Page images

exposed to view, no matter whether there is the most beautifully formed nest, or none at all. Kingfishers, which build almost invariably in holes in banks ; Woodpeckers and Parrots, which build in hollow trees; the Icteridæ of America, which all make beautiful covered and suspended nests ; and our own Wren, which builds a domed nest, are examples of the former ; while our Thrushes, Warblers, and Finches, as well as the Crowshrikes, Chatterers, and Tanagers of the tropics, together with all Raptorial birds and Pigeons, and a vast number of others in every part of the world, all adopt the latter mode of building.

It will be seen that this division of birds according to their nidification, bears little relation to the character of the nest itself. It is a functional not a structural classification. The most rude and the most perfect specimens of bird-architecture are to be found in both sections. It has, however, a certain relation to natural affinities, for large groups of birds, undoubtedly allied, fall into one or the other division exclusively. The species of a genus or of a family are rarely divided between the two primary classes, although they are frequently divided between the two very distinct modes of nidification that exist in the first of them.

All the Scansorial or climbing, and most of the Fissirostral or wide-gaped birds, for example, build concealed nests; and, in the latter group, the two families which build open nests, the Swifts and the Goat-suckers, are undoubtedly very widely separated from the other families with which they are


ciated in our classifications. The Tits vary much in their mode of nesting, some making open nests concealed in a hole, while others build domed or even pendulous covered nests, but they all come under the same class. Starlings vary in a similar way. The talking Mynahs, like our own starlings, build in holes, the glossy starlings of the East (of the genus Calornis) form a hanging covered nest, while the genus Sturnopastor builds in a hollow tree. One of the most striking cases in which one family of birds is divided between the two classes, is that of the Finches; for while most of the European species build exposed nests, many of the Australian finches make them dome-shaped.

Sexual differences of Colour in Birds. Turning now from the nests to the creatures who make them, let us consider birds themselves from a somewhat unusual point of view, and form them into separate groups, according as both sexes, or the males only, are adorned with conspicuous colours.

The sexual differences of colour and plumage in birds are very remarkable, and have attracted much attention; and, in the case of polygamous birds, have been well explained by Mr. Darwin's principle of sexual selection. We can, to a great extent, understand how male Pheasants and Grouse have acquired their more brilliant plumage and greater size, by the continual rivalry of the males both in strength and beauty ; but this theory does not throw any light on the causes which have made the female Toucan, Beé-eater, Parro

quet, Macaw and Tit, in almost every case as gay and brilliant as the male, while the gorgeous Chatterers, Manakins, Tanagers, and Birds of Paradise, as well as our own Blackbird, have mates so dull and inconspicuous that they can hardly be recognised as belonging to the same species.

The Law which connects the Colours of Female Birds

with the mode of Nidification. The above-stated anomaly can, however, now be explained by the influence of the mode of nidification, since I find that, with but very few exceptions, it is the rule-that when both sexes are of strikingly gay and conspicuous colours, the nest is of the first class, or such as to conceal the sitting bird; while, whenever there is a striking contrast of colours, the male being gay and conspicuous, the female dull and obscure, the nest is open and the sitting bird exposed to view. I will now proceed to indicate the chief facts that support this statement, and will afterwards explain the manner in which I conceive the relation has been brought about.

We will first consider those groups of birds in which the female is gaily or at least conspicuously coloured, and is in most cases exactly like the male.

1. Kingfishers (Alcedinidæ). In some of the most brilliant species of this family the female exactly resembles the male; in others there is a sexual difference, but it rarely tends to make the female less conspicuous. In some, the femalo has a band across the breast, which is wanting in the male, as in the beautiful Halcyon

diops of Ternate. In others the band is rufous in the female, as in several of the American species ; while in Dacelo gaudichaudii, and others of the same genus, the tail of the female is rufous, while that of the male is blue. In most kingfishers the nest is in a deep hole in the ground; in Tanysiptera it is said to be in a hole in the nests of termites, or sometimes in crevices under overhanging rocks.

2. Motmots (Momotidæ). In these showy birds the sexes are exactly alike, and the nest in a hole under ground.

3. Puff-birds (Bucconidæ). These birds are often gaily coloured; some have coral-red bills; the sexes are exactly alike, and the nest is in a hole in sloping ground.

4. Trogons (Trogonidæ). In these magnificent birds the females are generally less brightly coloured than the males, but are yet often gay and conspicuous. The nest is in a hole of a tree.

5. Hoopoes (Upupidæ). The barred plumage and long crests of these birds render them conspicuous. The sexes are exactly alike, and the nest is in a hollow tree.

6. Hornbills (Bucerotidæ). These large birds have enormous coloured bills, which are generally quite as well coloured and conspicuous in the females. Their nests are always in hollow trees, where the female is entirely concealed.

7. Barbets (Capitonidæ). These birds are all very gaily-coloured, and, what is remarkable, the most brilliant patches of colour are disposed about the head and


neck, and are very conspicuous. The sexes are exactly alike, and the nest is in a hole of a tree.

8. Toucans (Rhamphastidæ). These fine birds are coloured in the most conspicuous parts of their body, especially on the large bill, and on the upper and lower tail coverts, which are crimson, white, or yellow. The sexes are exactly alike, and they always build in a hollow tree.

9. Plaintain-eaters (Musophagidæ). Here again the head and bill are most brilliantly coloured in both sexes, and the nest is in a hole of a tree.

10. Ground cuckoos (Centropus). These birds are often of conspicuous colours, and are alike in both sexes. They build a domed nest.

11. Woodpeckers (Picidæ). In this family the females often differ from the males, in having a yellow or white, instead of a crimson crest, but are almost as conspicuous. They all nest in holes in trees.

12. Parrots (Psittaci). In this great tribe, adorned with the most brilliant and varied colours, the rule is, that the sexes are precisely alike, and this is the case in the most gorgeous families, the lories, the cockatoos, and the macaws; but in some there is a sexual difference of colour to a slight extent. All build in holes, mostly in trees, but sometimes in the ground, or in white ants' nests. In the single case in which the nest is exposed, that of the Australian ground parrot, Pezoporus formosus, the bird has lost the gay colouring of its allies, and is clothed in sombre and completely protective tints of dusky green and black.

« EelmineJätka »