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gone before us? We have not even been able to discover or develope any definite style of building best suited for us. We have no characteristic national style of architecture, and to that extent are even below the birds, who have each their characteristic form of nest, exactly adapted to their wants and habits.
Birds do Alter and Improve their Nests when altered
Conditions require it. The great uniformity in the architecture of each species of bird which has been supposed to prove a nest-building instinct, we may, therefore, fairly impute to the uniformity of the conditions under which each species lives. Their range is often very limited, and they very seldom permanently change their country, so as to be placed in new conditions. When, however, new conditions do occur, they take advantage of them just as freely and wisely as man could do. The chimney and house-swallows are a standing proof of a change of habit since chimneys and houses were built, and in America this change has taken place within about three hundred years. Thread and worsted are now used in many nests instead of wool and horsehair, and the jackdaw shows an affection for the church steeple which can hardly be explained by instinct. In the more thickly populated parts of the United States, the Baltimore oriole uses all sorts of pieces of string, skeins of silk, or the gardener's bass, to weave into its fine pensile nest, instead of the single hairs and vegetable fibres it has painfully to seek in wilder regions; and Wilson, a most careful observer, believes that it improves in nest-building by practice-the older birds making the best nests. The purple martin takes possession of empty gourds or small boxes, stuck up for its reception in almost every village and farm in America ; and several of the American wrens will also build in cigar boxes, with a small hole cut in them, if placed in a suitable situation. The orchard oriole of the United States offers us an excellent example of a bird which modifies its nest according to circumstances. When built among firm and stiff branches the nest is very shallow, but if, as is often the case, it is suspended from the slender twigs of the weeping willow, it is made much deeper, so that when swayed about violently by the wind the young may not tumble out. It has been observed also, that the nests built in the warm Southern States are much slighter and more porous in texture than those in the colder regions of the north. Our own house-sparrow equally well adapts himself to circumstances. When he builds in trees, as he, no doubt, always did originally, he constructs a well-made domed nest, perfectly fitted to protect his young ones; but when he can find a convenient hole in a building or among thatch, or in any well-sheltered place, he takes much less trouble, and forms a very loosely-built nest.
OF BIRDS NESTS.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF BIRDS NESTS. 228A swift (Tachornis phænicobea) inhabited exclusively the palm trees in a few districts in the island. A colony then established themselves in two cocoa-nut palms in Spanish Town, and remained there till 1857, when one tree was blown down, and the other stripped of its foliage. Instead of now seeking out other palm trees, the swifts drove out the swallows who built in the Piazza of the House of Assembly, and took possession of it, building their nests on the tops of the end walls and at the angles formed by the beams and joists, a place which they continue to occupy in considerable numbers. It is remarked that here they form their nest with much less elaboration than when built in the palms, probably from being less exposed.
A still more curious example of change and improvement in nest building was published by Mr. F. A. Pouchet, in the tenth number of the Comptes Rendus for 1870, just as the first edition of this work appeared. Forty years ago M. Pouchet had himself collected nests of the House-Martin or WindowSwallow (Hirundo urbica) from old buildings at Rouen, and deposited them in the museum of that city. On recently obtaining some more nests he was surprised, on comparing them with the old ones, to find that they exhibited a decided change of form and structure. This led him to investigate the matter more closely. The changed nests had been obtained from houses in a newly erected quarter of the city, and he found that all the nests in the newly-built streets were of the new form. But on visiting the churches and older. buildings, and some rocks where these birds build, he found many nests of the old type along with some of the new pattern. He then examined all the figures and descriptions of the older naturalists, and found that they invariably represented the older form only.
The difference between the two forms he states to be as follows. In the old form the nest is a portion of a globe—when situated in the upper angle of a window one-fourth of a hemisphere—and the opening is very small and circular, being of a size just sufficient to allow the body of the bird to pass. In the new form the nest is much wider in proportion to its height, being a segment of a depressed spheroid, and the aperture is very wide and shallow, and close to the horizontal surface to which the nest is attached above.
M. Pouchet thinks that the new form is an undoubted improvement on the old. The nest has a wider bottom and must allow the young ones to have more freedom of motion than in the old narrower, and deeper nests, and its wide aperture allows the young birds to peep out and breathe the fresh air. This is so wide as to serve as a sort of balcony for them, and two young ones can often be seen on it without interfering with the passage in and out of the old birds. At the same time, by being so close to the roof, it is a better protection against rain, against cold, and against enemies, than the small round hole of the old nests. Here, then, we have an improvement in nest building, as well marked as any improvement that takes place in human dwellings in so short a time.
But perfection of structure and adaptation to purpose, are not universal characteristics of birds' nests, since there are decided imperfections in the nesting of many birds which are quite compatible with our present theory, but are hardly so with that of instinct, which is supposed to be infallible. The Passenger pigeon of America often crowds the branches with its nests till they break, and the ground is strewn with shattered nests, eggs, and young birds. Rooks' nests are often so imperfect that during high winds the eggs fall out; but the Window-Swallow is the most unfortunate in this respect, for White, of Selborne, informs us that he has seen them build, year after year, in places where their nests are liable to be washed away by a heavy rain and their young ones destroyed.
A fair consideration of all these facts will, I think, fully support the statement with which I commenced, and show, that the mental faculties exhibited by birds in the construction of their nests, are the same in kind as those manifested by mankind in the formation of their dwellings. These are, essentially, imitation, and a slow and partial adaptation to new conditions. To compare the work of birds with the highest manifestations of human art and science, is totally beside the question. I do not maintain that birds are gifted with reasoning faculties at all approaching in variety and extent to those of man. I simply hold that the