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bird's existence, will give a clue, and sometimes a very complete one, to the reason why it builds its nest of certain materials, in a definite situation, and in a more or less elaborate manner.
I now propose to consider the question from a more general point of view, and to discuss its application to some important problems in the natural history of
Changed Conditions and persistent Habits as influencing
Nidification. Besides the causes above alluded to, there are two other factors whose effect in any particular case we can only vaguely guess at, but which must have had an important influence in determining the existing details of nidification. These are-changed conditions of existence, whether internal or external, and the influence of hereditary or imitative habit; the first inducing alterations in accordance with changes of organic structure, of climate, or of the surrounding fauna and flora; the other preserving the peculiarities so produced, even when changed conditions render them no longer necessary. Many facts have been already given which show that birds do adapt their nests to the situations in which they place them, and the adoption of eaves, chimneys, and boxes, by swallows, wrens, and many other birds, shows that they are always ready to take advantage of changed conditions. It is probable, therefore, that a permanent change of climate would cause many birds to modify the form or
materials of their abodes, so as better to protect their young. The introduction of new enemies to eggs or young birds, might introduce many alterations tending to their better concealment. A change in the vegetation of a country, would often necessitate the use of new materials. So, also, we may be sure, that as a species slowly became modified in any external or internal characters, it would necessarily change in some degree its mode of building. This effect would be produced by modifications of the most varied nature; such as the power and rapidity of flight, which must often determine the distance to which a bird will go to obtain materials for its nest; the capacity of sustaining itself almost motionless in the air, which must sometimes determine the position in which a nest can be built; the strength and grasping power of the foot in relation to the weight of the bird, a power absolutely essential to the constructor of a delicately-woven and well-finished nest; the length and fineness of the beak, which has to be used like a needle in building the best textile nests; the length and mobility of the neck, which is needful for the same purpose ; the possession of a salivary secretion like that used in the nests of many of the swifts and swallows, as well as that of the song-thrush—peculiarities of habits, which ultimately depend on structure, and which often determine the material most frequently met with or most easily to be obtained. Modifications in any of these characters would necessarily lead, either to a change in the materials of the nest, or in the mode of combin
ing them in the finished structure, or in the form or position of that structure.
During all these changes, however, certain specialities of nest-building would continue, for a shorter or a longer time after the causes which had necessitated them had passed away. Such records of a vanished past meet us everywhere, even in man's works, notwithstanding his boasted reason. Not only are the main features of Greek architecture, mere reproductions in stone of what were originally parts of a wooden building, but our modern copyists of Gothic architecture often build solid buttresses capped with weighty pinnacles, to support a wooden roof which has no outward thrust to render them necessary; and even think they ornament their buildings by adding sham spouts of carved stone, while modern waterpipes, stuck on without any attempt at harmony, do the real duty. So, when railways superseded coaches, it was thought necessary to build the first-class carriages to imitate a number of coach-bodies joined together ; and the arm-loops for each passenger to hold on by, which were useful when bad roads made every journey a succession of jolts and lurches, were continued on our smooth macadamised mail-routes, and, still more absurdly, remain to this day in our railway carriages, the relic of a kind of locomotion we can now hardly realize. Another good example is to be seen in our boots. When elastic sides came into fashion we had been so long used to fasten them with buttons or laces, that a boot without either looked bare and unfinished, and accordingly the makers often put on a row of useless buttons or imitation laces, because habit rendered the appearance of them necessary to us. It is universally admitted that the habits of children and of savages give us the best clue to the habits and mode of thought of animals; and every one must have observed how children at first imitate the actions of their elders, without any regard to the use or applicability of the particular acts. So, in savages, many customs peculiar to each tribe are handed down from father to son merely by the force of habit, and are continued long after the purpose which they originally served has ceased to exist. With these and a hundred similar facts everywhere around us, we may fairly impute much of what we cannot understand in the details of Bird-Architecture to an analogous cause. If we do not do so, we must assume, either that birds are guided in every action by pure reason to a far greater extent than men are, or that an infallible instinct leads them to the same result by a different road. The first theory has never, that I am aware of, been maintained by any author, and I have already shown that the second, although constantly assumed, has never been proved, and that a large body of facts is entirely opposed to it. One of my critics has, indeed, maintained that I admit “instinct” under the term “hereditary habit ;" but the whole course of my argument shows that I do not do so. Hereditary habit is, indeed, the same as instinct when the term is applied to some simple action dependent upon a peculiarity of structure which is hereditary; as when the descendants of tumbler pigeons tumble, and the descendants of pouter pigeons pout. In the present case, however, I compare it strictly to the hereditary, or more properly, persistent or imitative, habits of savages, in building their houses as their fathers did. Imitation is a lower faculty than invention. Children and savages imitate before they originate ; birds, as well as all other animals, do the same.
The preceding observations are intended to show, that the exact mode of nidification of each species of bird is probably the result of a variety of causes, which have been continually inducing changes in accordance with changed organic or physical conditions. The most important of these causes seem to be, in the first place, the structure of the species, and, in the second, its environment or conditions of existence. Now we know, that every one of the characters or conditions included under these two heads is variable. We have seen that, on the large scale, the main features of the nest built by each group of birds, bears a relation to the organic structure of that group, and we have, therefore, a right to infer, that as structure varies, the nest will vary also in some particular corresponding to the changes of structure. We have seen also, that birds change the position, the form, and the construction of their nest, whenever the available materials or the available situations, vary naturally or have been altered by man; and we have, therefore, a right to infer that similar changes have taken place,