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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, 01:13:13 pm »

Mr. Gould states that certain humming-birds decorate the outsides of
their nests "with the utmost taste; they instinctively fasten
thereon beautiful pieces of flat lichen, the larger pieces in the
middle, and the smaller on the part attached to the branch. Now and
then a pretty feather is intertwined or fastened to the outer sides,
the stem being always so placed that the feather stands out beyond the
surface." The best evidence, however, of a taste for the beautiful
is afforded by the three genera of Australian bower-birds already
mentioned. Their bowers (see fig. 46), where the sexes congregate
and play strange antics, are variously constructed, but what most
concerns us is, that they are decorated by the several species in a
different manner. The satin bower-bird collects gaily-coloured
articles, such as the blue tail-feathers of parrakeets, bleached bones
and shells, which it sticks between the twigs or arranges at the
entrance. Mr. Gould found in one bower a neatly-worked stone
tomahawk and a slip of blue cotton, evidently procured from a native
encampment. These objects are continually re-arranged, and carried
about by the birds whilst at play. The bower of the spotted bower-bird
"is beautifully lined with tall grasses, so disposed that the heads
nearly meet, and the decorations are very profuse." Round stones are
used to keep the grass-stems in their proper places, and to make
divergent paths leading to the bower. The stones and shells are
often brought from a great distance. The regent bird, as described
by Mr. Ramsay, ornaments its short bower with bleached land-shells
belonging to five or six species, and with "berries of various
colours, blue, red, and black, which give it when fresh a very
pretty appearance. Besides these there were several newly-picked
leaves and young shoots of a pinkish colour, the whole shewing a
decided taste for the beautiful." Well may Mr. Gould say that "these
highly decorated halls of assembly must be regarded as the most
wonderful instances of bird-architecture yet discovered"; and the
taste, as we see, of the several species certainly differs.*

  * On the ornamented nests of humming-birds, Gould, Introduction to
the Trochilidae, 1861, p. 19. On the bower-birds, Gould, Handbook of
the Birds of Australia, 1865, vol. i., pp. 444-461. Ramsay, in the
Ibis, 1867, p. 456.

  Preference for particular Males by the Females.- Having made these
preliminary remarks on the discrimination and taste of birds, I will
give all the facts known to me which bear on the preference shewn by
the female for particular males. It is certain that distinct species
of birds occasionally pair in a state of nature and produce hybrids.
Many instances could be given: thus Macgillivray relates how a male
blackbird and female thrush "fell in love with each other," and
produced offspring.* Several years ago eighteen cases had been
recorded of the occurrence in Great Britain of hybrids between the
black grouse and pheasant;*(2) but most of these cases may perhaps
be accounted for by solitary birds not finding one of their own
species to pair with. With other birds, as Mr. Jenner Weir has
reason to believe, hybrids are sometimes the result of the casual
intercourse of birds building in close proximity. But these remarks do
not apply to the many recorded instances of tamed or domestic birds,
belonging to distinct species, which have become absolutely fascinated
with each other, although living with their own species. Thus
Waterton*(3) states that out of a flock of twenty-three Canada
geese, a female paired with a solitary bernicle gander, although so
different in appearance and size; and they produced hybrid
offspring. A male wigeon (Mareca penelope), living with females of the
same species, has been known to pair with a pintail duck,
Querquedula acuta. Lloyd describes the remarkable attachment between a
shield-drake (Tadorna vulpanser) and a common duck. Many additional
instances could be given; and the Rev. E. S. Dixon remarks that "those
who have kept many different species of geese together well know
what unaccountable attachments they are frequently forming, and that
they are quite as likely to pair and rear young with individuals of
a race (species) apparently the most alien to themselves as with their
own stock."

  * History of Brit. Birds, vol. ii., p. 92.
  *(2) Zoologist, 1853-1854, p. 3940.
  *(3) Waterton, Essays on Nat. Hist., 2nd series, pp. 42 and 117. For
the following statements see on the wigeon, Loudon's Mag. of Nat.
Hist., vol. ix., p. 616; L. Lloyd, Scandinavian Adventures, vol. i.,
1854, p. 452. Dixon, Ornamental and Domestic Poultry p. 137; Hewitt,
in Journal of Horticulture, Jan. 13, 1863, p. 40; Bechstein,
Stubenvogel, 1840, s. 230. Mr. J. Jenner Weir has lately given me an
analogous case with ducks of two species.

