Skip to main content

Full text of "Our common cuckoo and other cuckoos and parasitical birds : an attempt to reach a true theory of them by comparative study of habit and function : with a thorough criticism and exposure of Darwin's views and Romane's views and those of their followers"

See other formats

to Goimon Moo 


Smithsonian Institution 

Alexander Wetmore 

1946 Sixth Secretary 1955 




^ ■'^^ 















ALL the district round a little house in the 
country, to which I removed from London, 
now getting on to twenty years ago, abounds with 
cuckoos, as well as with nightingales. I was thus 
led to pay more attention than I had before done to 
both these birds and to two others, to which I do not 
here at all refer. I have lain half-days in woods and 
coppices to watch and observe as best 1 could the 
ways of the cuckoos, and in doing this I could not 
help seeing other things ; and sometimes I have been 
so struck with what I have seen that I became very 
anxious to know in how far other observers had 
witnessed the same or similar occurrences. 

This led me on and on, in a wide track of reading 
and inquiry, till I found myself launched on a piece 
of big and rather difficult research about the various 
different cuckoos in Europe and further afield, and 
even about other parasitical birds. I was constantly 
forced on attempts at comparative survey, and the 
endeavour to form sufficing theories, based on rational 
explanations of habit, or, at all events, working hy- 

viii Preface. 

potheses. Some of the results of these endeavours 
are presented in this volume, which, if it has no otlier 
value, may claim this : that it describes, as far as I 
can, observations and enquiries undertaken with a 
desire for knowledge only, and to satisfy myself, and 
with no notion of writing a book. 

The question may well be asked : why, then, do 
you write a book ? My answer is that science is 
surely aided by any demonstration of unity in type 
or tendency where before only differences and varieties 
were observed and distinguished. Since, I believe, 
against some great authorities, that our common 
cuckoo (Ciiculus canorus) is far more intimately re- 
lated to the two best-known American cuckoos and 
to several others of India and elsewhere than has yet 
been demonstrated, I crave for permission to put my 
demonstration before those who may be presumed to 
be interested in it, and to leave the matter with them. 
I have scorned no pains to make it complete. 

The reader will find as he proceeds that the single 
species — our cuckoos — soon leads to questions of 
larger interest — questions, indeed, of the highest 
scientific interest, in which not only birds, but many 
other species are more or less involved. 

I have to thank Dr. Bowdler Sharpe and Mr. 
Saunders at South Kensington for aid, and Mr. E. 
Bidwell for much ready assistance ; Dr. Richard 

Preface, ix 

Garnett, of the British Museum, and Mr. Waterhouse 
and Mr. Trigg, of the Zoological Society, for such 
service as I can but feebly thank them for : by their 
readiness to oblige, I was able to consult several 
things which I had failed to find either at the British 
Museum or at South Kensington. I must record 
also my gratitude to Dr. A. Russel Wallace and 
Canon Tristram for answers to letters, and I must 
not omit to add Professor H. O. Forbes and my old 
friend and correspondent, Mrs. Bishop (Isabella L. 
Bird) for friendly replies — both full and ready — about 
cuckoos in the Far East, etc. 

The work of Mr. John Craig and Mr. J. Peat 
Millar, of Beith, in securing a series of photographs, 
showing the young cuckoo in the most striking stages 
of his work in turning out eggs and young birds, 
could not but be most interesting to me as supplying 
exactly what some sceptics, among them Dr. Charles 
Creighton, in Vaccination and tenner and elsewhere, 
had repeatedly and triumphantly demanded. I have 
in my hands copies of the whole series ; and 1 will 
here give notes as sent to me in explanation of them 
by Mr. Peat Millar : 

No. I, shows attitude taken by the young cuckoo when the 
other young bird was put into the nest by Mr. Craig. 

No. 2 was taken five seconds later, and shows the young bird 
fairly on its back, and the cuckoo beginning to rise. 

X Preface. 

No. 3, shows the young bird still on the cuckoo's back — the 
cuckoo well up in the nest ; taken five or six seconds after No. 2. 

No. 4, shows the cuckoo right at top of the nest — the other 
young bird at first slipping off its back. You will in this one 
notice that the cuckoo has its wings extended, to keep the bird 
on its back from rolling back into the nest. 

[Nos. 3 and 4 were reproduced in The Feathered World, and 
are now, by the kind consent of all the parties concerned— Mrs. 
Comyns-Lewer, Mr. Craig, and Mr. J. Peat-Millar— here printed 
at p. 28.] 

No. 5, shows the young cuckoo settling down in the nest, after 
having finished his murderous work. 

[I am sorry to say, adds Mr. Miller, that the young bird in 
No. 5 is rather indistinct, owing to the fact that, when it was 
thrown out of the nest, it was out of the actual focus of the 

No. 6, taken at a different time, shows the young cuckoo with 
the egg in the hollow of the back. 

No. 7 is a snapshot of the cuckoo, after having reached the 
age of ten or eleven days, living in perfect harmony with an- 
other young bird, which Mr. Craig had put there with the view 
of trying the experiment. They had apparently found the nest 
too small for them, and they were lying snugly ensconced close 
together in the soft grass at the side of the nest. In that posi- 
tion this photograph was taken. 

[This goes further to prove that the young cuckoo, in about 
eight or nine days, at furthest, loses completely the impulse to 
throw out what is beside it.] 

[No. 6 is given as the frontispiece to this volume, and No. 7 
at p. 45, with many thanks to Mr. Craig and Mr. Peat-Millar, 
for freely and cordially giving me permission to use them.] 

Preface. xi 

My book was finished and partly printed before 
the news of this achievement reached me ; but I 
have made room for the leading facts which settle so 
much that was in dispute before, and some passages 
which might have disappeared or been remodelled 
had I had these facts sooner before me, are so far 
explained in the light of this statement. 

