Frank Finn.

Bird behaviour, psychical and physiological; online

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BIRD BEHAVIOUR



OTHER VOLUMES

OF

Hutchinson's Nature Library

ALREADY ISSUED
INSECT ARTIZANS AND THEIR WORK

By EDWARD STEP, F.L.S., author of " Messmates,"
" Toadstools and Mushrooms of the Countryside,"
etc.

MESSMATES ; A Book of Strange Companionships
By EDWARD STEP, F.L.S., author of "The Ro-
mance of Wild Flowers," "Shell Life," etc.
With 55 illustrations from photographs on art paper.

THE COURTSHIP OF ANIMALS

2nd Edition. By W. P. PYCRAFT, A.L.S., F.Z.S.,
Zoological Department British Museum, author of
" A History of Birds," " Story of Reptile Life," etc.
With numerous illustrations on art paper.

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE INFANCY OF ANIMALS 2ndEdm on

With 64 plates on art paper and numerous illustra-
tions in the text.



MM*



YOUNG OF BARN-OWL.

Although their white down is very different from the feathers of the old birds
these nestlings have the face just like the adult.




TYPES OF PHEASANTS.

Argus (top left), Golden (top right), Mikado (centre), Silver (bottom), showing different
styles of masculine decoration.



Frontispiece.



BIRD BEHAVIOUR

PSYCHICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL



BY

FRANK FINN, B.A. (OXON), F.Z.S.

Late Editor of " The Zoologist"

AUTHOR OF

"BIRDS OF THE COUNTRYSIDE," "EGGS AND NESTS OF BRITISH BIRDS,"
"THE WORLD'S BIRDS," ETC.



" Behold the fowls of the air. "-ST. MATTHEW vi. 26



WITH 44 ILLUSTRATIONS ON ART PAPER



LONDON
HUTCHINSON AND CO.

PATERNOSTER ROW



BIOLOG
LIBRARY



TO THE

ANIMAL-DEALERS OF LONDON

IN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THEIR

SERVICES TO SCIENCE
*

"* I ''"I: D.ECJICATE THIS BOOK



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I

Importance of subject Incompleteness of our information about
even the commonest species Distinction between major and
minor habits General activities or tricks of manner
Greater importance of the latter in classification Errors to
be avoided in observation . . . . pp. I- 1 2



CHAPTER II

The locomotion of birds Hopping and walking Reasons for
adoption of these gaits Why waterfowl waddle Swimming
and diving Perching and climbing Different methods of
performing these actions Specialized birds which have taken
to different habits, as Ground-Parrots and Land Geese Flight
and its varieties Characteristic methods according to group
and size Sailing and soaring flight Speed . pp. 13-32



CHAPTER III

The nutrition of birds Various kinds of food, animal and vege-
table Methods of and adaptations for obtaining it Changes
of diet Gluttony of some species Power of discrimination
among foods, both vegetable and animal The much-discussed
relations of birds to insects, especially butterflies pp. 33~7^



3748



vi CONTENTS



CHAPTER IV

Nutrition (continued) Manipulation of food Powers of diges-
tion, differing in different groups The formation of pellets
or castings Difference in the food of old and young in some
cases Different methods of feeding the young Young assist-
ing parents in feeding their juniors Feeding of each other
by the sexes Drinking, and eating of such substances as salt
and earth ..... . pp. 77-112

CHAPTER V

Propagation Care of young Different types of young birds
Different modes of feather-development, as seen in young
Fowl, Pigeon, or Duck, for instance Egg-coloration and its
meaning and variations Prolificacy and otherwise Incuba-
tion mounds Periods of incubation . . pp. 113165



CHAPTER VI

Propagation (continued) Nest-making not purely a bird-habit
Eggs laid without nests Types of nests Parasitic nesting
Parasitic layers, like Cuckoos and Cow-birds Degrees of
development of parasitic instinct . . . pp. 166-205



CHAPTER VII

Migration An anciently observed phenomenon still imperfectly
understood Reasons for it Methods as far as is known
Difference between migratory species and the homing Pigeon
Widespread tendency toj migration, contrasted with con-
tradictory tendency to form localized non-migratory races,
ending in some cases in Sightlessness, as in some birds of
remote islands . . . . . . pp. 206-224



CONTENTS vii



CHAPTER VIII

The senses of birds Sight and its general high development
Degree of perception of colour Influence of colour, if any,
on courtship, and the segregation of species Perception of
the colour in various kinds of food Smell, usually poorly
developed Exceptions noted Acuteness of hearing Sense
of touch Taste-perceptions . . . pp. 225-254



