Page:Descent of Man 1875.djvu/416

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Part II.
The Descent of Man.

white points. I have shewn this feather to several persons, and many have admired it even more than the ball and socket feathers, and have declared that it was more like a work of art than of nature. Now these feathers are quite hidden on all ordinary occasions, but are fully displayed, together with the long secondary feathers, when they are all expanded together so as to form the great fan or shield.

The case of the male Argus pheasant is eminently interesting, because it affords good evidence that the most refined beauty may serve as a sexual charm, and for no other purpose. We must conclude that this is the case, as the secondary and primary wing-feathers are not at all displayed, and the ball and socket ornaments are not exhibited in full perfection, until the male assumes the attitude of courtship. The Argus pheasant does not possess brilliant colours, so that his success in love appears to depend on the great size of his plumes, and on the elaboration of the most elegant patterns. Many will declare that it is utterly incredible that a female bird should be able to appreciate fine shading and exquisite patterns. It is undoubtedly a marvellous fact that she should possess this almost human degree of taste. He who thinks that he can safely gauge the discrimination and taste of the lower animals may deny that the female Argus pheasant can appreciate such refined beauty; but he will then be compelled to admit that the extraordinary attitudes assumed by the male during the act of courtship, by which the wonderful beauty of his plumage is fully displayed, are purposeless; and this is a conclusion which I for one will never admit.

Although so many pheasants and allied gallinaceous birds carefully display their plumage before the females, it is remarkable, as Mr. Bartlett informs me, that this is not the case with the dull-coloured Eared and Cheer pheasants (Crossoptilon auritum and Phasianus wallichii); so that these birds seem conscious that they have little beauty to display. Mr. Bartlett has never seen the males of either of these species fighting together, though he has not had such good opportunities for observing the Cheer as the Eared pheasant. Mr. Jenner Weir, also, finds that all male birds with rich or strongly-characterised plumage are more quarrelsome than the dull-coloured species belonging to the same groups. The goldfinch, for instance, is far more pugnacious than the linnet, and the blackbird than the thrush. Those birds which undergo a seasonal change of plumage likewise becomes much more pugnacious at the period when they are most gaily ornamented. No doubt the males of some obscurely-coloured birds fight desperately together, but it appears that when sexual selection has been highly influential,