Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/235

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

great divisions; those which are white or nearly so, and those which are distinctly coloured or spotted. Egg-shells being composed mainly of carbonate of lime, we may assume that the primitive colour of birds' eggs was white, a colour that prevails now among the other egg-bearing vertebrates—lizards, crocodiles, turtles, and snakes; and we might, therefore, expect that this colour would continue where its presence had no disadvantages. Now, as a matter of fact, we find that in all the groups of birds which lay their eggs in concealed places, whether in holes of trees or in the ground, or in domed or covered nests, the eggs are either pure white or of very pale uniform coloration. Such is the case with kingfishers, bee-eaters, penguins, and puffins, which nest in holes in the ground; with the great parrot family, the woodpeckers, the rollers, hoopoes, trogons, owls, and some others, which build in holes in trees or other concealed places; while martins, wrens, willow-warblers, and Australian finches, build domed or covered nests, and usually have white eggs.

There are, however, many other birds which lay their white eggs in open nests; and these afford some very interesting examples of the varied modes by which concealment may be obtained. All the duck tribe, the grebes, and the pheasants belong to this class; but these birds all have the habit of covering their eggs with dead leaves or other material whenever they leave the nest, so as effectually to conceal them. Other birds, as the short-eared owl, the goatsucker, the partridge, and some of the Australian ground pigeons, lay their white or pale eggs on the bare soil; but in these cases the birds themselves are protectively coloured, so that, when sitting, they are almost invisible; and they have the habit of sitting close and almost continuously, thus effectually concealing their eggs.

Pigeons and doves offer a very curious case of the protection of exposed eggs. They usually build very slight and loose nests of sticks and twigs, so open that light can be seen through them from below, while they are generally well concealed by foliage above. Their eggs are white and shining; yet it is a difficult matter to discover, from beneath, whether there are eggs in the nest or not, while they are well hidden by the thick foliage above. The Australian podargi—