The Descent of Man – Day 96 of 151

Tetrao cupido:  male.  (T.W. Wood.)

Figure 39: Tetrao cupido: male. (T.W. Wood.)

In some birds the vocal organs differ greatly in the two sexes. In the Tetrao cupido (Fig. 39) the male has two bare, orange-coloured sacks, one on each side of the neck; and these are largely inflated when the male, during the breeding-season, makes his curious hollow sound, audible at a great distance. Audubon proved that the sound was intimately connected with this apparatus (which reminds us of the air-sacks on each side of the mouth of certain male frogs), for he found that the sound was much diminished when one of the sacks of a tame bird was pricked, and when both were pricked it was altogether stopped. The female has “a somewhat similar, though smaller naked space of skin on the neck; but this is not capable of inflation.” (41. ‘The Sportsman and Naturalist in Canada,’ by Major W. Ross King, 1866, pp. 144-146. Mr. T.W. Wood gives in the ‘Student’ (April 1870, p. 116) an excellent account of the attitude and habits of this bird during its courtship. He states that the ear-tufts or neck-plumes are erected, so that they meet over the crown of the head. See his drawing, Fig. 39.) The male of another kind of grouse (Tetrao urophasianus), whilst courting the female, has his “bare yellow oesophagus inflated to a prodigious size, fully half as large as the body”; and he then utters various grating, deep, hollow tones. With his neck-feathers erect, his wings lowered, and buzzing on the ground, and his long pointed tail spread out like a fan, he displays a variety of grotesque attitudes. The oesophagus of the female is not in any way remarkable. (42. Richardson, ‘Fauna Bor. American: Birds,’ 1831, p. 359. Audubon, ibid. vol. iv. p. 507.)

The Umbrella-bird or Cephalopterus ornatus, male (from Brehm).

Figure 40: The Umbrella-bird or Cephalopterus ornatus, male (from Brehm).

It seems now well made out that the great throat pouch of the European male bustard (Otis tarda), and of at least four other species, does not, as was formerly supposed, serve to hold water, but is connected with the utterance during the breeding-season of a peculiar sound resembling “oak.” (43. The following papers have been lately written on this subject: Prof. A. Newton, in the ‘Ibis,’ 1862, p. 107; Dr. Cullen, ibid. 1865, p. 145; Mr. Flower, in ‘Proc. Zool. Soc.’ 1865, p. 747; and Dr. Murie, in ‘Proc. Zool. Soc.’ 1868, p. 471. In this latter paper an excellent figure is given of the male Australian Bustard in full display with the sack distended. It is a singular fact that the sack is not developed in all the males of the same species.) A crow-like bird inhabiting South America (see Cephalopterus ornatus, Fig. 40) is called the umbrella-bird, from its immense top knot, formed of bare white quills surmounted by dark-blue plumes, which it can elevate into a great dome no less than five inches in diameter, covering the whole head. This bird has on its neck a long, thin, cylindrical fleshy appendage, which is thickly clothed with scale-like blue feathers. It probably serves in part as an ornament, but likewise as a resounding apparatus; for Mr. Bates found that it is connected “with an unusual development of the trachea and vocal organs.” It is dilated when the bird utters its singularly deep, loud and long sustained fluty note. The head-crest and neck-appendage are rudimentary in the female. (44. Bates, ‘The Naturalist on the Amazons,’ 1863, vol. ii. p. 284; Wallace, in ‘Proceedings, Zoological Society,’ 1850, p. 206. A new species, with a still larger neck-appendage (C. penduliger), has lately been discovered, see ‘Ibis,’ vol. i. p. 457.)

