Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/549

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been undertaken into this matter will perhaps throw some light upon one of the most singular aptitudes possessed by animals. It is commonly supposed that parrots cannot attach any meaning to the phrases which they have learned; but this is not strictly exact. Occasionally individuals possessed of the advantages of great natural intelligence and good training employ words to make requests; they make proper reply to a question or to a sign. It might be supposed that parrots owe their power of speaking to the peculiar conformation of their tongue; but this is rendered doubtful by the performances of the magpie, the blackbird, and the starling. In these birds the tongue is thin, and yet they have no difficulty in pronouncing any articulate sound; this fact gives strength to the idea of the influence of the superior larynx. A starling, distinguished for its power of speaking, which at one time we had occasion to observe, very well knew the value of sundry words. He gave expression to his wants in good French, emphasizing his words with the flapping of his wings. This bird was very fond of the bath, and often called for water; on seeing a person taking hold of a pitcher the bird would exclaim, "Come quick, come quick!" with increasing force in case he was obliged to wait.

Most small birds have their call, their chirp of joy or of fright, their battle-cries: all these voice-explosions, containing as they do both vowel and consonant sounds, show how easy and natural articulation is to these animals. The species which possess the power of singing have a very complex vocal apparatus. The nightingale excels all the other songsters of the woods in power, clearness, and sweetness of tone. Her notes, whether joyous or plaintive, are always melodious. This bird acquires the power of song only after long practice. The young ones are usually very indifferent singers, and it is only those individuals which possess special gifts that give to the vocal art its highest expression. Among all the pretty feathered denizens of our woods, the males alone possess a fine voice; they utter their song in order to win mates who cannot compete in vocal talent. They are mute for a great part of the year, but, when the mating season approaches, their nervous action is quickened, and the blood is determined to the organs of voice.



THE group of animals called "Bats" is one full of interest to those specially occupied with the study of animal structure—the anatomist, the physiologist, and the philosophical zoölogist. At the same time it must be confessed that bats are far from exciting that general interest which in fact they merit. This disregard, however, is very