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Part II.
The Descent of Man.

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.

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[1] 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]


    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."

  1. 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