  The Rev. W. D. Fox informs me that he possessed at the same time a
pair of Chinese geese (Anser cygnoides), and a common gander with
three geese. The two lots kept quite separate, until the Chinese
gander seduced one of the common geese to live with him. Moreover,
of the young birds hatched from the eggs of the common geese, only
four were pure, the other eighteen proving hybrids; so that the
Chinese gander seems to have had prepotent charms over the common
gander. I will give only one other case; Mr. Hewitt states that a wild
duck, reared in captivity "after breeding a couple of seasons with her
own mallard, at once shook him off on my placing a male pintail on the
water. It was evidently a case of love at first sight, for she swam
about the new-comer caressingly, though he appeared evidently
alarmed and averse to her overtures of affection. From that hour she
forgot her old partner. Winter passed by, and the next spring the
pintail seemed to have become a convert to her blandishments, for they
nested and produced seven or eight young ones."
  What the charm may have been in these several cases, beyond mere
novelty, we cannot even conjecture. Colour, however, sometimes comes
into play; for in order to raise hybrids from the siskin (Fringilla
spinus) and the canary, it is much the best plan, according to
Bechstein, to place birds of the same tint together. Mr. Jenner Weir
turned a female canary into his aviary, where there were male linnets,
goldfinches, siskins, greenfinches, chaffinches, and other birds, in
order to see which she would choose; but there never was any doubt,
and the greenfinch carried the day. They paired and produced hybrid
  The fact of the female preferring to pair with one male rather
than with another of the same species is not so likely to excite
attention, as when this occurs, as we have just seen, between distinct
species. The former cases can best be observed with domesticated or
confined birds; but these are often pampered by high feeding, and
sometimes have their instincts vitiated to an extreme degree. Of
this latter fact I could give sufficient proofs with pigeons, and
especially with fowls, but they cannot be here related. Vitiated
instincts may also account for some of the hybrid unions above
mentioned; but in many of these cases the birds were allowed to
range freely over large ponds, and there is no reason to suppose
that they were unnaturally stimulated by high feeding.
  With respect to birds in a state of nature, the first and most
obvious supposition which will occur to every one is that the female
at the proper season accepts the first male whom she may encounter;
but she has at least the opportunity for exerting a choice, as she
is almost invariably pursued by many males. Audubon- and we must
remember that he spent a long life in prowling about the forests of
the United States and observing the birds- does not doubt that the
female deliberately chooses her mate; thus, speaking of a
woodpecker, he says the hen is followed by half-a-dozen gay suitors,
who continue performing strange antics, "until a marked preference
is shewn for one." The female of the red-winged starling (Agelaeus
phaeniceus) is likewise pursued by several males, "until, becoming
fatigued, she alights, receives their addresses, and soon makes a
choice." He describes also how several male night-jars repeatedly
plunge through the air with astonishing rapidity, suddenly turning,
and thus making a singular noise; "but no sooner has the female made
her choice than the other males are driven away." With one of the
vultures (Cathartes aura) of the United States, parties of eight, ten,
or more males and females assemble on fallen logs, "exhibiting the
strongest desire to please mutually," and after many caresses, each
male leads off his partner on the wing. Audubon likewise carefully
observed the wild flocks of Canada geese (Anser canadensis), and gives
a graphic description of their love-anties; he says that the birds
which had been previously mated "renewed their courtship as early as
the month of January, while the others would be contending or
coquetting for hours every day, until all seemed satisfied with the
choice they had made, after which, although they remained together,
any person could easily perceive that they were careful to keep in
pairs. I have observed also that the older the birds the shorter
were the preliminaries of their courtship. The bachelors and old maids
whether in regret, or not caring to be disturbed by the bustle,
quietly moved aside and lay down at some distance from the rest."*
Many similar statements with respect to other birds could be cited
from this same observer.
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