These photographs — the whole series or any one 
of them — may be procured from Mr. J. Peat- Millar, 
Braehead, Beith, Scotland, at a moderate price, and 
doubtless there are many ornithologists and students 
of natural history who would be glad to procure 

Since this book was printed, Mr. Dewar has fur- 
nished us with another testimony to ejection of young 
by the cuckoo-nestling : 

" A friend tells me that he saw a young cuckoo, 
after much exertion, turn out some young hedge- 
sparrows. When he replaced one of the birds in the 
nest, it was again ejected by the cuckoo." '" 

I have also heartily to thank Mr. J. H. Gurney for 
the use of two illustrations, and for other aid readily 


* Wild Life in Hampshire Highlands, p. 88. 



Part I. Strange Points in Life History 
OF Cuculus canorus: Our Common 
Cuckoo .... 3 

,, II. Further Strange Traits and 

Some Definite Results . 81 

,, III. Mr. Darwin and Mr. Romanes 

dealt with . . . lOI 

,, IV. Evidence from all Parts of the 

World .... igg 

,, V. Strange Facts about Calls and 

Young Birds of Cuculus c<uiorus 255 

Books Read or Consulted . . . 273 

Index ...... 281 



Young Cuckoo with Egg Placed on 

Back Ready to Rise . . frontispiece 

Initial — Cucidns canorus. 

Reproduction of Mrs. Blackburn's Draw- 
ing OF Young Cuckoo Throwing out 
Young Nestlings . . .13 

From Mr. J. Peat-Millar's Photograph of 
Young Cuckoo in First Stage of Rising 
with Young Meadow-pipit on Back . 28 

Ditto, Ditto, Five Seconds Afterwards . 28 

Young Cuckoo Lying Amicably with other 

Young Bird . . . .45 

TArLPiECE — Other View of CiicuUis canorus 77 

Cuckoos Destroying Young Birds, that 
Old Ones may Build again and give 
chance for their Eggs . . 137 

Young Cuckoo in Meadow-pipit's Nest . 183 

Wagtail Feeding Young Cuckoo . . 192 

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo . . . 233 

Cow-birds on Cows' Backs after Insects 237 

The American Cow-bird . . . 250 







BOUT no bird, which in 
a sense is well known 
and familiar, is there 
more mystery than 
about the Cuckoo. 
Early poets, who were 
impressed by two 
things about it — its 
arrival almost in the 
fore-front of the great 
army of migrants in the 
opening of spring, and 
its peculiar call (heard 
almost everywhere 
while yet the bird is 
comparatively seldom 
seen) — have celebrated 
it and idealized it. Wordsworth finely called it a 
" wandering voice," and Michael Bruce, whose beauti- 
ful poem, like a cuckoo's egg, was by Providence 

4 h\fe History of Common Cuckoo. 

dropped into another bird's nest — that is, found a 
father in the Rev. John Logan, who appropriated it, 
but only in the end to lose by his mean action — 
named it " the messenger of spring." Had these 
poets known what later observation has revealed 
about the cuckoo and its ways, they might have been 
less effusive, though, perhaps, they would have had 
their answer in justification ready. They would have 
said that they had to do with the impressions made 
on an imaginative mind by the cuckoo's note, which 
revelations of science, however adverse to the bird's 
character in certain respects, could never modify as 
regards the possibility of poetic impression. A later 
poet, who, it is to be presumed, knew all about the 
cuckoo, yet wrote thus : — 

The cuckoo from the wood I hear ; 
He has no thought to fill my ear ; 
And yet the sounds come sweet to me — 
The note of bird in ecstasy. 

Continuous, full, it floats and fills 
The air with soft impassioned thrills. 
And makes me think of days gone by, 
When I had gracious company. 

Goethe was much exercised by the knowledge of 
the cuckoo's habits in certain respects. We find 
Eckermann and him thus speaking as reported in the 
" Conversations " : — 

" We know," said I, " that it does not brood itself, 

but lays its egg in the nest of some other bird 

We also know that these are all insect-eating birds ; 
and must be so, because the cuckoo itself is an insect- 
eating bird, and its young cannot be brought up by 

Insect-Eaters and Seed-Eaters, 5 

a seed-eating bird. But how does the cuckoo find out 
that these are all actually insect-eating birds ? For 
all differ extremely from each other, both in form and 
colour, and also in their song, and their call-note. 
Further, how comes it that the cuckoo can trust its 
egg and its tender young to nests which are so 
different with respect to structure, dryness, and 
moisture ? The nest of the wren is so dry and close, 
that one would fancy the big young cuckoo would be 
suffocated in it, yet it thrives there ; it thrives, too, 
in the nest of the yellow wagtail, which builds upon 
damp commons in a nest of rushes." 

Eckermann was wrong about the cuckoo invariably 
choosing the nests of insect-eating birds for its eggs — 
it sometimes has recourse to nests of seed-eaters ; but 
the young cuckoos adapt themselves, and flourish just 
as well. 

But in truth, the very word " insect-eating," as 
implying a hard and fast distinction from which there 
is no variation worth noting, is egregiously mislead- 
ing. Not a few birds which pass amongst the crowd 
as seed-eaters, such, say, as the Greenfinch, notori- 
ously, in the time of feeding the young, resort largely 
to insects and caterpillars ; and I am even inclined to 
think from facts which have come before me, and 
which I have myself observed, that all birds more or 
less in the time of feeding the young will largely and 
most astonishingly vary and extend the list of edibles. 
Canaries, more especially at that time, will devour 
plant-lice and sometimes even try ants-eggs, which I 
would not have credited had I not seen it ; for, having 
once had a nightingale and what is wrongly called a 
" grass-finch," I first got proof of this by chance, 

6 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

owing wholly to the conditions in which I kept my 
canaries and finches — free at certain times to fly 
about the room, in one end of which I had my aviary. 

This tendency of seed-eating birds to vary from 
seed-eating, more especially at the time of feeding 
young ones, would thus be all in favour of the young 
cuckoos. If they rejected the seed diet, they would 
come in for relief through the insects, for which the 
foster parents would now be on the look-out ; and a 
question may well here arise whether these facts may 
not have had their own influence in turning certain 
seed-eaters more and more definitely into insect-eaters 
during the period of feeding the young. 

