly during the season of song. That the habit of
singing is sometimes quite independent of love is clear, for a
sterile, hybrid canary-bird has been described*(2) as singing whilst
viewing itself in a mirror, and then dashing at its own image; it
likewise attacked with fury a female canary, when put into the same
cage. The jealousy excited by the act of singing is constantly taken
advantage of by bird-catchers; a male in good song, is hidden and
protected, whilst a stuffed bird, surrounded by limed twigs, is
exposed to view. In this manner, as Mr. Weir informs me, a man has
in the course of a single day caught fifty, and in one instance,
seventy, male chaffinches. The power and inclination to sing differ so
greatly with birds that although the price of an ordinary male
chaffinch is only sixpence, Mr. Weir saw one bird for which the
bird-catcher asked three pounds; the test of a really good singer
being that it will continue to sing whilst the cage is swung round the
owner's head.
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