The vocal organs of various web-footed and wading birds are extraordinarily complex, and differ to a certain extent in the two sexes. In some cases the trachea is convoluted, like a French horn, and is deeply embedded in the sternum. In the wild swan (Cygnus ferus) it is more deeply embedded in the adult male than in the adult female or young male. In the male Merganser the enlarged portion of the trachea is furnished with an additional pair of muscles. (45. Bishop, in Todd’s ‘Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology,’ vol. iv. p. 1499.) In one of the ducks, however, namely Anas punctata, the bony enlargement is only a little more developed in the male than in the female. (46. Prof. Newton, ‘Proc. Zoolog. Soc.’ 1871, p. 651.) But the meaning of these differences in the trachea of the two sexes of the Anatidae is not understood; for the male is not always the more vociferous; thus with the common duck, the male hisses, whilst the female utters a loud quack. (47. The spoonbill (Platalea) has its trachea convoluted into a figure of eight, and yet this bird (Jerdon, ‘Birds of India,’ vol. iii. p. 763) is mute; but Mr. Blyth informs me that the convolutions are not constantly present, so that perhaps they are now tending towards abortion.) In both sexes of one of the cranes (Grus virgo) the trachea penetrates the sternum, but presents “certain sexual modifications.” In the male of the black stork there is also a well-marked sexual difference in the length and curvature of the bronchi. (48. ‘Elements of Comparative Anatomy,’ by R. Wagner, Eng. translat. 1845, p. 111. With respect to the swan, as given above, Yarrell’s ‘History of British Birds,’ 2nd edition, 1845, vol. iii. p. 193.) Highly important structures have, therefore, in these cases been modified according to sex.

It is often difficult to conjecture whether the many strange cries and notes uttered by male birds during the breeding-season serve as a charm or merely as a call to the female. The soft cooing of the turtle-dove and of many pigeons, it may be presumed, pleases the female. When the female of the wild turkey utters her call in the morning, the male answers by a note which differs from the gobbling noise made, when with erected feathers, rustling wings and distended wattles, he puffs and struts before her. (49. C.L. Bonaparte, quoted in the ‘Naturalist Library: Birds,’ vol. xiv. p. 126.) The spel of the black-cock certainly serves as a call to the female, for it has been known to bring four or five females from a distance to a male under confinement; but as the black-cock continues his spel for hours during successive days, and in the case of the capercailzie “with an agony of passion,” we are led to suppose that the females which are present are thus charmed. (50. L. Lloyd, ‘The Game Birds of Sweden,’ etc., 1867, pp. 22, 81.) The voice of the common rook is known to alter during the breeding-season, and is therefore in some way sexual. (51. Jenner, ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1824, p. 20.) But what shall we say about the harsh screams of, for instance, some kinds of macaws; have these birds as bad taste for musical sounds as they apparently have for colour, judging by the inharmonious contrast of their bright yellow and blue plumage? It is indeed possible that without any advantage being thus gained, the loud voices of many male birds may be the result of the inherited effects of the continued use of their vocal organs when excited by the strong passions of love, jealousy and rage; but to this point we shall recur when we treat of quadrupeds.

We have as yet spoken only of the voice, but the males of various birds practise, during their courtship, what may be called instrumental music. Peacocks and Birds of Paradise rattle their quills together. Turkey-cocks scrape their wings against the ground, and some kinds of grouse thus produce a buzzing sound. Another North American grouse, the Tetrao umbellus, when with his tail erect, his ruffs displayed, “he shows off his finery to the females, who lie hid in the neighbourhood,” drums by rapidly striking his wings together above his back, according to Mr. R. Haymond, and not, as Audubon thought, by striking them against his sides. The sound thus produced is compared by some to distant thunder, and by others to the quick roll of a drum. The female never drums, “but flies directly to the place where the male is thus engaged.” The male of the Kalij-pheasant, in the Himalayas, often makes a singular drumming noise with his wings, not unlike the sound produced by shaking a stiff piece of cloth.” On the west coast of Africa the little black-weavers (Ploceus?) congregate in a small party on the bushes round a small open space, and sing and glide through the air with quivering wings, “which make a rapid whirring sound like a child’s rattle.” One bird after another thus performs for hours together, but only during the courting-season. At this season, and at no other time, the males of certain night-jars (Caprimulgus) make a strange booming noise with their wings. The various species of woodpeckers strike a sonorous branch with their beaks, with so rapid a vibratory movement that “the head appears to be in two places at once.” The sound thus produced is audible at a considerable distance but cannot be described; and I feel sure that its source would never be conjectured by any one hearing it for the first time. As this jarring sound is made chiefly during the breeding-season, it has been considered as a love-song; but it is perhaps more strictly a love-call. The female, when driven from her nest, has been observed thus to call her mate, who answered in the same manner and soon appeared. Lastly, the male hoopoe (Upupa epops) combines vocal and instrumental music; for during the breeding-season this bird, as Mr. Swinhoe observed, first draws in air, and then taps the end of its beak perpendicularly down against a stone or the trunk of a tree, “when the breath being forced down the tubular bill produces the correct sound.” If the beak is not thus struck against some object, the sound is quite different. Air is at the same time swallowed, and the oesophagus thus becomes much swollen; and this probably acts as a resonator, not only with the hoopoe, but with pigeons and other birds. (52. For the foregoing facts see, on Birds of Paradise, Brehm, ‘Thierleben,’ Band iii. s. 325. On Grouse, Richardson, ‘Fauna Bor. Americ.: Birds,’ pp. 343 and 359; Major W. Ross King, ‘The Sportsman in Canada,’ 1866, p. 156; Mr. Haymond, in Prof. Cox’s ‘Geol. Survey of Indiana,’ p. 227; Audubon, ‘American Ornitholog. Biograph.’ vol. i. p. 216. On the Kalij-pheasant, Jerdon, ‘Birds of India,’ vol. iii. p. 533. On the Weavers, Livingstone’s ‘Expedition to the Zambesi,’ 1865, p. 425. On Woodpeckers, Macgillivray, ‘Hist. of British Birds,’ vol. iii. 1840, pp. 84, 88, 89, and 95. On the Hoopoe, Mr. Swinhoe, in ‘Proc. Zoolog. Soc.’ June 23, 1863 and 1871, p. 348. On the Night-jar, Audubon, ibid. vol. ii. p. 255, and ‘American Naturalist,’ 1873, p. 672. The English Night-jar likewise makes in the spring a curious noise during its rapid flight.)