CHAPTER IX

The emotions of birds Mentality higher than is supposed, but
variable according to species or groups Strong- and weak-
minded birds Intelligence and stupidity The limitations
of instinct Expression of the emotions and its relation to
courting displays Love and sociability Hatred and re-
venge The police instinct Monogamy, polygamy, and
polyandry The problem of preferential mating pp. 255-280



CHAPTER X

Song and cries of birds Bird-language generally Extent to
which the notes are instinctively developed The instinct of
mimicry Species which can imitate human speech Problem
of this ability and extent of exercise of the same Possibility
of understanding of bird-language by man . pp. 281-292



CHAPTER XI

Weapons and fighting methods of birds Their combats with
each other and with various natural enemies Chief enemies
of birds The passive resistance of birds to unfavourable
climate and surroundings Natural defences Perfection and
degeneracy of plumage in this connection Powder-coating of
some groups pp. 293-302



viii CONTENTS



CHAPTER XII

Special instincts of birds The play of young birds and of adults
Bower-builders and their peculiarities Ornamentation of
nests The instinct for food-storage in some forms The
practice of piracy Toilet and bed-time habits pp. 303-318



CHAPTER XIII

Special physiological peculiarities of birds Longevity Tempera-
ture of body Change of colour in bare skin of some, such as
Turkey The phenomena of the moult Gradual change in
colour of bill and feet according to age and sex or season
Changes in iris colour Beak-sheath shedding as in Puffin

pp. 319-328

CHAPTER XIV -

Abnormalities Hybrids, their characteristics and power of repro-
duction or otherwise Abnormal plumages, such as albinism
or melanism, temporary or permanent Overgrowth of claws
and bill pp. 329-342



CHAPTER XV

Relations of birds with men Persecuted species Parasitic or
commensal species Domestic forms Introduced forms and
the results of introduction . . . .pp. 343~3S6

INDEX pp. 357-363



ILLUSTRATIONS

YOUNG OF BARN-OWL . . . Back of Frontispiece
TYPES OF PHEASANTS .... Frontispiece

FACING PAGE

THE BIRD-COLONY IN THE CALCUTTA Zoo . . 10
NEST OF SOCIABLE WEAVER-BIRDS . . .11

PUFFIN ...... 36

GREAT BLACK WOODPECKER .... 36

MERGANSER ....... 3^

SHOVELLER ........ 3^

FLAMINGOES ....... 37

AVOCET ........ 46

HUIA (FEMALE) . . ... . . .46

HUIA (MALE) 46

HERON ........ 46

RHINOCEROS HORNBILL ..... 47

SPOONBILL ........ 47

PEREGRINE FALCON ...... 47

FLAMINGO ........ 47

RHINOCEROS HORNBILLS ..... 50

Toco TOUCANS . . . . . . 5 1

ix



x ILLUSTRATIONS

FACING PAGE

LYRE-BIRDS (MALE AND FEMALE) ... 54

IMPERIAL WOODPECKERS . . . -55

BOURU FRIAR-BIRD ...... 82

BOURU ORIOLE, SHOWING RESEMBLANCE TO FRIAR-
BIRD .83

YOUNG HOATZIN . . . . . *3 2

BRUSH-TURKEY 133

OVEN-BIRD .133

CONCAVE-CASQUED HORNBILL . . . .170

BRAZILIAN HANG-NEST I? 1

TYPES OF PENSILE NESTS 180

NEST OF CENTRAL-AMERICAN SWIFT . . .181

GuACHAROS AND NEST . . . .184

FLAMINGO ON ITS NEST . . . . .185

SwiFTLETS AND THEIR NESTS . . . .185

HAWK-CUCKOO OR " BRAIN-FEVER BIRD " . . 194

SHIKRA HAWK . . . . *95

AMERICAN KING-BIRD . . . . . 278

KING-CROW 279

AFRICAN JA9ANA . . . . . 296

CUBAN TROGON 297

GARDENER BOWER-BIRD WITH ITS BOWER . . 310

NEWTON'S BOWER-BIRD 3 11

HYBRID BETWEEN GOLDEN PHEASANT AND FOWL . 330

HERRING GULLS 33 l



BIRD BEHAVIOUR



CHAPTER I

Importance of subject Incompleteness of our information about
even the commonest species Distinction between major
and minor habits General activities or tricks of manner
Greater importance of the latter in classification Errors to
be avoided in observation.

