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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/140

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

And, when guided by sight alone, they seem to have no more disposition to follow a hen than to follow a duck, or a human being. Unreflecting on-lookers, when they saw chickens a day old running after me, and older ones following me miles and answering to my whistle, imagined that I must have some occult power over the creatures, whereas I simply allowed them to follow me from the first. There is the instinct to follow; and, as we have seen, their ear prior to experience attaches them to the right object. The advantage of this arrangement is obvious. But instincts are not conferred on any principle of supplying animals with arts very essential to them, and which they could not very well learn for themselves. If there is anything that experience would be sure to teach chickens, it would be to take care when they had got a piece of food not to let their fellows take it from them, and from the very first they may be seen to run off with a worm, pursued by all their companions. But this has been so stamped in their nature that, when they have never seen one of their kind, nor ever been disturbed in the enjoyment of a morsel, they nevertheless, when they get something larger than can be swallowed at once, turn round and run off with it.

Another suggestive class of phenomena that fell under my notice may be described as imperfect instincts. When a week old my turkey came on a bee right in its path—the first, I believe, it had ever seen. It gave the danger chirr, stood for a few seconds with outstretched neck and marked expression of fear, then turned off in another direction. On this hint I made a vast number of experiments with chickens and bees. In the great majority of instances the chickens gave evidence of instinctive fear of these sting-bearing insects; but the results were not uniform, and perhaps the most accurate general statement I can give is, that they were uncertain, shy and suspicious. Of course to be stung once was enough to confirm their misgivings forever. Pretty much in the same way did they avoid ants, especially when swarming in great numbers.

Probably enough has been said to leave no doubt in minds free from any bias on the subject, that in the more important concerns of their lives the animals are in great part guided by knowledge that they individually have not gathered from experience. But equally certain is it that they do learn a great deal, and exactly in the way that we are generally supposed to acquire all our knowledge. For example, every chicken, as far as my observations go, has to learn not to eat its own excrement. They made this mistake invariably; but they did not repeat it oftener than once or twice. Many times they arrested themselves when in the very act, and went off shaking their heads in disgust, though they had not actually touched the obnoxious matter. It also appeared that, though thirsty, they did not recognize water by sight, except perhaps in the form of dew-drops on the grass; and they had to