On the other hand, there are several birds, among 
them the Blackcap and the Garden -warbler, which, 
though set down in bird-books as insect-eaters, are 
largely seed and berry-eaters too, and there can be no 
doubt that blackcaps often remain in this country all 
the winter, managing to " make a do of it," as London 
working women say, by aid of elderberries, mountain- 
ash berries, and other berries. 

The crossbills are put down in some ornithological 
handbooks as feeding entirely on fir seeds, but they 
feed freely on aphides, small flies, and minute beetles, 
and this more especially at the period of rearing the 

Even linnets will turn insect-eaters at breeding 
and other times. We read : 

" In 1 891 there was a plague of black diamond 
moth caterpillars. Rooks, plovers, seagulls, starlings, 
linnets, greenfincheSy and yellowhammers all turned 
to police duty and ate the grubs. Only the sparrows 

* Zoologist, 1895, P- 228. 

Linnets eat Insects. 7 

held aloof, and among returns from all counties, from 
Dover to Aberdeen, only three spoke in praise of the 

And this, though the Linnet by systematic ornith- 
ologists is set down as the most persistent seed-eater 
of all the finches. Mr. Howard Saunders says that 
" the Linnet's food consists of soft seeds, especially 
those of an oily nature, such as the various species of 
flax and hemp ; grains of charlock, knot-grass, and 
other weeds, are also largely consumed, while in 
winter various kinds of berries and even oats are 
devoured." Dr. Bowdler Sharpe affirms that " the 
Linnet is not known to feed its young on insects to 
the same extent as most of the other finches." f 

When bringing up the young, the linnet in some 
cases, at all events, has recourse very largely to small 

The self -same process is working itself out in 
America as in Great Britain. We might multiply 
extracts here to prove it, but these will come with 
more effect, falling in at their proper places. Here, 
however, are the words of one of the most recent 
authorities : 

" When we had forests and woodlands edged with 
belts of shrubbery, swamps with masses of thickets, 
when on the roadsides and along the fences trees 
and bushes overgrown with vines and other climbing 
plants grew in abundance, we had birds everywhere 
and in plenty. They limited the increase of insects, 
but now that the birds are gone, insects have no 
enemies and can increase to unlimited numbers. All 

* Spectator, May 13, 1899. 
t Handbook, p. 45. 

8 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

small birds are insect-eaters, and at certain seasons 
of the year they feed on nothing else." '•• 

If it should be found that there is anything in the 
suggestion above, it presents quite a new phase of 
adaptation due to special circumstances. 

Mr. Westley T. Page, F.Z.S., whose experience is 
very large, writes generally thus: — "Though wax- 
bills and finches will do well for a long time on seed 
alone, they are the better in condition, and more bril- 
liant in plumage for the soft food and an occasional 
insect." t 

Waterton indeed seriously raises the question 
whether severity of chmate and the food question 
have anything to do with migration, since he finds 
that, like most of the migrants, the wren, the hedge- 
sparrow and the robin are insectivorous birds, and yet 
can manage not only to subsist through the EngHsh 
winter but to increase their numbers. 

Of all birds the stomach and digestive organs of the 
cuckoo would seem to render it most unsuited for seed- 
eating ; yet we are quite aware that White, of Sel- 
borne, in his dissections, found among worms, flies 
and caterpillars, many seeds in the stomach of the 
cuckoo — seeds which, on our theory, would be taken 
so far medicinally, perhaps, more than aught else, as 
dogs and many carnivorous creatures eat grass, etc., 
with this view. But the wonderful adaptations of 
nature in providing exceptional cases to all rules is 
what to us forms the special attraction of natural 
history study and observation. 

Let us end this section as we almost began it, by 

* H. Nehrling, i, p. xxviii. 

+ The Feathered World, 14th July, 1899, p. 42. 

Nature not scrupiilotis. g 

quoting from Goethe's " Conversations with Ecker- 
mann," in continuation of what was said above : 

" This is a mystery," returned Goethe. " But tell 
me how the cuckoo places its egg in the nest of the 
wren with so small an opening." 

" The cuckoo lays it upon a dry spot," returned I, 
" and takes it to the nest in her beak. I believe, too, 
that she does this with the wren's nest and with all 
others. . . . Supposing that she lays five eggs, and 
that all these are properly hatched and brought up 
by affectionate foster-parents, we must still wonder 
that Nature can resolve to sacrifice at least fifty of 
the young of our best singing-birds for five young 

" In such things, as well as in others," returned 
Goethe, " Nature does not appear to be very scrupu- 
lous. She has a good fund of life to lavish, and she 
does so now and then without much hesitation. But 
how does it happen that so many young singing-birds 
are lost for a single young cuckoo ? " 

"The first brood," I repHed, "is generally lost; 
for even if it should happen that the eggs of the 
singing-bird are hatched at the same time with that 
of the cuckoo, which is very probable, the parents 
are so much delighted with the larger bird that they 
think of and feed that alone, whilst their own young 
are neglected and vanish from the nest. It is a long 
time before it attains its full size and plumage, and 
even after it has flown it requires to be fed ; so that 
the whole summer passes away and the foster-parents 
do not think of a second brood." 

" This is very convincing — very remarkable," said 

lo Life History of C(niinio)i Cuckoo. 

But even Eckermann did not know some of the 
blackest facts about the cuckoo and its ways. Every 
new fact discovered, indeed, seems only to make him 
blacker. He not only drops his eggs in other birds' 
nests, but his young are specially armed with powers 
to throw^ out of the nest the true children of the birds 
under whose protection they have been placed, so 
that they may have no competitors in demanding food 
from the foster-parents, who devote themselves in a 
truly wonderful manner to feeding and nurturing these 
intruders and aliens. 


Difficulties, however, begin at the very start in 
the study of this strange bird-monster — our common 
cuckoo, scientifically, Cuculus caiiorus. For a long 
time it was thought that when it had fixed upon the 
nest it meant to drop its egg in, it watched a favour- 
able opportunity and sat upon the nest till it had 
deposited its burden. But it has been found that the 
cuckoo drops its eggs into nests so small and so 
formed that it is impossible the bird could have sat 
upon the nest. Its egg has even been found in domed 
nests. It chooses various nests, from those of the 
Meadow-pipit, Hedge-sparrow, and Wagtail, up to 
those of the Red-backed Shrike, the Bunting, taking 
no end of nests between, including those of the Reed- 
wren, the Redstart, the Icterine Warbler, and some- 
times even using those, though that must be excep- 
tional, of the House-sparrow, Jay, Thrush, and Wood- 
pigeon. Almost every bird whose nest is the least 
suitable is victimised. 