THE study of birds is often looked down upon by
general zoologists as a trifling pursuit, and the reason
of this is not far to seek ; what is called zoology
nowadays is for the most part the study of com-
parative anatomy, and from this point of view birds
are of extremely small interest ; they are remarkably
uniform in their general structure, and such varia-
tions of note as do occur are chiefly confined to
a few flightless families, such as Ostriches and Pen-
guins.

One need not, indeed, be an anatomist to realize
the comparatively small structural interest of birds ;
a bird is at once and by everybody recognized as
such, while among the mammals, their rivals in
high development, one gets such extraordinarily
different types as whales, mice, bats, horses, lions,
i



2 ': ': BIRD BEHAVIOUR

adftd meti,' most of which differ from each other more
than trie earliest known bird, the Arckao'pteryx of
Jurassic times, does from the modern Sparrow in the
back-garden.

On the other hand, the numerous species and
families of birds and their close alliance with each
other afford, by this very narrow range of differentia-
tion, an attractive and philosophical study ; among
them survive types which in mammals have become
" missing links " or are only discoverable in the
fossil state. In fact, it is the survival of so many
connecting forms that makes it so difficult to group
the families of birds into larger " orders," a difficulty
which only occurs with mammals when we look
back among their fossil predecessors preserved among
the rocks.

We look, for instance, with interest upon the
remains of the various ancestral predecessors of the
horse family, as exhibited in museums, and try to
realize what changes of habit must have occurred
to convert a small animal with paws into a large
one with a single hoofed toe on each foot. But
among the birds, if we go to the Duck family
(Anatida) we find still in existence practically all
the links between a light-bodied, large-winged bird
with non-waterproof plumage and half-webbed
feet with large grasping hind-toe, and almost
exclusively aquatic diving Ducks which rival the
Grebes and Cormorants in their subaqueous per-
formances, and exhibit almost as much modification
of structure. And the habits of these can be



DUCKS AND EVOLUTION 3

studied, for they are not only living, but accessible ;
the semi-wader at the beginning of the series, the
Australian Magpie-Goose (Anseranas stmipalmata)
is no rarity, and I have spent much time in study-
ing a full-winged specimen, at Kew, while the
habits of many others of the family exemplifying the
gradations I have mentioned are accessible either to
direct observation or to any one who can look up
bird literature.

In fact, the Duck family is one of the most inter-
esting of all animal groups for any one interested
in biological problems, owing to the wide distribu-
tion of its members, their essential and obvious
alliance combined with equally striking differences
some obviously adaptive, others more inexplicable
and I shall have a good deal to say about them
in the course of this book, especially as they are
familiar exhibits in many public parks, and thus
available for everybody's observation.

The availability of birds, as a class, for study gives
them, in fact, an importance in the study of animal
habits which fairly outweighs their insignificance
from the morphological point of view ; and I
personally have never admitted that the study of
structure is more important than that of habit,
considering that it only acquires its pre-eminence
from the fact of demanding a professional training
which is the prerogative of a few only. When one
comes to think of it, we ourselves only surpass the
other mammals in virtue of our habits, being
structurally simply monkeys on our hind legs ; yet



4 BIRD BEHAVIOUR

he would be a bold zoologist who would claim that
comparative anatomy is a more important study
than that of the manifold activities of mankind.
If one admits that the study of habit is to be taken
seriously and of late there has been a decided
trend in that direction bird-watching needs no
apology, for the habits of birds are of manifold
variety, and not by any means fully understood,
even in the case of the commonest and most familiar
species. In fact, these are sometimes, perhaps, less
well understood than the comparatively inaccessible
ones ; it has often struck me, in view of the excellent
observations that have been made of late years in
the Antarctic by various expeditions, that we know
more about the mind and life of the Adelie Penguin,
one of the remotest birds on the globe, than we do
about those of the Peacock, the best known by sight
and reputation of all birds for a couple of thousand
years.

And here one must bear in mind that an observer
should be no respecter of persons ornithologically ; a
bird is not necessarily more worth observing because
it is difficult of access, and that naturalist was very
unscientific who said about the Sparrow, " I have
got into the habit of not noticing this bird." Per-
sonally I am always seeing something fresh in the
humble Sparrow's performances, and though my
taste as a fancier lies in the direction of birds of
beauty, I must admit that the humbler species
are often more interesting. But they are not
necessarily so ; dowdiness is no more a sign of



FREE AND CAPTIVE BIRDS 5

intellect in a bird than in a human being, and
Aristotle was quite right in stigmatizing some birds
as " dull in colour and leading a dull life," while
some of those which are stigmatized as " garish "
possess habits and qualities of surpassing interest,
the Peacock in particular. I particularly mention
the Peacock, because it is a purely Indian bird, but
widely diffused about the world in a domestic
state ; but its domestication is not rigorous, so to
speak, and it is allowed to lead practically a natural
life. This needs to be noticed, because there is a
regrettable tendency among naturalists to confine
their observations to the wild birds native to their
own country, to the neglect of introduced, domes-
ticated, and captive species.

