Page images

island, at a period when the male had acquired his permanent style of colouring, but was not quite so large as he subsequently became; while the change of the female bird had not been half completed. In this small and comparatively barren island (a mere rock, as it is described by some authors) there would be no such constant abundance of food, and therefore no possibility of a large permanent population; while the climate would not differ materially from that of the larger island. Variation would therefore be checked, or might be stopped altogether; and we find the facts exactly correspond to this view. The male, which had already acquired his colour, remains almost undistinguishable from his immediate ancestral form; but he is a little smaller, indicating either that the full size of that form had not been acquired at the period of migration, or that a slight diminution of size has since occurred, owing to a deficiency of food. The female shows also a slight diminution of size, but in other respects is almost exactly intermediate between the Chilian and Juan Fernandez females. The colour beneath is light ashy, the breast-spots are intermediate in size and colour, and the tail-feathers have a large ill-defined white spot on the end of the inner web which has only to be extended along the whole web to produce the exact character which has been acquired in Juan Fernandez. It seems probable, therefore, that the female bird has remained nearly or quite stationary since its migration, while its Juan Fernandez relative has gone on steadily changing in the direction already begun ; and the more distant species geographically thus appears to be more nearly related to its Chilian ancestor.

Coming down to a more recent period, we find that

the comparatively small and dull-coloured Chilian bird has again migrated to Juan Fernandez; but it at once came into competition with its red descendant, which had firm possession of the soil, and had probably undergone slight constitutional changes exactly fitting it to its insular abode. The new-comer, accordingly, only just manages to maintain its footing; for we are told by Mr. Reed, of Santiago, that it is by no means common; whereas, as we have seen, the red species is excessively abundant. We may further suspect that the Chilian birds now pass over pretty frequently to Juan Fernandez, and thus keep up the stock ; for it must be remembered that whereas, at a first migration, both a male and a female are necessary for colonization, yet, after a colony is formed, any stray bird which may come over adds to the numbers, and checks permanent variation by cross-breeding.

We find, then, that all the chief peculiarities of the three allied species of humming-birds which inhabit the Juan Fernandez group of islands, may be fairly traced to the action of those general laws which Mr. Darwin and others have shown to determine the variations of animals and the perpetuation of those variations. It is also instructive to note, that where the variations of colour and size have been greatest they are accompanied by several lesser variations in other characters. In the Juan Fernandez bird the bill has become a little shorter, the tail feathers somewhat broader, and the fiery cap on the head somewhat smaller ; all these peculiarities being less developed or absent in the birds inhabiting Mas-afuera. These coincident changes may be due, either to what Mr. Darwin has termed correlation of growth, or to the partial reappearance of ancestral characters under more favourable conditions, or to the direct action of changes of climate and of food; but they show us how varied and unaccountable are the changes in specific forms that may be effected in a comparatively short time, and by means of very slight changes of locality.

If now we consider the enormously varied conditions presented by the whole continent of America—the hot, moist, and uniform forest-plains of the Amazon ; the open llanos of the Orinoco ; the dry uplands of Brazil ; the sheltered valleys and forest slopes of the Eastern Andes ; the verdant plateaus, the barren paramos, the countless volcanic cones with their peculiar Alpine vegetation ; the contrasts of the East and West coasts ; the isolation of the West Indian islands, and to a less extent of Central America and Mexico which we know have been several times separated from South America ; and when we further consider that all these characteristically distinct areas have been subject to cosmical and local changes, to elevations and depressions, to diminution and increase of size, to greater extremes and greater uniformity of temperature, to increase or decrease of rainfall; and that with these changes there have been coincident changes of vegetation and of animal life, all affecting in countless ways the growth and development, the forms and colours, of these wonderful little birdsif we consider all these varied and complex influences, we shall be less surprised at their strange forms, their infinite variety, their wondrous beauty. For how many ages the causes above enumerated may have acted upon them we cannot say; but their extreme isolation from

all other birds, no less than the abundance and variety of their generic and specific forms, clearly point to a very high antiquity.

The Relations and Affinities of Humming-birds.—The question of the position of this family in the class of birds and its affinities or resemblances to other groups, is so interesting, and affords such good opportunities for explaining some of the best-established principles of classification in natural history in a popular way, that we propose to discuss it at some length, but without entering into technical details.

There is in the Eastern hemisphere, especially in tropical Africa and Asia, a family of small birds called Sun-birds, which are adorned with brilliant metallic colours, and which, in shape and general appearance, much resemble humming-birds. They frequent flowers in the same way, feeding on honey and insects; and all the older naturalists placed the two families side by side as undoubtedly allied. In the year 1850, in a general catalogue of birds, Prince Lucien Bonaparte, a learned ornithologist, placed the humming-birds next to the swifts, and far removed from the Nectarinidæ or sunbirds ; and this view of their position has gained ground with increasing knowledge, so that now all the more advanced ornithologists have adopted it. Before proceeding to point out the reasons for this change of view, it will be well to discuss a few of the general principles which guide naturalists in the solution of such problems.

How to Determine Doubtful Affinities. It is now generally admitted that, for the purpose of determining obscure and doubtful affinities, we must examine by

preference those parts of an animal which have little or no direct influence on its habits and general economy. The value of an organ, or of any detail of structure, for purposes of classification, is generally in inverse proportion to its adaptability to special uses. And the reason of this is apparent, when we consider that similarities of food and habits are often accompanied by similarities of external form or of special organs, in totally distinct animals. Porpoises, for example, are modified externally so as to resemble fishes ; yet they are really mammalia. Some marsupials are carnivorous, and are so like true carnivora that it is only by minute peculiarities of structure that the skeleton of the one can be distinguished from that of the other. Many of the hornbills and toucans have the same general form, and resemble each other in habits, in food, and in their enormous bills; yet peculiarities in the structure of the feet, in the form of the breast-bone, in the cranium, and in the texture and arrangement of the plumage, show that they have no real affinity, the former approaching the kingfishers, the latter the cuckoos. Such structural peculiarities as these have no direct relation to habits ; and they are therefore little liable to change, when from any cause a portion of the group may have been driven to adopt a new mode of life. Thus all the Old World apes, however much they may differ in size or habits, and whether we class them as baboons, monkeys, or gorillas, have the same number of teeth ; while the American monkeys all have an additional premolar tooth. This difference can have no relation to the habits of the two groups, because each group exhibits differences of habits greater than often occur between


« EelmineJätka »