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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, 01:13:01 pm »

Birds sometimes exhibit benevolent feelings; they will feed the
deserted young ones even of distinct species, but this perhaps ought
to be considered as a mistaken instinct. They will feed, as shewn in
an earlier part of this work, adult birds of their own species which
have become blind. Mr. Buxton gives a curious account of a parrot
which took care of a frost-bitten and crippled bird of a distinct
species, cleansed her feathers, and defended her from the attacks of
the other parrots which roamed freely about his garden. It is a
still more curious fact that these birds apparently evince some
sympathy for the pleasures of their fellows. When a pair of
cockatoos made a nest in an acacia tree, "it was ridiculous to see the
extravagant interest taken in the matter by the others of the same
species." These parrots, also, evinced unbounded curiosity, and
clearly had "the idea of property and possession."* They have good
memories, for in the Zoological Gardens they have plainly recognised
their former masters after an interval of some months.

  * "Acclimatization of Parrots", by C. Buxton, M. P., Annals and Mag.
of Nat. Hist., Nov., 1868, p. 381.

  Birds possess acute powers of observation. Every mated bird, of
course, recognises its fellow. Audubon states that a certain number of
mocking-thrushes (Mimus polyglottus) remain all the year round in
Louisiana, whilst others migrate to the Eastern States; these
latter, on their return, are instantly recognised, and always
attacked, by their southern brethren. Birds under confinement
distinguish different persons, as is proved by the strong and
permanent antipathy or affection which they shew, without any apparent
cause, towards certain individuals. I have heard of numerous instances
with jays, partridges, canaries, and especially bullfinches. Mr.
Hussey has described in how extraordinary a manner a tamed partridge
recognised everybody: and its likes and dislikes were very strong.
This bird seemed "fond of gay colours, and no new gown or cap could be
put on without catching his attention."* Mr. Hewitt has described
the habits of some ducks (recently descended from wild birds),
which, at the approach of a strange dog or cat, would rush headlong
into the water, and exhaust themselves in their attempts to escape;
but they knew Mr. Hewitt's own dogs and cats so well that they would
lie down and bask in the sun close to them. They always moved away
from a strange man, and so they would from the lady who attended
them if she made any great change in her dress. Audubon relates that
he reared and tamed a wild turkey which always ran away from any
strange dog; this bird escaped into the woods, and some days
afterwards Audubon saw, as he thought, a wild turkey, and made his dog
chase it; but, to his astonishment, the bird did not run away, and the
dog, when he came up, did not attack the bird, for they mutually
recognised each other as old friends.*(2)

  * The Zoologist, 1847-48, p. 1602.
  *(2) Hewitt on wild ducks, Journal of Horticulture, Jan. 13, 1863,
p. 39. Audubon on the wild turkey, Ornithological Biography, vol.
i., p. 14. On the mocking-thrush, ibid., vol. i., p. 110.

  Mr. Jenner Weir is convinced that birds pay particular attention
to the colours of other birds, sometimes out of jealousy, and
sometimes as a sign of kinship. Thus he turned a reed-bunting
(Emberiza schaeniculus), which had acquired its black head-dress, into
his aviary, and the newcomer was not noticed by any bird, except by
a bullfinch, which is likewise black-headed. This bullfinch was a very
quiet bird, and had never before quarrelled with any of its
comrades, including another reed-bunting, which had not as yet
become black-headed: but the reed-bunting with a black head was so
unmercifully treated that it had to be removed. Spiza cyanea, during
the breeding-season, is of a bright blue colour; and though
generally peaceable, it attacked S. ciris, which has only the head
blue, and completely scalped the unfortunate bird. Mr. Weir was also
obliged to turn out a robin, as it fiercely attacked all the birds
in his aviary with any red in their plumage, but no other kinds; it
actually killed a red-breasted cross-bill, and nearly killed a
goldfinch. On the other band, he has observed that some birds, when
first introduced, fly towards the species which resemble them most
in colour, and settle by their sides.
   As male birds display their fine plumage and other ornaments with
so much care before the females, it is obviously probable that these
appreciate the beauty of their suitors. It is, however, difficult to
obtain direct evidence of their capacity to appreciate beauty. When
birds gaze at themselves in a looking-glass (of which many instances
have been recorded) we cannot feel sure that it is not from jealousy
of a supposed rival, though this is not the conclusion of some
observers. In other cases it is difficult to distinguish between
mere curiosity and admiration. It is perhaps the former feeling which,
as stated by Lord Lilford,* attracts the ruff towards any bright
object, so that, in the Ionian Islands, "it will dart down to a
bright-coloured handkerchief, regardless of repeated shots." The
common lark is drawn down from the sky, and is caught in large
numbers, by a small mirror made to move and glitter in the sun. Is
it admiration or curiosity which leads the magpie, raven, and some
other birds to steal and secrete bright objects, such as silver
articles or jewels?

  * The Ibis, vol. ii., 1860, p. 344.
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