Reason of Zygodactyle Feet, ii 

Lord Lilford says : " I once and only once met with 
a cuckoo's egg in a spotted fly-catcher's nest." " 

These facts have forced naturahsts to conclude that 
the cuckoo does not lay the egg in the nest at all, but 
lays it on the ground and carries it in its beak, and so 
deposits it in the nest chosen for it. This has now 
been observed and verified by so many naturalists 
that it cannot be doubted ; and this fact disposes of 
the fine theory of some distinguished speculators that 
the zygodactyle feet — that is, feet with two toes 
behind and two toes in front, as in the case of parrot 
and wood-pecker — admirably enabled it to lift and 
carry its eggs m its claws. The reason for the zygo- 
dactyle feet must therefore be sought elsewhere. 

Looking at Mrs. Blackburn's drawing, it has sug- 
gested itself to me that here we may have a reason 
for the zygodactyle feet. A bird with but one smaller 
shorter toe behind clearly could scarcely so fix its feet 
beneath as to retain position leaning against the side 
of the nest with its posteriors : it would slip away. 
But with the two hind toes with claws well fixed the 
thing would I think be possible. In the case of the 
wood-peckers, which for the same reason need to fix 
themselves in trees, the two hind toes would do much 
to keep the bird from slipping down through the front 
toes giving way. There is no such reason I have 
ever heard of for such a formation in the habits of the 
cuckoo ; and any hint to account for their presence 
may be suggestive, and lead others to bring their 
minds to bear upon it. Any way, I have as yet 
heard of no other necessity in the life-economy of the 
bird or adequate explanation of it ; and I shall be 

* Birds of Northamptonshire, i, p. 79. 

12 Life History of Coninion Cuckoo. 

glad to hear what other ornithologists, anatomists, 
and biologists have to say on that particular point. 
The zygodactyle feet are very fully developed even in 
the egg. 

I discount the idea of one writer in ornithology that 
this form of foot is favourable for letting the cuckoo 
stoop freely to the ground in certain positions to pick 
insecls off low-lying leaves ; because nature has 
already advertised that another form of foot is at least 
equally adapted to business of that kind, and with it 
has supplied many birds which stoop low, and run, 
hiding among grass and vegetation — notably, the 
Corncrake and the Nightjar, which certainly does 
stoop and run, and fly wondrously fleet, as well as 

The writer of the article " Cuckoo " in the Encyclo- 
pcedia Britannica, Professor Alfred Newton, to wit, 
who is exceedingly cautious, and who wrote before 
some of the most valuable and best authenticated 
facts about the bird were published, is compelled to 
accept this as proved, citing these two cases : — 

"The most satisfactory evidence on the point is that 
of Herr Adolf Miiller, a forester of Gladenbach, in 
Darmstadt, who says {Zoolog. Garten, 1866, pp. 374- 
375) that through a telescope he watched a cuckoo as 
she laid her Qgg on a bank, and then conveyed the 
egg in her bill to a wagtail's nest. Herr Braune, a 
forester at Griez, in the Principality of Reuss, shot a 
hen cuckoo as she was leaving the nest of an icterine 
warbler. In the oviduct of this cuckoo he found an 
egg coloured very Hke that of the warbler ; and on 
looking into the nest he found there an exactly 
similar egg, which there can be no reasonable doubt 



Merciless Ejection. 13 

had just been laid there by the cuckoo. Moreover, 
Herr Grunack (jfoiirnal filr Orn., 1873, P- 454) has 
since found one of the most abnormally-coloured 
specimens, quite unlike the ordinary egg of the cuckoo, 
to contain an embryo so fully formed as to show the 
characteristic zygodactylic feet of the bird, thus 
proving unquestionably its parentage." 

The fadl that the young cuckoo mercilessly ejects 
from the nest and makes an end of his foster-brothers 
is now just as well established as that the parent 
drops the eggs into other birds' nests. Soon after 
being hatched, the young cuckoo exhibits great rest- 
lessness, irritability, and energy. Whatever is in the 
nest it endeavours to get under. It keeps on beating 
its stumps of wings, and as it gets older will spar with 
its wings and peck at the finger, if placed near it. 
The other nestlings are usually disposed of by it 
during the second or third day, and any eggs share 
the same fate as the young birds. It will permit" 
nothing in the nest beside it — whatever is dropped in, 
it will lift up and throw over the edge. Difficulties 
have been raised about the possibility of the young 
cuckoo throwing the other nestlings out of domed 
nests ; but these are much reduced, if not met, by the 
fact that in open nests, set in certain positions, the 
area on the edge of the nests which the young cuckoo 
could make available is but one-fifth of the whole 
circumference, and that it has a special instinct for 
working always toward the open portion ; besides all 
which the birds in the domed nests it favours would 
generally be very small birds. Later observations 
prove that in addition to great strength of shoulder 
and wing stump, the young cuckoo is aided by a 

14 l^^fe History of Coiiiuioii Cuckoo. 

curious depression in the back behind the shoulders, 
which disappears as the bird grows older. Its back, 
in fact, forms nothing short of a kind of shovel, with 
which to lift handily whatever it succeeds in once 
getting under. Mr. J. H. Gurney well points out 
that its stumps of wings are like arms with ill-formed 
hands, which they really are. All this has of late 
years been repeatedly observed, and this not by 
solitary observers, but by whole parties. 

