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    Ch. 19: Music and Dancing in Nature

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    Chapter 20
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    In reading books of Natural History we meet with numerous instances of
    birds possessing the habit of assembling together, in many cases always
    at the same spot, to indulge in antics and dancing performances, with or
    without the accompaniment of music, vocal or instrumental; and by
    instrumental music is here meant all sounds other than vocal made
    habitually and during the more or less orderly performances; as, for
    instance, drumming and tapping noises; smiting of wings; and humming,
    whip-cracking, fan-shutting, grinding, scraping, and horn-blowing
    sounds, produced as a rule by the quills.

    There are human dances, in which only one person performs at a time, the
    rest of the company looking on; and some birds, in widely separated
    genera, have dances of this kind. A striking example is the Rupicola, or
    cock of-the-rock, of tropical South America. A mossy level spot of earth
    surrounded by bushes is selected for a dancing-place, and kept well
    cleared of sticks and stones; round this area the birds assemble, when a
    cock-bird, with vivid orange-scarlet crest and plumage, steps into it,
    and, with spreading wings and tail, begins a series of movements as if
    dancing a minuet; finally, carried away with excitement, he leaps and
    gyrates in the most astonishing manner, until, becoming exhausted, he
    retires, and another bird takes his place.

    In other species all the birds in a company unite in the set
    performances, and seem to obey an impulse which affects them
    simultaneously and in the same degree; but sometimes one bird prompts
    the others and takes a principal part. One of the most curious instances
    I have come across in reading is contained in Mr. Bigg-Wither's
    _Pioneering in South Brazil._ He relates that one morning in the dense
    forest his attention was roused by the unwonted sound of a bird
    singing--songsters being rare in that district. His men, immediately
    they caught the sound, invited him to follow them, hinting that he would
    probably witness a very curious sight. Cautiously making their way
    through the dense undergrowth, they finally came in sight of a small
    stony spot of ground, at the end of a tiny glade; and on this spot, some
    on the stone and some on the shrubs, were assembled a number of little
    birds, about the size of tom-tits, with lovely blue plumage and red
    top-knots. One was perched quite still on a twig, singing merrily, while
    the others were keeping time with wings and feet in a kind of dance, and
    all twittering an accompaniment. He watched them for some time, and was
    satisfied that they were having a ball and concert, and thoroughly
    enjoying themselves; they then became alarmed, and the performance
    abruptly terminated, the birds all going off in different directions.
    The natives told him that these little creatures were known as the
    "dancing birds."

    This species was probably solitary, except when assembling for the
    purpose of display; but in a majority of cases, especially in the
    Passerine order, the solitary species performs its antics alone, or with
    no witness but its mate. Azara, describing a small finch, which he aptly
    named _Oscilador,_ says that early and late in the day it mounts up
    vertically to a moderate height; then, flies off to a, distance of
    twenty yards, describing a perfect curve in its passage; turning, it
    flies back over the imaginary line it has traced, and so on repeatedly,
    appearing like a pendulum swung in space by an invisible thread.

    Those who seek to know the cause and origin of this kind of display and
    of song in animals are referred to Darwin's _Descent of Man_ for an
    explanation. The greater part of that work is occupied with a laborious
    argument intended to prove that the love-feeling inspires the animals
    engaged in these exhibitions, and that sexual selection, or the
    voluntary selection of mates by the females, is the final cause of all
    set musical and dancing performances, as well as of bright and
    harmonious colouring, and of ornaments.

    The theory, with regard to birds is, that in the love-season, when the
    males are excited and engage in courtship, the females do not fall to
    the strongest and most active, nor to those that are first in the field;
    but that in a large number of species they are endowed with a faculty
    corresponding to the aesthetic feeling or taste in man, and deliberately
    select males for their superiority in some aesthetic quality, such as
    graceful or fantastic motions, melody of voice, brilliancy of colour, or
    perfection of ornaments. Doubtless all birds were originally
    plain-coloured, without ornaments and without melody, and it is assumed
    that so it would always have been in many cases but for the action of
    this principle, which, like natural selection, has gone on accumulating
    countless small variations, tending to give a greater lustre to the
    species in each case, and resulting in all that we most admire in the
    animal world--the Rupicola's flame-coloured mantle, the peacock's crest
    and starry train, the joyous melody of the lark, and the pretty or
    fantastic dancing performances of birds.