A free bird is, of course, other things equal, the
best and most instructive subject for observation,
and many habits can only be observed on birds in a
state of liberty, and in their own country at that ;
but nevertheless, many very interesting hints may be
gleaned from the study of birds not so situated,
and these may always be checked by the study of
their recorded habits in a natural state. Where
such records do not exist, the study of captive birds
is a useful stimulus to field observers to take up the
matter, and often an observation on a tame or
captive bird brings out a point which the field
observer almost necessarily overlooks, owing, in
many cases, to want of opportunity to discriminate
between individuals a point which will become
evident later on.



6 BIRD BEHAVIOUR

The best of all birds for observation are, of course,
those which live in a tame but free state in their
own country, such as Wood-Pigeons in London, and
House-Crows (Corvus splendens) in Indian towns,
though even here the difficulty of identifying
individuals is a drawback. The growing practice
of ringing birds, however, which is proving so
useful in throwing light on problems of migration,
will probably be of service in making records of
individual birds in the near future, and in this
connection it is worth noting that spring net-traps
can be obtained in which many species of birds can
be readily captured without injury for this purpose.

In considering the habits of birds we have to
realize that they fall into two categories, which may
perhaps be called major and minor habits, or per-
haps, habits and customs. By major habits I mean
the leading and conspicuous life- activities of a
species ; its food, manner of nesting, mode of
association (solitary or gregarious), etc. On these
its life obviously depends, and to them its structure
is often plainly adapted. Yet, as its life depends on
the adjustment of its main activities to its sur-
roundings, it is just these habits that are particularly
liable to vary even in a state of nature, and especially
so under the influence of man's interference, direct
or otherwise. Habits of this sort are fairly, though
not completely known in the case of a vast number
of birds, but will always require study, as they are
so subject to modification by circumstances.

The minor habits, or mannerisms as we should



VERSATILITY OF SPARROW 7

call them in the ease of persons, are not nearly so
familiar, and have not been jvorked out fully even
in many very well-known birds. Such are pecu-
liarities in gait, flight, and other actions ; attitudes
under emotion, positions assumed in repose, etc.
Often these have no apparent connection with any
necessity, and they are practically invariable for
the species and often for the group, and not alter-
able by circumstances.

To take a concrete instance ; the common Spar-
row, as every one knows, eats seed, for the cracking
of which its bill is specially adapted ; it perches
in trees, and has feet adapted for grasping twigs ;
it also builds its nest in trees, and associates in
pairs and flocks. These are its major habits, and
every one knows they are subject to modification ;
it eats many things besides seed, especially remnants
of man's food ; it builds under eaves as well as
among boughs, and will sleep in its nest or in a
crevice of a wall, as well as on a twig, in spite of
its grasping feet. In spite of its short wings, it
chases insects in the air, and hovers and drops
on them in long grass like a miniature Kestrel.

In other words, its major activities are, though to
some extent correlated with its structure, highly
variable, and this, no doubt, is one great reason
for its success as a species. If actively interfered
with by man it can vary still more ; a hand-reared
Sparrow has been known to acquire a Linnet's
or Canary's song.

In some points, however, the Sparrow is invari-



8 BIRD BEHAVIOUR

able ; it never acquires the habit of holding down
its food with one foot, though this would be of
vital importance to it in enabling it to consume
large articles of food when perched on a small
bough, and thus escape risk of ground enemies.
Though largely a ground-feeder, it hops and does
not run, and does not hold up its tail to keep it
clear of wet ; when courting it has a definite
display, with wings lowered and head and tail
raised. It rolls in dust as well as washing, a com-
bination of habits rare among birds, and when
scratching itself it lowers its wing and raises its foot
over it. Some of these minor habits may have
significance, but this is not obvious ; what is obvious
is that they are common to all Sparrows, and are
often group-characters ; thus, all the vast group of
generally small birds the Passerines, of which the
Sparrow (Passer) is type and name-father seem
to drop a wing when scratching. Habits of this
kind do not alter even in captive birds, although
they may learn strange habits of feeding and nesting,
and even alien songs.

