Skip to main content

Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

See other formats

Anyone who, like myself, has watched such birds by the hour day
after day, must be struck by the fact of their enjoyment of the court-
ship ceremonies for their own sake, and the further fact that the
ceremonies are often what we may call biologically self-exhausting, in
that the birds5 emotional tension is often liberated through them,
instead of being stimulated and leading on to actual pairing. It
would seem as if these strange and romantic displays—head-shaking,
or diving for weed, or aquatic dances breast to breast, or relieving
guard on the nest with ceremonies of parade, or presentation of a
twig with wings and crest a-quiver,—as if they constituted a bond
between the two birds of the pair, binding them together so long as the
breeding season lasted by emotional links. And after all, why not?
Does not something similar obtain in human society? And does it not
there play a valuable role, in cementing with love and joy the racially
important edifice of the family? And if it has this value in man, why
not in these birds, for whom too the co-operation of both parents for
the good of the family is essential?
Here then we see display pressed, riot merely into the service of one
male against the rest, not merely facilitating fertilization, but into
that of the super-individual unit, the family. And it is interesting that
the family life of birds attains its highest development in these forms
which have, we may say, equal sex rights and duties.
In yet other cases we see display becoming social, and courtship
tending (as again sometimes in man) to be again diverted from its
original character of individual wooing, this time toward the publicity
of the dance. Among birds I myself have investigated, this is best
seen in the oyster-catcher, the bold black-and-white shore bird, witli
red bill, sometimes known as sea-pie. Gatherings of eight or tea birds
of this species may be seen in spring, all careering around together in
their stiff courtship attitude with neck out-thrust and long bill point-
ing vertically downwards, and a piercing noise of trilled piping issuing
from their throats. Observation revealed that this is not only the
commonest form of display, but the only one used while on the
ground; that it may be employed by the male alone, or mutually by
male and female together; and that, in addition to its courtship
function, it expresses jealous hostility of other trespassing birds,
whether trespassing on territorial or sexual rights. When, in a flock
in early spring, courtship begins, other birds may join in the excite-
ment; hostility re-enforces love, and soon the whole number are
careering round in frenzied excitement which is, it seems, neither
sexual nor hostile, but social. Here the social dance appears to have
little or no special function, but is rather a biological accident.