    My experience is that mammals and birds, with few exceptions--probably
    there are really no exceptions--possess the habit of indulging
    frequently in more or less regular or set performances, with or without
    sound, or composed of sound exclusively; and that these performances,
    which in many animals are only discordant cries and choruses,
    and uncouth, irregular motions, in the more aerial, graceful, and
    melodious kinds take immeasurably higher, more complex, and more
    beautiful forms. Among the mammalians the instinct appears
    almost universal; but their displays are, as a rule, less admirable than
    those seen in birds. There are some kinds, it is true, like the
    squirrels and monkeys, of arboreal habits, almost birdlike in their
    restless energy, and in the swiftness and certitude of their motions, in
    which the slightest impulse can be instantly expressed in graceful or
    fantastic action; others, like the Chinchillidae family, have greatly
    developed vocal organs, and resemble birds in loquacity; but mammals
    generally, compared with birds, are slow and heavy, and not so readily
    moved to exhibitions of the kind I am discussing.

    The terrestrial dances, often very elaborate, of heavy birds, like those
    of the gallinaceous kind, are represented in the more volatile species
    by performances in the air, and these are very much more beautiful;
    while a very large number of birds--hawks, vultures, swifts, swallows,
    nightjars, storks, ibises, spoonbills, and gulls--circle about in the
    air, singly or in flocks. Sometimes, in serene weather, they rise to a
    vast altitude, and float about in one spot for an hour or longer at a
    stretch, showing a faint bird-cloud in the blue, that does not change
    its form, nor grow lighter and denser like a flock of starlings; but in
    the seeming confusion there is perfect order, and amidst many hundreds
    each swift- or slow-gliding figure keeps its proper distance with such
    exactitude that no two ever touch, even with the extremity of the
    long-wings, flapping or motionless:--such a multitude, and such
    miraculous precision in the endless curving motions of all the members
    of it, that the spectator can lie for an hour on his back without
    weariness watching this mystic cloud-dance in the empyrean.

    The black-faced ibis of Patagonia, a bird nearly as large as a turkey,
    indulges in a curious mad performance, usually in the evening when
    feeding-time is over. The birds of a flock, while winging their way to
    the roosting-place, all at once seem possessed with frenzy,
    simultaneously dashing downwards with amazing violence, doubling about
    in the most eccentric manner; and when close to the surface rising again
    to repeat the action, all the while making the air palpitate for miles
    around with their hard, metallic cries. Other ibises, also birds of
    other genera, have similar aerial performances.

    The displays of most ducks known to me take the form of mock fights on
    the water; one exception is the handsome and loquacious whistling
    widgeon of La Plata, which has a pretty aerial performance. A dozen or
    twenty birds rise up until they appear like small specks in the sky, and
    sometimes disappear from sight altogether; and at that great altitude
    they continue hovering in one spot, often for an hour or longer,
    alternately closing and separating; the fine, bright, whistling notes
    and flourishes of the male curiously harmonizing with the grave,
    measured notes of the female; and every time they close they slap each
    other on the wings so smartly that the sound can be distinctly heard,
    like applauding hand-claps, even after the birds have ceased to be

    The rails, active, sprightly birds with powerful and varied voices, are
    great performers; but owing to the nature of the ground they inhabit and
    to their shy, suspicious character, it is not easy to observe their
    antics. The finest of the Platan rails is the ypecaha, a beautiful,
    active bird about the size of the fowl. A number of ypecahas have their
    assembling place on a small area of smooth, level ground, just above the
    water, and hemmed in by dense rush beds. First, one bird among the
    rushes emits a powerful cry, thrice repeated; and this is a note of
    invitation, quickly responded to by other birds from all sides as they
    hurriedly repair to the usual place. In a few moments they appear, to
    the number of a dozen or twenty, bursting from the rushes and running
    into the open space, and instantly beginning the performance. This is a
    tremendous screaming concert. The screams they utter have a certain
    resemblance to the human voice, exerted to its utmost pitch and
    expressive of extreme terror, frenzy, and despair. A long, piercing
    shriek, astonishing for its vehemence and power, is succeeded by a lower
    note, as if in the first the creature had well nigh exhausted itself:
    this double scream is repeated several times, and followed by other
    sounds, resembling, as they rise and fall, half smothered cries of pains
    and moans of anguish. Suddenly the unearthly shrieks are renewed in all
    their power. While screaming the birds rush from side to side, as if
    possessed with madness, the wings spread and vibrating, the long-beak
    wide open and raised vertically. This exhibition lasts three or four
    minntes, after which the assembly peacefully breaks up.