Mrs. Blackburn (the well - known bird observer 
and artist) and her friends, had peculiarly favour- 
able opportunities of observing the process by 
which the young cuckoo threw the true birds 
out of the nest. A cuckoo had intruded an e<?"" 
into the nest of a meadow-pipit which was at the 
foot of a low shrub on a gentle slope of turf. 
The nest so rested on the turf amid shrubs that 
only one side of the nest was really open for 
anything to be ejected. Mrs. Blackburn's attention 
was first called to the circumstance by seeing 
young birds struggling on the sloping turf. Thinking 
that they had been thrown out of the nest by some 
accident, she went, took them up, and put them back 
in the nest. I'hey were speedily thrown out again. 
At last she contrived a means by which she could see 
into the nest. The young cuckoo edged about in the 
nest until he got his shoulder and wing under the 
poor nestling, then edged up and up, standing upon 
his sprawling long legs, his feet fixed in the sides of 
the nest material until he was high enough, then he 
elevated the shoulder furthest from the edge of the 
nest, making, with the most wondrous, unerring pre- 
cision, always to the open side of the nest, and then 

Mrs. Blackburns Drawing. 15 

with a hitch threw the poor thing out. Further 
observations made by this lady went anew to prove 
that the growth of the upper bone of the wing in the 
young cuckoo is exceptionally quick, and that this 
part is exceptionally strong — simply, as it would 
seem, to arm it with full resource for this instinct of 
deadly self-preservation which it possesses. Mr. J. 
E. Harting in Our Siminier Migrants reproduced Mrs. 
Blackburn's drawing of the young cuckoo throwing 
out the pipits. 

Mrs. Blackburn adds that the young cuckoo was 
" perfectly naked, without the vestige of a feather, 
or even a hint of future feathers ; its eyes were not 

i6 Life History of Convtion Cuckoo. 

yet opened, and its neck seemed too weak to support 
the weight of its head. . . . The most singular thing 
of all was the direct purpose with which the blind 
little monster made for the open side of the nest, the 
only part where it could throw its burden down the 
bank. 1 think all the spectators felt the sort of 
horror and awe at the apparent inadequacy of the 
creature's intelligence to its acts that one might have 
felt at seeing a toothless hag raise a ghost by an in- 
cantation. It was horribly uncanny and gruesome ! " 
Dr. Charles Creighton, in his Vaccination and 
jfenner and elsewhere, has dealt with statements 
about the cuckoo's habits, and the peculiar points 
of structure in the young cuckoo, in a spirit of 
thorough scepticism to say the least. Here is one 
passage : 

" The young cuckoo's back, it seems, is especially 
designed for the lodgment and ejectment of eggs and 
young birds, for, different from other newly-hatched 
birds, its back from the scapula downwards is very 
broad, with a considerable depression in the middle. 
This depression seems formed by nature for the de- 
sign of giving a more secure lodgment to the egg of 
the hedge-sparrow or its young one when the young 
cuckoo is employed in removing either of them from 
the nest. When it is about twelve days old, this 
cavity is quite filled up and then the back assumes 
the shape of nesting birds in general. This unique 
and marvellous structural change, it need hardly be 
said, has no existence ; nor did Jenner seek to estab- 
Hsh this assertion in the only way in which it could 
be established, by a series of dissections. Moreover, 
he himself inadvertently supplies the key to the illu- 

Wonderful Structural Adaptation. 17 

sion and the fanciful anatomy by his remark on the 
previous page of his wondrous tale of ejectment, that 
the young cuckoo ' makes a lodgment for the burden 
by elevating its elbows.' " " 

Now, did Dr. Charles Creighton himself make the 
series of dissections here desiderated, and is he, on 
the ground of that, ready to say that Montagu, 
Yarrell and Bishop Stanley, Mrs. Blackburn and her 
circle, Mr. John Hancock and his friends, and Mr. 
R. Kearton, are not only unworthy of credence for 
solemnly-given evidence, some of which will be im- 
mediately presented, but that, in short, they are all 
conscious and determined liars ? An answer will 

Other instances of wonderful structural adaptation 
in young birds, certainly not more essential to their 
preservation than is this in the young cuckoo, on the 
theory of its often itself getting rid of the legitimate 
birds, are to be found in many cases, and some of 
them shall be cited at once. 

The late Mr. John Hancock, a well-known North- 
umbrian ornithologist, reported observations almost 
entirely to the same effect as those of Mrs. Blackburn. 
In this case the nest was that of an accentor or hedge- 

He wrote : — " It is quite certain that the young are 
ejected very soon after they are hatched ; of this I 
have conclusive proof. On the 6th June, 1864, I 
observed a nest of the Hedge-Accentor, which con- 

* Mr. Howard Saunders says that this cavity on its back Jills 
up after the twelfth day. Manual of Birds, p. 278. Does Mr. 
Saunders here speak from observation and experience and dis- 
section, or does he merely repeat the dogma of Jenner ? 

i8 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

tained five eggs, four belonging to this bird and one 
to the cuckoo. I visited the nest again on the 8th 
June, and found three young hedge - accentors and 
the cuckoo hatched, one of the hedge-accentor's eggs 
having disappeared ; the three young hedge-accen- 
tors lay on one side of the nest, the cuckoo on the 
other by itself. On the morning of the following day 
I once more went to the nest ; the three accentors 
were gone, and the cuckoo was the sole occupant. 
One of the accentors lay dead on the ground below 
the nest. On the loth June I saw the foster parents 
feeding the cuckoo. 

"When the egg of the cuckoo is not hatched, the 
young of the foster birds are reared. In 1870, I met 
with a case in point ; the nest contained two eggs of 
the hedge-accentor and one of the cuckoo ; after a 
day or two the accentors w^ere hatched. I continued 
to watch for several days, in the hope that the 
cuckoo's egg would be hatched, but it proved to be 
addled. The parents fed their little brood with great 
attention and neither they nor the young took any 
notice of the unhatched egg, which lay sometimes 
above, and sometimes below the nestlings."''' 

Fourteen years later Mr. Hancock described obser- 
vations corresponding exactly to those of Mrs. 

He tells that he had often tried to find opportunities 
of observing this marvellous performance. 

" I began in June, 1884, at Oatlands, Surrey," he 
writes, *' to search the grounds carefully for as many 
nests as I could find that were likely to have cuckoos' 
eggs in them, and was fortunate enough to discover 

* Catalogue of the Birds of Northumberland, pp. 26, 27. 