Hence such characters are often useful in classi-
ficatipn, just as anatomical characters or inconspicu-
ous external ones are of more importance than
the general contour. Thus, all anatomists of late
years have impressed upon us that the Swallows
and Swifts must not be considered near relatives
because of their similar forms long-winged, small-
footed, and short-billed since these may be ac-
counted for by adaptation to a similar life spent in



SWIFTS AND SWALLOWS 9

chasing flying insects, and the anatomical characters
of the Swifts differ from those of the Swallows,
which present no important internal differences
from the ordinary small passerine birds^ There
are small differences also in external characters
which are not to be correlated with modes of living ;
the Swifts have but ten tail-feathers to the Swal-
lows' twelve, and have not the scales on their shanks
which are usual in birds. There is also a conspicuous
difference in habit which seems to have no relation
to utility, and hence is more likely to be a family
character ; in flight the Swallow every now and
then draws in its wings to its sides it still shows a
sign of the typical small passerine bird's flight
with its occasional dips with closed wings while
the Swift always keeps its wings fully expanded,
whether skimming motionless or renewing its
impetus by means of wing-beats.

Small details of habit are thus always worth
observing, as they may be more significant than
they seem, and in any case are good practice in
observation.

Some pitfalls in observation or in drawing con-
clusions from the same need mentioning in con-
clusion. The danger of the major habits becoming
modified in captivity or domestication has been
alluded to, and is, indeed, made rather too much of
by some writers ; still, it is well to bear it in mind.
There is also the difficulty of the field observer in
discriminating between individuals often between
the sexes, when these are alike. One must never



io BIRD BEHAVIOUR

assume anything ; if a bird is displaying, it is not
necessarily a male, for instance. Quite apart from
the fact that in many species the hen is the dominant
sex, as in Phalaropes and Cassowaries, the hen may
display even in those in which the male is well
differentiated and very self-assertive ; thus, I have
seen a Peahen display to a Peacock, and a hen
Turkey to the gobbler, these males in both cases
remaining passive, so that had the sexes been alike,
one would certainly have been tempted to draw
very false conclusions about their behaviour.

Then one must be very cautious in keeping free
from prepossessions ; it is quite easy to see what
is not there, if one has some image already in
one's mind. We laugh at the error of the old
naturalists who credited the Osprey, as a fishing-
bird-of-prey, with one taloned foot and one webbed
one ; these odd extremities no doubt seemed to
them appropriate, but I have seen almost equally
gross instances of faulty observation of points of
form and colour in the work of modern naturalists
of the best repute.

Such errors can, of course, easily be checked, but
when it comes to actions, unless the camera is at hand
for the recording of such (which can be but rarely
the case), the evidence is necessarily dependent on
a number of witnesses. Every one is liable to err,
and any observer is liable to have the opportunity
of observing an action or occurrence which is rare
or strange, and will be disbelieved until some one
else arises to coirfirm it.




H rt
H ai

3 I



W M



o




NEST OF SOCIABLE WEAVER-BIRDS.

" Republican Grosbeak " was the old name for this Weaver, which is a plain-plumaged,
Sparrow-like bird.



INCONSISTENT CORMORANTS 11

One should thus be very careful in discrediting
the observations of others if they do not happen to
agree with one's own, especially if such were
recorded many years ago ; a record is not necessarily
bad because it is ancient, nor good because it is
new. Even one's own observations may contradict
each other at times, as happened to me in my
experience of our wild colony of the small Indian
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax javanicus) in the Calcutta
Zoo. These birds came in the evenings to their
roosting-place on a wooded island in a large pond,
and usually swooped down, Swallow-fashion, to take
a drink on the wing before going up to roost.
This was an unusual feat for a Cormorant to per-
form (although it must be remembered that this
species is a light-built, long-tailed bird of only the
size of a Teal), and, from the way in which the
birds began to gape before touching the water,
and often involuntarily checked their way so much
that they had to settle after all, they evidently found
it a difficult one. It so happened, too, that once
for some time they gave the habit up, and settled
in flocks in the water to drink in the normal way,
though they afterwards resumed the custom of
the flying sip ; and I can well imagine that any
one who had seen them thus drink sitting would
put down my record of the flying drink as most
far-fetched and out of all congruity with the
structure and habits of a Cormorant.

Very likely the birds had adopted a really new
habit, in drinking flying ; at any rate, we know



12 BIRD BEHAVIOUR

new habits do occur I rather fancy that I dropped


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Online LibraryFrank FinnBird behaviour, psychical and physiological; → online text (page 1 of 23)