    The singular wattled, wing-spurred, and long-, toed jacana has a
    remarkable performance, which seems specially designed to bring out the
    concealed beauty of the silky, greenish-golden wing-quills-The birds go
    singly or in pairs, and a dozen or fifteen individuals may be found in a
    marshy place feeding within sight of each other. Occasionally, in
    response to a note of invitation, they all in a moment leave off feeding
    and fly to one spot, and, forming a close cluster, and emitting short,
    excited, rapidly repeated notes, display their wings, like beautiful
    flags grouped loosely together: some hold the wings up vertically and
    motionless; others, half open and vibrating rapidly, while still others
    wave them up and down with a slow, measured motion.

    In the ypecaha and jacana displays both sexes take part. A stranger
    performance is that of the spur-winged lapwing of the same region--a
    species resembling the lapwing of Europe, but a third larger, brighter
    coloured, and armed with spurs. The lapwing display, called by the
    natives its "dance," or "serious dance"--by which they mean square
    dance--requires three birds for its performance, and is, so far as I
    know, unique in this respect. The birds are so fond of it that they
    indulge in it all the year round, and at frequent intervals during the
    day, also on moonlight nights. If a person watches any two birds for
    some time--for they live in pairs--he will see another lapwing, one of a
    neighbouring couple, rise up and fly to them, leaving his own mate to
    guard their chosen ground; and instead of resenting this visit as an
    unwarranted intrusion on their domain, as they would certainly resent
    the approach of almost any other bird, they welcome it with notes and
    signs of pleasure. Advancing to the visitor, they place themselves
    behind it; then all three, keeping step, begin a rapid march, uttering
    resonant drumming notes in time with their movements; the notes of the
    pair behind being emitted in a stream, like a drum-roll, while the
    leader utters loud single notes at regular intervals. The march ceases;
    the leader elevates his wings and stands erect and motionless, still
    uttering loud notes; while the other two, with puffed-out plumage and
    standing exactly abreast stoop forward and downward until the tips of
    their beaks touch the ground, and, sinking their rhythmical voices to a
    murmur, remain for some time in this posture. The performance is then
    over and the visitor goes back to his own ground and mate, to receive a
    visitor himself later on.

    In the Passerine order, not the least remarkable displays are witnessed
    in birds that are not accounted songsters, as they do not possess the
    highly developed vocal organ confined to the suborder Oscines. The
    tyrant-birds, which represent in South America the fly-catchers of the
    Old World, all have displays of some kind; in a vast majority of cases
    these are simply joyous, excited duets between male and female, composed
    of impetuous and more or less confused notes and screams, accompanied
    with beating of wings and other gestures. In some species choruses take
    the place of duets, while in others entirely different forms of display
    have been developed. In one group--Cnipolegus--the male indulges in
    solitary antics, while the silent, modest-coloured female keeps in
    hiding. Thus, the male of Cnipolegus Hudsoni, an intensely
    black-plumaged species with a concealed white wing-band, takes his stand
    on a dead twig on the summit of a bush. At intervals he leaves his
    perch, displaying the intense white on the quills, and producing, as the
    wings are thrown open and shut alternately, the effect of successive
    flashes of light. Then suddenly the bird begins revolving in the air
    about its perch, like a moth wheeling round and close to the flame of a
    candle, emitting a series of sharp clicks and making a loud humming with
    the wings. While performing this aerial waltz the black and white on the
    quills mix, the wings appearing like a grey mist encircling the body.
    The fantastic dance over, the bird drops suddenly on to its perch again;
    and, until moved to another display, remains as stiff and motionless as
    a bird carved out of jet.