At Oatlands. 19 

one in a spot convenient for making continued obser- 
vations on the 17th of June. The cuckoo's egg was 
in the nest of a hedge-accentor, containing four of 
its own eggs, and built in a bramble-bush near the 
bottom of the sloping terrace at Oatlands. I tried 
the cuckoo's egg and one of the hedge-accentor's in 
water to ascertain if they were fresh or setting. The 
former floated, denoting that it was setting ; the latter 
sinking to the botton was, of course, fresh. 

" On the 25th of June I examined the nest. No 
change had taken place. There were still the one 
cuckoo's egg in the nest and the four accentors. 

" On Friday, the 27th June, I looked at the nest at 
three o'clock in the afternoon and the cuckoo's egg 
was hatched and one of the accentors. At twenty- 
live minutes to six o'clock I looked at the nest again, 
and another accentor's egg was hatched. 

" On Saturday morning, 28th June, I rose early 
and went to the nest at twenty minutes to four 
o'clock a.m. All was quiet and the old bird on the 
nest. At two minutes past five o'clock I saw into the 
nest. There were just as before the young cuckoo, 
the two young accentors, and the two eggs. A few 
minutes after five o'clock the young cuckoo attempted 
to put an egg out of the nest by getting it on its back 
in the most clumsy manner, but it did not succeed in 
getting the egg high enough to roll it over the edge 
of the nest. Immediately after this proceeding the 
old hedge-accentor came on to the edge of the nest 
and stooped down with its head into the nest and 
took some white matter into its mouth (I think ex- 
crement from the young birds) and swallowed it. 
[No doubt whatever it was this ; for my canaries and 

20 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

other caged birds made it a strict point of duty after 
feeding the young in the earHer stages to wait and 
see if they needed to do such service as this, and a 
wonderful accommodation to necessity it is.] 

" The old bird went on to the nest and off again four 
or five times in about two hours. I left for breakfast 
at eight o'clock, the old bird sitting on the nest. 
Returned at half-past eight. The old bird was off the 
nest, and the young and eggs as before lying quiet at 
the bottom of the nest. . . . (She was off for about 
ten minutes now, and then again afterwards). When 
off this last time an accentor's egg was put on to the 
edge of the nest by the young cuckoo in my presence. 
This was at half-past ten. The egg rested on the 
edge of the nest for some time, and then it fell down 
into the bush by the movements of the old bird on the 
edge of the nest. The cuckoo then fell to the bottom 
of the nest, apparently in a very agitated state and 
overpowered or exhausted by the effort. The mother 
then returned, . . . but remained a very short time 
on the nest and seemed very uneasy, raising herself 
and standing in the nest. The cuckoo seemed to be 
increasing in bulk and was much agitated, lying at the 
bottom of the nest. The two young accentors lay 
motionless at the bottom of the nest, whilst the 
cuckoo kept moving its wings hke hands as if to 
excite or stir its companions into action. In about 
twenty minutes the cuckoo made two desperate 
attempts to get one of the young accentors fiung over 
the edge of the nest, but failed, for when it got the 
young one to the top it fell back again into the 
bottom of the nest. Another unsuccessful struggle 
took place when the mother was on the side of the 

" Wonderful and Unaccountable.'" 21 

nest. About eleven o'clock the first young accentor 
was put over the edge of the nest exactly as illus- 
trated by Mrs. Blackburn. The mother was present, 
but took no notice of the affair going on, but looked 
on calmly. The second egg was pushed out at one 
p.m., in the presence of myself. Miss Abbs, and my 
sister, whom I had specially invited to come and see 
the proceedings of the young cuckoo. The last and 
fourth of the lot we left in the hands of the destroyer. 
It was sitting almost on the back of the cuckoo, 
which had had one try to put it over the edge of the 
nest, but had failed. At half-past three when we 
returned to examine the nest, the young cuckoo was 
the sole occupant. 

" The first baby accentor which had been thrown 
on to the edge of the nest was still alive, so we put it 
into a white-throat's nest, which had four young ones 
about a day old, and from all appearances it will be 
properly attended to by its foster-parents. 

" The cuckoo's proceeding, as I saw it, is in my 
opinion the most wonderful and unaccountable piece 
of business that I ever witnessed in bird-life. . . . 

" These observations, though they may seem to be 
a repetition of the accounts given by Dr. Jenner, 
Montagu, Mrs. Blackburn, and other accurate obser- 
vers, are nevertheless necessary in these days ; for, in 
the minds of some ornithologists, it seems to be still 
an undecided question — how the young cuckoo gets 
the young of its foster-parents from the nest ! I 
have before had an opportunity of ascertaining the 
fact, and expressing my full belief in the accounts 
given by Dr. Jenner, Col. Montagu and others, as 
stated in my catalogue, (p. 26), but till last summer I 

22 L?/(^ History of Common Cuckoo. 

had not had a successful opportunity of watching the 
whole process as carefully as I was able to do on 
that occasion. 

" Since these observations were made, my atten- 
tion has been called to the following quotation from 
Mr. Henry Seebohm's //f5^or_y of British Birds, (vol. 
ii, p. 383) : — ' It has been said, on what appears to be 
incontestable evidence, that the young cuckoo, soon 
after it is hatched, ejects the young or eggs from the 
nest by hoisting them on its back ; but one feels in- 
clined to class these narratives with the equally well 
authenticated stories of ghosts and other apparitions 
which abound ! ' 

" The facts observed with much care and minutely 
related in this note support the ' incontestable evi- 
dence ' given by Dr. Jenner, Montagu, and Mrs. 
Blackburn, so fully and conclusively, that I am at a 
loss to understand how anyone who has not personally 
investigated the matter thoroughly for himself could 
allow himself to express so strong an opinion as Mr. 
Seebohm has done in the italicised portion of the 
above quotation." "■' 

The Rev. Alfred C. Smith mentions in Zoologist 
for 1873, (p. 3474), " that Mr. Briggs had himself 
(though I had overlooked the circumstance) seen 
with his own eyes the attempted expulsion of a 
young pipit from its nest by an infant cuckoo." 
(ZooL, ss. 914.) 

