Page:Descent of Man 1875.djvu/511

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Chap. XVI.
Birds—Novelty admired.

coloured. I infer that this would be the case, from the analogy of many other birds, which are dark whilst young, and when adult are white; and more especially from the case of the Ardea gularis, the colours of which are the reverse of those of A. asha, for the young are dark-coloured and the adults white, the young having retained a former state of plumage. It appears therefore that, during a long line of descent, the adult progenitors of the Ardea asha, the Buphus, and of some allies, have undergone the following changes of colour: first, a dark shade; secondly, pure white; and thirdly, owing to another change of fashion (if I may so express myself), their present slaty, reddish, or golden-buff tints. These successive changes are intelligible only on the principle of novelty having been admired by birds for its own sake.

Several writers have objected to the whole theory of sexual selection, by assuming that with animals and savages the taste of the female for certain colours or other ornaments would not remain constant for many generations; that first one colour and then another would be admired, and consequently that no permanent effect could be produced. We may admit that taste is fluctuating, but it is not quite arbitrary. It depends much on habit, as we see in mankind; and we may infer that this would hold good with birds and other animals. Even in our own dress, the general character lasts long, and the changes are to a certain extent graduated. Abundant evidence will be given in two places in a future chapter, that savages of many races have admired for many generations the same cicatrices on the skin, the same hideously perforated lips, nostrils, or ears, distorted heads, &c.; and these deformities present some analogy to the natural ornaments of various animals. Nevertheless, with savages such fashions do not endure for ever, as we may infer from the differences in this respect between allied tribes on the same continent. So again the raisers of fancy animals certainly have admired for many generations and still admire the same breeds; they earnestly desire slight changes, which are considered as improvements, but any great or sudden change is looked at as the greatest blemish. With birds in a state of nature we have no reason to suppose that they would admire an entirely new style of coloration, even if great and sudden variations often occurred, which is far from being the case. We know that dovecot pigeons do not willingly associate with the variously coloured fancy breeds; that albino birds do not commonly get partners in marriage; and that the black ravens of the Feroe Islands chase away their piebald brethren. But this dislike of a sudden change would not