    The performance of the scissors-tail, another tyrant-bird, is also
    remarkable. This species is grey and white, with black head and tail and
    a crocus-yellow crest. On the wing it looks like a large swallow, but
    with the two outer tail-feathers a foot long. The scissors-tails always
    live in pairs, but at sunset several pairs assemble, the birds calling
    excitedly to each other; they then mount upwards, like rockets, to a
    great height in the anand, after wheeling about for a few moments,
    pro-cipitate themselves downwards with amazing violence in a wild
    zigzag, opening and shutting the long tail-feathers like a pair of
    shears, and producing loud whirring sounds, as of clocks being wound
    rapidly up, with a slight pause after each turn of the key. This aerial
    dance over, they alight in separate couples on the tree tops, each
    couple joining in a kind of duet of rapidly repeated, castanet-like

    The displays of the wood-hewers, or Dendrocolap-tidae, another extensive
    family, resemble those of the tyrant-birds in being chiefly duets, male
    and female singing excitedly in piercing or resonant voices, and with
    much action. The habit varies somewhat in the cachalote, a Patagonian
    species of the genus Homorus, about the size of the missel-thrush. Old
    and young birds live in a family together, and at intervals, on any fine
    day, they engage in a grand screaming contest, which may be heard
    distinctly at a distance of a mile and a half. One bird mounts on to a
    bush and calls, and instantly all the others hurry to the spot, and
    burst out into a chorus of piercing cries that sound like peals and
    shrieks of insane laughter. After the chorus, they all pursue each other
    wildly about among the bushes for some minutes.

    In some groups the usual duet-like performances have developed into a
    kind of harmonious singing, which is very curious and pleasant to hear.
    This is pre-eminently the case with the oven-birds, as D'Orbigney first
    remarked. Thus, in the red oven-bird, the first bird, on the appearance
    of its mate flying to join it, begins to emit loud, measured notes, and
    sometimes a continuous trill, somewhat metallic in sound; but
    immediately on the other bird striking in this introductory passage is
    changed to triplets, strongly accented on the first note, in a _tempo
    vivace;_ while the second bird utters loud single notes in the same
    time. While thus singing they stand facing each other, necks
    outstretched and tails expanded, the wings of the first bird vibrating
    rapidly to the rapid utterance, while those of the second bird beat
    measured time. The finale consists of three or four notes, uttered by
    the second bird alone, strong and clear, in an ascending scale, the last
    very piercing.

    In the melodists proper the displays, in a majority of cases, are
    exclusively vocal, the singer sitting still on his perch. In the
    Troupials, a family of starling-like birds numbering about one hundred
    and forty species, there are many that accompany singing with pretty or
    grotesque antics. The male screaming cow-bird of La Plata, when perched,
    emits a hollow-sounding internal note that swells at the end into a
    sharp metallic ring, almost bell-like: this is uttered with wings and
    tail spread and depressed, the whole plumage being puffed out as in a
    strutting turkey-cock, while the bird hops briskly up and down on its
    perch as if dancing. The bell-like note of the male is followed by an
    impetuous scream from the female, and the dance ends. Another species,
    the common Argentine cow-bird of La Plata, when courting puffs out his
    glossy rich violet plumage, and, with wings vibrating, emits a
    succession of deep internal notes, followed by a set song in clear,
    ringing tones; and then, suddenly taking wing, he flies straight away,
    close to the surface, fluttering like a moth, and at a distance of
    twenty to thirty yards turns and flies in a wide circle round the
    female, singing loudly all the time, hedging her in with melody as it

    Many songsters in widely different families possess the habit of soaring
    and falling alternately while singing, and in some cases all the aerial
    postures and movements, the swift or slow descent, vertical, often, with
    oscillations, or in a spiral, and sometimes with a succession of smooth
    oblique lapses, seem to have an admirable correspondence with the
    changing and falling voice--melody and motion being united in a more
    intimate and beautiful way than in the most perfect and poetic forms of
    human dancing.