Mr. Oswin A. J. Lee, who has made very careful 
observations on cuckoos and the behaviour of their 
young, says : 

* Transactions of the Northiimhcrland and Durham Natural 
History Society, vol. viii, pp. 210, 217. 1886. 

Mr. y. Gould's Observations. 23 

"In only one case have I heard of a young cuckoo 
faiUng to destroy the whole brood. This was a 
young robin which took up its position among the 
ivy rootlets beside the nest, from which the cuckoo 
could not eject it. Both birds eventually flew." 

Mr. Kearton has the remark : " The young cuckoo 
turns out all the other members of the nest in which 
it is hatched, an operation to which I was witness on 
one occasion." '•' 

In 1837 J- Gould wrote thus in the Birds of 
Europe : 

'' Shortly after the young cuckoo is excluded from 
the shell, it attains so much strength as to be able to 
eject the true young from the nest, itself remaining 
the sole occupant ; and, in fact, from its large size 
and ravenous appetite it is as much as these substi- 
tuted parents can do to supply it with food." That 
is good ; but in his Birds of Britain (1873) he gives 
a beautiful drawing of the young birds thrown out by 
a young cuckoo, yet writes thus : " May we not more 
readily believe that the young have been thrown out 
by the foster-parents, who, having bestowed all their 
attention on the parasite, thus cause the death of 
their own young, which are then cleared out of the 
nest in the same way as broken eggshells, faeces, and 
other extraneous matters are. ... I do not believe 
that on the third day the young cuckoo has the power 
to throw out all the occupants of the nest." Mr. 
Gould's volte face is funny ; he harks back on an old 
idea at the very time when the actual process of 
turning out had been observed and recorded. 

This pious wish or hope expressed above for the 

* British Birds' Nests, p. 42. 

24 -^(A History of Common Cuckoo. 

cuckoo, is, however, completely dissipated by well 
verified facts and observations, some of which we 
shall, in a moment, present ; young birds found lying 
— having been turned out of the nests either by the 
young cuckoo or some other bird — are in most cases 
perfectly well nourished and with their crops full, as 
we ourselves have more than once found them. 
— hedge-sparrows, meadow-pipits, and wagtails, etc. 
An observed fact or series of facts on our own part 
which also meets the proposition that the true young 
are first starved, and then over-laid by the quick- 
growing young cuckoo, as Pennant fancied. 

This matter just shows how little reliance is to be 
placed upon so-called experts often, very often, when 
they go beyond their proper office of observing, and 
faithfully recording their observations. John Gould 
was, like many others, a splendid practical field 
ornithologist, or classifier, but he was no thinker, and 
was mostly either very weak or very far wrong when 
he attempted anything outside his proper province. 
I question whether a pair of small birds would be able 
to turn out a young bird in the way he supposes — at 
all events, in some circumstances and from some 
nests — in fact, the power of the young cuckoo to do 
so is in itself more likely by far from its quick growth 
than the other. 

W'e are told by a more recent writer that Mr. 
Gould remained sceptical about the young cuckoos 
ejecting the true young from the nest, and was con- 
verted by the evidence of Mrs. Blackburn and Mr. 
Hancock ; and in the introduction to his first work 
published afterwards he frankly admitted it, though 
Mr. J. E. Harting could not miss the chance in Our 

Dr. A. E. Brehms Anecdote. 25 

Summer Migrants, of reminding him that the same 
observations had already been recorded by Jenner, 
Montagu, Blackwall, Durham Weir, and Adolf 
Miiller. But Mr. Gould's, from the extracts above, 
was a re-conversion. In 1837, he, like yet bigger 
men, implicitly followed Jenner ; in 1873 alongside a 
drawing of the young cuckoo in the act of ejecting the 
true young, he actually set down a caveat against 
this charge and explained the facts differently, and 
then, later, was reconverted to his opinion of 1837. 
His case here was an exact illustration of Tennyson's 
words : — 

" It is not true that second thoughts are best, 
But first and third, which are a riper first." 

The necessity for complete success in extermina- 
tion of foster-birds' progeny on the cuckoo's plan 
may be found in this that when any of the true young 
are left, the proper instinct of the foster-parents will 
more or less assert itself. This has confirmation in 
the following anecdote from Dr. A. E. Brehm, told 
through the Rev. A. C. Smith : 

" In June, 1812, says my father, a wren's nest 
was found on the manor of Frohlichen-wiederkunft, 
which contained two young wrens and a cuckoo — 
quite an exceptional case ; the dome of the nest had 
preserved the young wrens from being ejected by the 
cuckoo. A friend of mine took the cuckoo when it 
was almost ready to fly and, as is often done by bird 
fanciers, placed it in a cage, intending to bring it to 
me as soon as it was fledged. The foster-parents in 
this case, however, abandoned the foundhng, and in 
two days it was found starved to death ; the wrens, 

26 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

having taken up their abode elsewhere with their own 
nesthngs, had not been able to feed both their own 
young and the cuckoo." ■'' 

I am perfecftly familiar with the paragraph on the 
Cuckoo, which Mr. Waterton threw, rather inconsis- 
tently, into his essay on the Jay (Natural History 
Essays, ist series), and in which he ridiculed the idea 
of the young cuckoo having any such power. His 
remarks about the old bird always remaining on the 
nest during the whole of the day on which the chick is 
excluded from the shell, in order to protect it, wants 
qualification ; there are, as we shall specially see, 
reasons why she must sometimes leave the nest on 
that day, and even when cleaning and drying the 
young bird she must be on the edge of the nest, not 
sitting on it strictly. But even though we admitted 
that Mr. Waterton was correct here as regards 
normal cases, it certainly is not true when a young 
cuckoo has been hatched ; for somehow or other he 
has the po\\er not to let her do so, as comes out well 
in Mr. J. Hancock's observations, and is amply con- 
firmed by my own ; and this, on the very first day to 
a certain degree, and yet more on the second or third 
day, when generally he wishes to begin more definite 
operations. I am quite familiar, too, with the bit in 
the essay on " the Wren, the Hedgesparrow, and the 
Robin " (second series), which is nothing more nor 
less than a rough condensed repetition of what he had 
said as above. 

