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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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« Reply #135 on: February 10, 2009, 01:12:30 pm »

* On the peregrine falcon, see Thompson, Nat. Hist. of Ireland:
Birds, vol. i., 1849, p. 39. On owls, sparrows, and partridges, see
White, Nat. Hist. of Selborne, ed. of 1825, vol. i., p. 139. On the
Phoenicura, see Loudon's Mag. of Nat. Hist., vol. vii., 1834, p.
245. Brehm (Thierleben, B. iv., s. 991) also alludes to cases of birds
thrice mated during the same day.

  These facts well deserve attention. How is it that there are birds
enough ready to replace immediately a lost mate of either sex?
Magpies, jays, carrion-crows, partridges, and some other birds, are
always seen during the spring in pairs, and never by themselves; and
these offer at first sight the most perplexing cases. But birds of the
same sex, although of course not truly paired, sometimes live in pairs
or in small parties, as is known to be the case with pigeons and
partridges. Birds also sometimes live in triplets, as has been
observed with starlings, carrion-crows, parrots, and partridges.
With partridges two females have been known to live with one male, and
two males with one female. In all such cases it is probable that the
union would be easily broken; and one of the three would readily
pair with a widow or widower. The males of certain birds may
occasionally be heard pouring forth their love-song long after the
proper time, shewing that they have either lost or never gained a
mate. Death from accident or disease of one of a pair would leave
the other free and single; and there is reason to believe that
female birds during the breeding-season are especially liable to
premature death. Again, birds which have had their nests destroyed, or
barren pairs, or retarded individuals, would easily be induced to
desert their mates, and would probably be glad to take what share they
could of the pleasures and duties of rearing offspring although not
their own.* Such contingencies as these probably explain most of the
foregoing cases.*(2) Nevertheless, it is a strange fact that within
the same district, during the height of the breeding-season, there
should be so many males and females always ready to repair the loss of
a mated bird. Why do not such spare birds immediately pair together?
Have we not some reason to suspect, and the suspicion has occurred
to Mr. Jenner Weir, that as the courtship of birds appears to be in
many cases prolonged and tedious, so it occasionally happens that
certain males and females do not succeed, during the proper season, in
exciting each other's love, and consequently do not pair? This
suspicion will appear somewhat less improbable after we have seen what
strong antipathies and preferences female birds occasionally evince
towards particular males.

  * See White (Nat. Hist. of Selborne, 1825, vol. i., p. 140) on the
existence, early in the season, of small coveys of male partridges, of
which fact I have heard other instances. See Jenner, on the retarded
state of the generative organs in certain birds, in Phil. Transact.,
1824. In regard to birds living in triplets, I owe to Mr. Jenner
Weir the cases of the starlings and parrots, and to Mr. Fox, of
partridges; on carrion-crows, see the Field, 1868, p. 415. On
various male birds singing after the proper period, see L. Jenyns,
Observations in Natural History, 1846, p. 87.
  *(2) The following case has been given (The Times, Aug. 6, 1868)
by the Rev. F. . Morris, on the authority of the Hon. and Rev. O. W.
Forester. "The gamekeeper here found a hawk's nest this year, with
five young ones on it. He took four and killed them, but left one with
its wings clipped as a decoy to destroy the old ones by. They were
both shot next day, in the act of feeding the young one, and the
keeper thought it was done with. The next day he came again and
found two other charitable hawks, who had come with an adopted feeling
to succour the orphan. These two he killed, and then left the nest. On
returning afterwards he found two more charitable individuals on the
same errand of mercy. One of these he killed; the other he also
shot, but could not find. No more came on the like fruitless errand."

  Mental Qualities of Birds, and their Taste for the Beautiful.-
Before we further discuss the question whether the females select
the more attractive males or accept the first whom they may encounter,
it will be advisable briefly to consider the mental powers of birds.
Their reason is generally, and perhaps justly, ranked as low; yet some
facts could be given* leading to an opposite conclusion. Low powers of
reasoning, however, are compatible, as we see with mankind, with
strong affections, acute perception, and a taste for the beautiful;
and it is with these latter qualities that we are here concerned. It
has often been said that parrots become so deeply attached to each
other that when one dies the other pines for a long time; but Mr.
Jenner Weir thinks that with most birds the strength of their
affection has been much exaggerated. Nevertheless when one of a pair
in a state of nature has been shot, the survivor has been heard for
days afterwards uttering a plaintive call; and Mr. St. John gives
various facts proving the attachment of mated birds.*(2) Mr. Bennett
relates*(3) that in China after a drake of the beautiful mandarin teal
had been stolen, the duck remained disconsolate, though sedulously
courted by another mandarin drake, who displayed before her all his
charms. After an interval of three weeks the stolen drake was
recovered, and instantly the pair recognised each other with extreme
joy. On the other hand, starlings, as we have seen, may be consoled
thrice in the same day for the loss of their mates. Pigeons have
such excellent local memories, that they have been known to return
to their former homes after an interval of nine months, yet, as I hear
from Mr. Harrison Weir, if a pair which naturally would remain mated
for life be separated for a few weeks during the winter, and
afterwards matched with other birds, the two when brought together
again, rarely, if ever, recognise each other.

  * I am indebted to Prof. Newton for the following passage from Mr.
Adam's Travels of a Naturalist, 1870, p. 278. Speaking of Japanese
nut-hatches in confinement, he says: "Instead of the more yielding
fruit of the yew, which is the usual food of the nut-hatch of Japan,
at one time I substituted hard hazel-nuts. As the bird was unable to
crack them, he placed them one by one in his water-glass, evidently
with the notion that they would in time become softer- an
interesting proof of intelligence on the part of these birds."
  *(2) A Tour in Sutherlandshire, vol. i., 1849, p. 185. Dr. Buller
says (Birds of New Zealand, 1872, p. 56) that a male king lory was
killed; and the female "fretted and moped, refused her food, and
died of a broken heart."
  *(3) Wanderings in New South Wales, vol. ii., 1834, p. 62.
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