Page:The British Warblers A History with Problems of Their Lives - 5 of 9.djvu/71

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being carried to the young. It is not an uncommon habit amongst many species, and it may occur at any moment after mating has taken place, for the male to feed the female; and so it happened that while a pair were carrying food to their young and were within a short distance of one another, the male clinging to a reed stretched out his neck to the female, who was also clinging to a reed but facing him, and attempted to feed her in the usual way. The attitude of the female was characteristic; she uttered her quiet subdued note while at the same time fluttering her wings after the manner of a young bird. The male also uttered a call-note. Both of them had their bills full of insects at the time, and it is quite clear that the female did not require the food, otherwise she would have swallowed the insects she was carrying; and it is also clear that if she had opened her bill to receive food from her mate much of that which she was carrying would have fallen out.

The second incident was even more trifling. One of the birds with its bill fall of insects attempted to peck at something which was apparently irritating its leg; this of course it was unable to do owing to the large number of insects in its bill, and consequently it seemed completely puzzled, again and again bending its head forwards, and, while examining its leg, moving its head as if on the point of pecking, but its mental capacity did not seem equal to the occasion.

After the young are a few days old, and as they become more active, they respond more spontaneously to the approach of: their parents. But they do not seem able to distinguish their own parents from other individuals of the same species. Even a gentle swaying of the reeds is sometimes sufficient to cause them to stretch up their necks and open their gapes, so that in a strong wind when the reeds are blown this way and that, they seem to be unaware of the approach of a parent until it is actually on the edge of the nest itself. The noise of the wind no doubt prevents them from hearing the call-note which they recognise and respond to.