    One of the soaring singers is a small yellow field-finch of La
    Plata--Sycalis luteola; and this species, like some others, changes the
    form of its display with the seasons. It lives in immense flocks, and
    during the cold season it has, like most finches, only aerial pastimes,
    the birds wheeling about in a cloud, pursuing each other with lively
    chirpings. In August, when the trees begin to blossom, the flock betakes
    itself to a plantation, and, sitting on the branches, the birds sing in
    a concert of innumerable voices, producing a great volume of sound, as
    of a high wind when heard at a distance. Heard near, it is a great mass
    of melody; not a confused tangle of musical sounds as when a host of
    Troupials sing in concert, but the notes, although numberless, seem to
    flow smoothly and separately, producing an effect on the ear similar to
    that which rain does on the sight, when the sun shines on and lightens
    up the myriads of falling drops all falling one way. In this manner the
    birds sing for hours, without intermission, every day. Then the passion
    of love infects them; the pleasant choir breaks up, and its ten thousand
    members scatter wide over the surrounding fields and pasture lands.
    During courtship the male has a feeble, sketchy music, but his singing
    is then accompanied with very charming love antics. His circlings about
    the hen-bird; his numberless advances and retreats, and little soarings
    above her when his voice swells with importunate passion; his fluttering
    lapses back to earth, where he lies prone with outspread, tremulous
    wings, a suppliant at her feet, his languishing voice meanwhile dying
    down to lispings--all these apt and graceful motions seem to express the
    very sickness of the heart. But the melody during this emotional period
    is nothing. After the business of pairing and nest-building is over, his
    musical displays take a new and finer form. He sits perched on a stalk
    above the grass, and at intervals soars up forty or fifty yards high;
    rising, he utters a series of long melodious notes; then he descends in
    a graceful spiral, the set of the motionless wings giving him the
    appearance of a slowly-falling parachute; the voice then also falls, the
    notes coming lower, sweeter, and more expressive until he reaches the
    surface. After alighting the song continues, the strains becoming
    longer, thinner, and clearer, until they dwindle to the finest threads
    of sound and faintest tinklings, as from a cithern touched by fairy
    fingers. The great charm of the song is in this slow gradation from the
    somewhat throaty notes emitted by the bird when ascendino-to the
    excessively attenuated sounds at the close.

    In conclusion of this part I shall speak of one species more--the
    white-banded mocking-bird of Patagonia, which greatly excels all other
    songsters known to me in the copiousness, variety and brilliant
    character of its music. Concealed in the foliage this bird will sing by
    the half-hour, reproducing with miraculous fidelity the more or less
    melodious set songs of a score of species--a strange and beautiful
    performance; but wonderful as it seems while it lasts, one almost ceases
    to admire this mimicking bird-art when the mocker, as if to show by
    contrast his unapproachable superiority, bursts into his own divine
    song, uttered with a power, abandon and joyousness resembling, but
    greatly exceeding, that of the skylark "singing at heaven's gate;" the
    notes issuing in a continuous torrent; the voice so brilliant and
    infinitely varied, that if "rivalry and emulation" have as large a place
    in feathered breasts as some imagine all that hear this surpassing
    melody might well languish ever after in silent despair.

    In a vast majority of the finest musical performances the same notes are
    uttered in the same order, and after an interval the song is repeated
    without any variation: and it seems impossible that we could in any
    other way have such beautiful contrasts and harmonious lights and
    shades--the whole song, so to speak, like a "melody sweetly played in
    tune." This seeming impossibility is accomplished in the mocking-bird's
    song: the notes never come in the same order again and again, but, as if
    inspired, in a changed order, with variations and new sounds: and here
    again it has some resemblance to the skylark's song, and might be
    described as the lark's song with endless variations and brightened and
    spiritualized in a degree that cannot be imagined.

    This mocking-bird is one of those species that accompany music with
    appropriate motions. And just as its song is, so to speak, inspired and
    an im-provization, unlike any song the bird has ever uttered, so its
    motions all have the same character of spontaneity, and follow no order,
    and yet have a grace and passion and a perfect harmony with the music
    unparalleled among birds possessing a similar habit. While singing he
    passes from bush to bush, sometimes delaying a few moments on and at
    others just touching the summits, and at times sinking out of sight in
    the foliage: then, in an access of rapture, soaring vertically to a
    height of a hundred feet, with measured wing-beats, like those of a
    heron: or, mounting suddenly in a wild, hurried zigzag, then slowly
    circling downwards, to sit at last with tail outspread fanwise, and
    vans, glistening white in the sunshine, expanded and vibrating, or waved
    languidly up and down, with, a motion like that of some broad-winged
    butterfly at rest on a flower.

    I wish now to put this question: What relation that we can see or
    imagine to the passion of love and the business of courtship, have these
    dancing and vocal performances in nine cases out of ten? In such cases,
    for instance, as that of the scissors-tail tyrant-bird, and its
    pyrotechnic evening displays, when a number of couples leave their nests
    containing eggs and young to join in a wild aerial dance: the mad
    exhibitions of ypecahas and ibises, and the jacanas' beautiful
    exhibition of grouped wings: the triplet dances of the spur-winged
    lapwing, to perform which two birds already mated are compelled to call
    in a third bird to complete the set: the harmonious duets of the
    oven-birds, and the duets and choruses of nearly all the wood-hewers,
    and the wing-slapping aerial displays of the whistling widgeons--will it
    be seriously contended that the female of this species makes choice of
    the male able to administer the most vigorous and artistic slaps?

