Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/307

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COLOURS AND ORNAMENTS CHARACTERISTIC OF SEX

descend rapidly from a great height. All these are probably recognition and call notes, useful to each species in relation to the most important function of their lives, and thus capable of being developed by the agency of natural selection.

Decorative Plumage of Birds and its Display.

Mr. Darwin has devoted four chapters of his Descent of Man to the colours of birds, their decorative plumage, and its display at the pairing season; and it is on this latter circumstance that he founds his theory, that both the plumage and the colours have been developed by the preference of the females, the more ornamented males becoming the parents of each successive generation. Any one who reads these most interesting chapters will admit, that the fact of the display is demonstrated; and it may also be admitted, as highly probable, that the female is pleased or excited by the display. But it by no means follows that slight differences in the shape, pattern, or colours of the ornamental plumes are what lead a female to give the preference to one male over another; still less that all the females of a species, or the great majority of them, over a wide area of country, and for many successive generations, prefer exactly the same modification of the colour or ornament.

The evidence on this matter is very scanty, and in most cases not at all to the point. Some peahens preferred an old pied peacock; albino birds in a state of nature have never been seen paired with other birds; a Canada goose paired with a Bernicle gander; a male widgeon preferred a pintail duck to its own species; a hen canary preferred a male greenfinch to either linnet, goldfinch, siskin, or chaffinch. These cases are evidently exceptional, and are not such as generally occur in nature; and they only prove that the female does exert some choice between very different males, and some observations on birds in a state of nature prove the same thing; but there is no evidence that slight variations in the colour or plumes, in the way of increased intensity or complexity, are what determines the choice. On the other hand, Mr. Darwin gives much evidence that it is not so determined. He tells us that Messrs. Hewitt, Tegetmeier, and Brent, three of the highest authorities and best observers, "do not believe that