Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/583

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563
INSTINCT IN YOUNG BIRDS.

results were not uniform, yet, in the great majority of instances, the chickens gave evidence of instinctive fear of these sting-bearing insects.

But to return to examples of instinctive skill and knowledge, concerning which I think no doubt can remain, a very useful instinct may be observed in the early attention that chickens pay to their toilet. As soon as they can hold up their heads, when only from four to five hours old, they attempt dressing at their wings, that, too, when they have been denied the use of their eyes. Another incontestable case of instinct may be seen in the art of scraping in search of food. Without any opportunities of imitation, chickens begin to scrape when from two to six days old. Most frequently the circumstances are suggestive; at other times, however, the first attempt, which generally consists of a sort of nervous dance, was made on a smooth table. The unacquired dexterity shown in the capture of insects is very remarkable. A duckling one day old, on being placed in the open air for the first time, almost immediately snapped at, and caught, a fly on the wing. Still more interesting is the instructive art of catching flies peculiar to the turkey. When not a day and a half old I observed a young turkey, which I had adopted while yet in the shell, pointing its beak slowly and deliberately at flies and other small insects without actually pecking at them. In doing this its head could be seen to shake like a hand that is attempted to be held steady by a visible effort. This I recorded when I did not understand its meaning. For it was not until afterward that I observed a turkey, when it sees a fly settle on any object, steals on the unwary insect with slow and measured step, and, when sufficiently near, advances its head very slowly and steadily until within reach of its prey, which is then seized by a sudden dart. In still further confirmation of the opinion that such wonderful examples of dexterity and cunning are instinctive and not acquired, may be adduced the significant fact that the individuals of each species have little capacity to learn any thing not found in the habits of their progenitors. A chicken was made, from the first and for several months, the sole companion of a young turkey. Yet it never showed the slightest tendency to adopt the admirable art of catching flies that it saw practised before its eyes every hour of the day.

The only theory in explanation of the phenomena of instinct that has an air of science about it is, the doctrine of Inherited Association. Instinct in the present generation of animals is the product of the accumulated experiences of past generations. Great difficulty, however, is felt by many in conceiving how any thing so impalpable as fear at the sight of a bee should be transmitted from parent to offspring. It should be remembered, however, that the permanence of such associations in the history of an individual life depends on the corresponding impress given to the nervous organization. We cannot, strictly