    The believer in the theory would put all these cases lightly aside, to
    cite that of the male cow-bird practising antics before the female and
    drawing a wide circle of melody round her; or that of the jet-black,
    automaton-like, dancing tyrant-bird; and concerning this species he
    would probably say that the plain-plumaged female went about unseen,
    critically watching the dancing of different males, to discover the most
    excellent performer according to the traditional standard. And this was,
    in substance, what Darwin did. There are many species in which the male,
    singly or with others, practises antics or sings during the love-season
    before the female; and when all such cases, or rather those that are
    most striking and bizarre, are brought together, and when it is
    gratuitously asserted that the females _do_ choose the males that show
    off in the best manner or that sing best, a case for sexual selection
    seems to be made out. How unfair the argument is, based on these
    carefully selected cases gathered from all regions of the globe, and
    often not properly reported, is seen when we turn from the book to
    nature and closely consider the habits and actions of all the species
    inhabiting any _one_ district. We see then that such cases as those
    described and made so much of in the _Descent of Man,_ and cases like
    those mentioned in this chapter, are not essentially different in
    character, but are manifestations of one instinct, which appears to be
    almost universal among the animals. The explanation I have to offer lies
    very much on the surface and is very simple indeed, and, like that of
    Dr. Wallace with regard [Footnote: It is curious to find that Dr.
    Wallace's idea about colour has been independently hit upon by Ruskin.
    Of stones he writes in _Frondes Agrestis_:--"I have often had occasion
    to allude to the apparent connection of brilliancy of colour with vigour
    of life and purity of substance. This is pre-eminently the case in the
    mineral kingdom. The perfection with which the particles of any
    substance unite in crystallization, corresponds in that kingdom to the
    vital power in organic nature."] to colour and ornaments covers the
    whole of the facts. We see that the inferior animals, when the
    conditions of life are favourable, are subject to periodical fits of
    gladness affecting them powerfully and standing out in vivid contrast to
    their ordinary temper. And we know what this feeling is--this periodic
    intense elation which even civilized man occasionally experiences when
    in perfect health, more especially when young. There are moments when
    he is mad with joy, when he cannot keep still, when his impulse is to
    sing and shout aloud and laugh at nothing, to run and leap and exert
    himself in some extravagant way. Among the heavier mammalians the
    feeling is manifested in loud noises, bellowings and screamings, and in
    lumbering, uncouth motions--throwing up of heels, pretended panics, and
    ponderous mock battles.

    In smaller and livelier animals, with greater celerity and certitude in
    their motions, the feeling shows itself in more regular and often in
    more complex ways. Thus, Felidae when young, and, in very agile,
    sprightly species like the Puma, throughout life, simulate all the
    actions of an animal hunting its prey--sudden, intense excitement of
    discovery, concealment, gradual advance, masked by intervening objects,
    with intervals of watching, when they crouch motionless, the eyes
    flashing and tail waved from side to side; finally, the rush and spring,
    when the playfellow is captured, rolled over on his back and worried to
    imaginary death. Other species of the most diverse kinds, in which voice
    is greatly developed, join in noisy concerts and choruses; many of the
    cats may be mentioned, also dogs and foxes, capybaras and other
    loquacious rodents; and in the howling monkeys this kind of performance
    rises to the sublime uproar of the tropical forest at eventide.

    Birds are more subject to this universal joyous instinct than mammals,
    and there are times when some species are constantly overflowing with
    it; and as they are so much freer than mammals, more buoyant and
    graceful in action, more loquacious, and have voices so much finer,
    their gladness shows itself in a greater variety of ways, with more
    regular and beautiful motions, and with melody. But every species, or
    group of species, has its own inherited form or style of performance;
    and, however rude and irregular this may be, as in the case of the
    pretended stampedes and fights of wild cattle, that is the form in which
    the feeling will always be expressed. If all men, at some exceedingly
    remote period in their history, had agreed to express the common glad
    impulse, which they now express in such an infinite variety of ways or
    do not express at all, by dancing a minuet, and minuet-dancing had at
    last come to be instinctive, and taken to spontaneously by children at
    an early period, just as they take to walking "on their hind legs,"
    man's case would be like that of the inferior animals.

