Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/413

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
397
THE VOICES OF ANIMALS.

ascertained, there is more dumbness in the animal world than is generally supposed. This dumbness, however, is rarely absolute, but rather more an inability to form articulated sounds.

Every animal of the higher orders is possessed of some sort of tone expressive of pain or joy, and by means of this it can make itself understood by its kind. Fish can produce no sound in the water, because air is lacking as a medium to propagate the waves of sound; and yet we incline to the belief that the water itself may admit of the forming of some kind of sound-waves, which the fish perhaps may be capable of exciting, and which will be experienced and comprehended by other fish. As far as we are concerned, of course, fish will remain mute, as the element in which they live is one into whose conditions of existence we may never enter, and that to us means death. But even among our domestic animals, the dog heading the list, there reigns, to our ear at least, a dumbness well-nigh absolute, broken only occasionally by faint and forcibly uttered sounds. In very cold and in very hot climates there are certain dog races that never bark, a fact already referred to by Captain Cook in the account of his voyages. In Asia there is a species of dog called colsuns which never barks. It is to be found chiefly in the Deccan, in the mountains of Nilgiri and in the woodlands on the coast of Coromandel. Also among the birds, by poets so often styled "the singers of the forest," there are many kinds that are mute. Two varieties of sparrows, the tangara of Brazil and the senegali at the Senegal, are said never to emit a sound; and in Australia there are larks quite similar to those of our own country, but which never sing.

The real singing of birds is done only in spring-time, to greet anew Nature's awakening. During the rest of the year even the best singers of the woods confine themselves to simple chirping notes of woe or joy. Nicolardot believes that the song of birds may be regarded as the original fount of all music, and according to his view each musical instrument was originally only devised to imitate the voice of some bird. Bringing to bear a considerable knowledge of natural history and perhaps an equal amount of charming fancy, he traces the whole orchestra of to-day back to the voices of birds. He demonstrates that for every instrument—the clarionet, the flute, the oboe, the trombone, the trumpet, and all the rest—a bird may be named that bears the fundamental tone of such instrument in its throat, and which has been copied by man in the making of the instrument. To the nightingale he assigns in this bird-orchestra the part of the organ, and even the rattling of the castanets he would trace to the peculiar noise made by some birds of prey with their bill.

Besides their songs with which they greet Spring, and their notes of pain and joy, birds have still other sounds which they use only on certain occasions. Many birds, besides the rooster, herald the early dawn and sunrise with certain peculiar notes. Among these are the