Outer tail-feather of Scolopax gallinago (from 'Proc. Zool. Soc.' 1858).

Figure 41: Outer tail-feather of Scolopax gallinago (from ‘Proc. Zool. Soc.’ 1858).

Outer tail-feather of Scolopax frenata.

Figure 42: Outer tail-feather of Scolopax frenata.

Outer tail-feather of Scolopax javensis.

Figure 43: Outer tail-feather of Scolopax javensis.

In the foregoing cases sounds are made by the aid of structures already present and otherwise necessary; but in the following cases certain feathers have been specially modified for the express purpose of producing sounds. The drumming, bleating, neighing, or thundering noise (as expressed by different observers) made by the common snipe (Scolopax gallinago) must have surprised every one who has ever heard it. This bird, during the pairing-season, flies to “perhaps a thousand feet in height,” and after zig-zagging about for a time descends to the earth in a curved line, with outspread tail and quivering pinions, and surprising velocity. The sound is emitted only during this rapid descent. No one was able to explain the cause until M. Meves observed that on each side of the tail the outer feathers are peculiarly formed (Fig. 41), having a stiff sabre-shaped shaft with the oblique barbs of unusual length, the outer webs being strongly bound together. He found that by blowing on these feathers, or by fastening them to a long thin stick and waving them rapidly through the air, he could reproduce the drumming noise made by the living bird. Both sexes are furnished with these feathers, but they are generally larger in the male than in the female, and emit a deeper note. In some species, as in S. frenata (Fig. 42), four feathers, and in S. javensis (Fig. 43), no less than eight on each side of the tail are greatly modified. Different tones are emitted by the feathers of the different species when waved through the air; and the Scolopax Wilsonii of the United States makes a switching noise whilst descending rapidly to the earth. (53. See M. Meves’ interesting paper in ‘Proc. Zool. Soc.’ 1858, p. 199. For the habits of the snipe, Macgillivray, ‘History of British Birds,’ vol. iv. p. 371. For the American snipe, Capt. Blakiston, ‘Ibis,’ vol. v. 1863, p. 131.)

Primary wing-feather of a Humming-bird, the Selasphorus platycercus (from a sketch by Mr. Salvin). Upper figure, that of male; lower figure, corresponding feather of female.

Figure 44: Primary wing-feather of a Humming-bird, the Selasphorus platycercus (from a sketch by Mr. Salvin).
Upper figure, that of male;
lower figure, corresponding feather of female.