    I was one day watching a flock of plovers, quietly feeding on the
    ground, when, in a moment, all the birds were seized by a joyous
    madness, and each one, after making a vigorous peck at his nearest
    neighbour, began running wildly about, each trying in passing to peck
    other birds, while seeking by means of quick doublings to escape being
    pecked in turn. This species always expresses its glad impulse in the
    same way; but how different in form is this simple game of
    touch-who-touch-can from the triplet dances of the spur-winged lapwings,
    with their drumming music, pompous gestures, and military precision of
    movement! How different also from the aerial performance of another bird
    of the same family--the Brazilian stilt--in which one is pursued by the
    others, mounting upwards in a wild, eccentric flight until they are all
    but lost to view; and back to earth again, and then, skywards once more;
    the pursued bird when overtaken giving place to another individual, and
    the pursuing pack making the air ring with their melodious barking
    cries! How different again are all these from the aerial pastimes of the
    snipe, in which the bird, in its violent descent, is able to produce
    such wonderful, far-reaching sounds with its tail-feathers! The snipe,
    as a rule, is a solitary bird, and, like the oscillating finch mentioned
    early in this paper, is content to practise its pastimes without a
    witness. In the gregarious kinds all perform together: for this feeling,
    like fear, is eminently contagious, and the sight of one bird mad with
    joy will quickly make the whole flock mad. There are also species that
    always live in pairs, like the scissors-tails already mentioned, that
    periodically assemble in numbers for the purpose of display. The crested
    screamer, a very large bird, may also be mentioned: male and female sing
    somewhat harmoniously together, with voices of almost unparalleled
    power: but these birds also congregate in large numbers, and a thousand
    couples, or even several thousands, may be assembled together: and, at
    intervals, both by day and night, all sing in concert, their combined
    voices producing a thunderous melody which seems to shake the earth. As
    a rule, however, birds that live always in pairs do not assemble for the
    purpose of display, but the joyous instinct is expressed by duet-like
    performances between male and female. Thus, in the three South American
    Passerine families, the tyrant-birds, wood-hewers, and ant-thrushes,
    numbering together between eight and nine hundred species, a very large
    majority appear to have displays of this description.

    In my own experience, in cases where the male and female together, or
    assembled with others, take equal parts in the set displays, the sexes
    arc similar, or differ little; but where the female takes no part in the
    displays the superiority of the male in brightness of colour is very
    marked. One or two instances bearing on this point may be given.

    A scarlet-breasted troupial of La Plata perches conspicuously on a tall
    plant in afield, and at intervals soars up vertically, singing, and, at
    the highest ascending point, flight and song end in a kind of aerial
    somersault and vocal flourish at the same moment. Meanwhile, the
    dull-plumaged female is not seen and not heard: for not even a skulking
    crake lives in closer seclusion under the herbage--so widely have the
    sexes diverged in this species. Is the female, then, without an instinct
    so common r--has she no sudden fits of irrepressible gladness?
    Doubtless she has them, and manifests them down in her place of
    concealment in lively chirpings and quick motions--the simple, primitive
    form in which gladness is expressed in the class of birds. In the
    various species of the genus Cnipolegus, already mentioned, the
    difference in the sexes is just as great as in the case of the troupial:
    the solitary, intensely black, statuesque male has, we have seen, a set
    and highly fantastic performance; but on more than one occasion I have
    seen four or five females of one species meet together and have a little
    simple performance all to themselves--in form a kind of lively mock

    It might be objected that when a bird takes its stand and repeats a set
    finished song at intervals for an hour at a stretch, remaining quietly
    perched, such a performance appears to be different in character from
    the irregular and simple displays which are unmistakably caused by a
    sudden glad impulse. But we are familiar with the truth that in organic
    nature great things result from small beginnings--a common flower, and
    our own bony skulls, to say nothing of the matter contained within them,
    are proofs of it. Only a limited number of species sing in a highly
    finished manner. Looking at many species, we find every gradation, every
    shade, from the simple joyous chirp and cry to the most perfect melody.
    Even in a single branch of the true vocalists we may see it--from the
    chirping bunting, and noisy but tuneless sparrow, to linnet and
    goldfinch and canary. Not only do a large majority of species show the
    singing instinct, or form of display, in a primitive, undeveloped state,
    but in that state it continues to show itself in the young of many birds
    in which melody is most highly developed in the adult. And where the
    development has been solely in the male the female never rises above
    that early stage; in her lively chirpings and little mock fights and
    chases, and other simple forms which gladness takes in birds, as well as
    in her plainer plumage, and absence of ornament, she represents the
    species at some remote period. And as with song so with antics and all
    set performances aerial or terrestrial, from those of the whale and the
    elephant to those of the smallest insect.