In the male of the Chamaepetes unicolor (a large gallinaceous bird of America), the first primary wing-feather is arched towards the tip and is much more attenuated than in the female. In an allied bird, the Penelope nigra, Mr. Salvin observed a male, which, whilst it flew downwards “with outstretched wings, gave forth a kind of crashing rushing noise,” like the falling of a tree. (54. Mr. Salvin, in ‘Proceedings, Zoological Society,’ 1867, p. 160. I am much indebted to this distinguished ornithologist for sketches of the feathers of the Chamaepetes, and for other information.) The male alone of one of the Indian bustards (Sypheotides auritus) has its primary wing-feathers greatly acuminated; and the male of an allied species is known to make a humming noise whilst courting the female. (55. Jerdon, ‘Birds of India,’ vol. iii. pp. 618, 621.) In a widely different group of birds, namely Humming-birds, the males alone of certain kinds have either the shafts of their primary wing-feathers broadly dilated, or the webs abruptly excised towards the extremity. The male, for instance, of Selasphorus platycercus, when adult, has the first primary wing-feather (Fig. 44), thus excised. Whilst flying from flower to flower he makes “a shrill, almost whistling noise” (56. Gould, ‘Introduction to the Trochilidae,’ 1861, p. 49. Salvin, ‘Proceedings, Zoological Society,’ 1867, p. 160.); but it did not appear to Mr. Salvin that the noise was intentionally made.

Secondary wing-feathers of Pipra deliciosa (from Mr. Sclater, in 'Proc. Zool. Soc.' 1860). The three upper feathers, a, b, c, from the male; the three lower corresponding feathers, d, e, f, from the female. a and d, fifth secondary wing-feather of male and female, upper surface. b and e, sixth secondary, upper surface. c and f, seventh secondary, lower surface.

Figure 45: Secondary wing-feathers of Pipra deliciosa (from Mr. Sclater, in ‘Proc. Zool. Soc.’ 1860).
The three upper feathers, a, b, c, from the male;
the three lower corresponding feathers, d, e, f, from the female.
a and d, fifth secondary wing-feather of male and female, upper surface.
b and e, sixth secondary, upper surface.
c and f, seventh secondary, lower surface.

Lastly, in several species of a sub-genus of Pipra or Manakin, the males, as described by Mr. Sclater, have their secondary wing-feathers modified in a still more remarkable manner. In the brilliantly-coloured P. deliciosa the first three secondaries are thick-stemmed and curved towards the body; in the fourth and fifth (Fig. 45, a) the change is greater; and in the sixth and seventh (b, c) the shaft “is thickened to an extraordinary degree, forming a solid horny lump.” The barbs also are greatly changed in shape, in comparison with the corresponding feathers (d, e, f) in the female. Even the bones of the wing, which support these singular feathers in the male, are said by Mr. Fraser to be much thickened. These little birds make an extraordinary noise, the first “sharp note being not unlike the crack of a whip.” (57. Sclater, in ‘Proceedings, Zoological Society,’ 1860, p. 90, and in ‘Ibis,’ vol. iv. 1862, p. 175. Also Salvin, in ‘Ibis,’ 1860, p. 37.)

The diversity of the sounds, both vocal and instrumental, made by the males of many birds during the breeding-season, and the diversity of the means for producing such sounds, are highly remarkable. We thus gain a high idea of their importance for sexual purposes, and are reminded of the conclusion arrived at as to insects. It is not difficult to imagine the steps by which the notes of a bird, primarily used as a mere call or for some other purpose, might have been improved into a melodious love song. In the case of the modified feathers, by which the drumming, whistling, or roaring noises are produced, we know that some birds during their courtship flutter, shake, or rattle their unmodified feathers together; and if the females were led to select the best performers, the males which possessed the strongest or thickest, or most attenuated feathers, situated on any part of the body, would be the most successful; and thus by slow degrees the feathers might be modified to almost any extent. The females, of course, would not notice each slight successive alteration in shape, but only the sounds thus produced. It is a curious fact that in the same class of animals, sounds so different as the drumming of the snipe’s tail, the tapping of the woodpecker’s beak, the harsh trumpet-like cry of certain water-fowl, the cooing of the turtle-dove, and the song of the nightingale, should all be pleasing to the females of the several species. But we must not judge of the tastes of distinct species by a uniform standard; nor must we judge by the standard of man’s taste. Even with man, we should remember what discordant noises, the beating of tom-toms and the shrill notes of reeds, please the ears of savages. Sir S. Baker remarks (58. ‘The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia,’ 1867, p. 203.), that “as the stomach of the Arab prefers the raw meat and reeking liver taken hot from the animal, so does his ear prefer his equally coarse and discordant music to all other.”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)