    Another point remains to be noticed, and that is the greater frequency
    and fulness in displays of all kinds, including song, during the love
    season. And here Dr. Wallace's colour and ornament theory helps us to an
    explanation. At the season of courtship, when the conditions of life are
    most favourable vitality is at its maximum, and naturally it is then
    that the proficiency in all kinds of dancing-antics, aerial and
    terrestrial, appears greatest, and that melody attains its highest
    perfection. This applies chiefly to birds, but even among birds there
    are exceptions, as we have seen in the case of the field-finch, Sycalis
    luteola. The love-excitement is doubtless pleasurable to them, and it
    takes the form in which keenly pleasurable emotions are habitually
    expressed, although not infrequently with variations due to the greater
    intensity of the feeling. In some migrants the males arrive before the
    females, and no sooner have they recovered from the effects of their
    journey than they burst out into rapturous singing; these are not
    love-strains, since the females have not yet arrived, and pairing-time
    is perhaps a mouth distant; their singing merely expresses their
    overflowing gladness. The forest at that season is vocal, not only with
    the fine melody of the true songsters, but with hoarse cawings, piercing
    cries, shrill duets, noisy choruses, drummings, boomings, trills,
    wood-tappings--every sound with which different species express the glad
    impulse; and birds like the parrot that only exert their powerful voices
    in screamings--because "they can do no other"--then scream their
    loudest. When courtship begins it has in many cases the effect of
    increasing the beauty of the performance, giving added sweetness, verve,
    and brilliance to the song, and freedom and grace to the gestures and
    motions. But, as I have said, there are exceptions. Thus, some birds
    that are good melodists at other times sing in a feeble, disjointed
    manner during courtship. In Patagonia I found that several of the birds
    with good voices--one a mocking bird--were, like the robin at home,
    autumn and winter songsters.

    The argument has been stated very binefly: but little would be gained by
    the mere multiplication of instances, since, however many, they would bo
    selected instances--from a single district, it is true, while those in
    the _Descent of Man_ were brought together from an immeasurably wider
    field; but the principle is the same in both cases, and to what I have
    written it may be objected that, if, instead of twenty-five, I had given
    a hundred cases, taking them as they came, they might have shown a
    larger proportion of instances like that of the cow-bird, in which the
    male has a set performance practised only during the love-season and in
    the presence of the female.

    It is, no doubt, true that all collections of facts relating to animal
    life present nature to us somewhat as a "fantastic realm"--unavoidably
    so, in a measure, since the writing would be too bulky, or too dry, or
    too something inconvenient, if we did not take only the most prominent
    facts that come before us, remove them from their places, where alone
    they can be seen in their proper relations to numerous other less
    prominent facts, and rearrange them patch work-wise to make up our
    literature. But I am convinced that any student of the subject who will
    cast aside his books--supposing that they have not already bred a habit
    in his mind of seeing only "in accordance with verbal statement"--and go
    directly to nature to note the actions of animals for himself--actions
    which, in many cases, appear to lose all significance when set down in
    writing--the result of such independent investigation will be a
    conviction that conscious sexual selection on the part of the female is
    not the cause of music and dancing performances in birds, nor of the
    brighter colours and ornaments that distinguish the male. It is true
    that the females of some species, both in the vertebrate and insect
    kingdoms, do exercise a preference; but in a vast majority of species
    the male takes the female he finds, or that he is able to win from other
    competitors; and if we go to the reptile class we find that in the
    ophidian order, which excels in variety and richness of colour, there is
    no such thing as preferential mating; and if we go to the insect class,
    we find that in butterflies, which surpass all creatures in their
    glorious beauty, the female gives herself up to the embrace of the first
    male that appears, or else is captured by the strongest male, just as
    she might be by a mantis or some other rapacious insect.
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