Mr. Waterton was so good an observer and so true 
a lover of the birds that I should indeed be sorry were 
I forced to expose some of his errors and shortcomings 

* Zoologist, May, 1873. 

Mr. Waterton's Way. 27 

about birds and other creatures, which usually arose 
from his accepting some preconceived idea, and trying 
to make all facts bend to it ; and one of these is a 
certain dogmatic statement in one place about the 

And Waterton, too, was very fond of a practical 
joke, as his "manlike monster" clearly proves, still 
misleading good men and true. 

Mr. Waterton's deliverance, cited by Dr. Charles 
Creighton, as authoritative and final, vv'as made to 
bear far more weight than it was in any way entitled 
to. Dr. Creighton, in a burst of triumphant scepti- 
cism, in effect, cries out : " If this takes place why 
are we not presented with photographs of it ? — that is 
the one way to convince us. As for artists like Mrs. 
Blackburn, they can draw what they please — all out 
of their own brains : we can't trust them, or such as 
them." Well, just as this book was being put into 
type, comes the Feathered World, of 14th July, 1899, 
with two photos of young cuckoos throwing out young 
birds, due to the patience, care and well-directed 
enthusiasm of Mr. John Craig — whom all the world 
will thank for so far decisively setting this matter at 
rest. It is not so easy to do a thing of this sort — 
a nest must be chosen, carefully watched, and the 
psychologic moment seized without any faltering — 
everything ready and nothing wanting. Mr. J. P. 
Miller's photographs are decisive enough for the most 
sceptical, and anew demonstrate that to carry a preju- 
dice against vaccination and its founder to the point 
of rejecting reasonable evidence on a question of 
Natural History is at all events not a very scientific 
or philosophical procedure. 

28 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

*' We proceeded to the nest," says Mr. Craig, 
" and placed the young yellow-hammer I had found 
and taken with me in it, beside the young cuckoo. 
After a few minutes delay, the cuckoo hoisted the 
yellow-hammer on its back and climbed up the side 
of the nest backwards and shot the bird over the nest. 
We put the bird into the nest again when the cuckoo 
repeated the operation. Six snapshots were taken " 
([wo of which, by the great kindness of Mrs. Comyns- 
Lewer, and Mr. Craig and Mr. J. Peat Millar we are 
enabled to give) " with the young cuckoo on the top of 
the nest ejecting a yellow-hammer from a meadow- 
pipit's nest, one of them was taken with the yellow- 
hammer lying outside the nest, the other three were 
taken in difterent stages in the nest. So far as I am 
aware, these are the first snap-shots that have been 
taken of a young cuckoo ejecting a young bird from 
the nest. The cuckoo was about five days old, and 
the yellow-hammer about three or four at the time 
that the snap-shots were taken. 

" On June 15, 1899, I saw another pipit's nest, con- 
taining a cuckoo's egg and four pipits' eggs. I broke 
one of the latter's eggs, but the egg had only been sat 
upon a day or two. I again visited the nest on June 
14th, but none of the eggs were hatched. I again 
visited the nest the following day, when the cuckoo 
had hatched, and one of the nest-owner's eggs was 
lying outside the nest. I put the egg back into the 
nest again. The cuckoo was not twenty-four hours 
old. I again visited the nest on the following day 
along with Mr. J. Peat Millar, when we found the 
cuckoo the sole occupant, and the three pipits' eggs 
lying outside the nest. We placed one of the eggs in 

''No Child's Playr 29 

the nest, when the cuckoo immediately commenced to 
hoist the egg on its back and began to climb, and 
when near the top of the nest a snap-shot was taken, 
but, owing to a small tin having slipped, Mr. Millar 
had to expose the plate, which was spoiled in trying 
to take another snapshot. The bird then became 
extremely restless, and though somewhat exhausted, 
it made several attempts to reach the top of the nest 
with its burden, but failed. 

" I again visited the nest on the following day, and 
put an Qgg into it, but the bird was not inclined to 
begin operations. I dropped another egg into the 
nest, when it immediately began to hoist one of them 
on its back, and carried it to the edge of the nest and 
threw it out. But there was no snap-shot taken as 
Mr. Millar had to attend to his business at home, 
Saturday being a busy day with him. We again 
visited the nest on June 19th, but the bird would on 
no account commence operations, though we put four 
eggs into the nest, showing nothing of the restless- 
ness that it had done three days before. 

" I have spared no effort to prove my case and 
make a clean sweep of my opponents." 

Mr. Craig's observation of the nest with two young 
cuckoos in it is in favour of the stronger young 
cuckoo throwing the weaker one out. " It was 
about four miles from where I reside, and the 
other one about three miles ; so that every time I 
visited the nest of the former I had to walk eight 
miles ; and of the latter about six miles, which 
amounted to more than one hundred miles, which was 
no child's play on these warm summer evenings in 

30 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

Mr. Craig's observations go to support the idea that 
the cuckoo will not begin operations after five days 
old. Mr. Craig tested this in various ways, putting 
different young birds into the cuckoo's nest before the 
cuckoo's fifth day, and these were invariably thrown 
out ; but, after the fifth day, the cuckoo loses the desire 
to operate on what is put beside it, as was proved by 
the fact that a cuckoo of about ten days allowed a 
hedgesparrow of about eight days to lie quietly 
beside it. 

The editress of the Feathered World makes this 
note on Mr. Craig's article and snapshots : 

" When the outline of the young cuckoo in the two 
pictures is once grasped one can see how well suited 
for its fell purpose is the position it takes up. Head 
well down, legs wide apart gripping either side of the 
nest, wings outstretched to prevent any slipping back 
sideways, the unfortunate victim well poised on its 
broad back, the curious depression in which serves to 
steady it — the attitude is perfect for accomplishing 
the final act in the curious tragedy of nature by which 
a cuckoo is reared at the expense of the family of its 
foster-parents. My only regret is that want of time 
did not admit of my suggesting to Messrs. Craig and 
Millar an enlargement of these sharp little negatives, 
which, when seen under a magnifying glass, reveal to 
an even greater extent the murderous method of the 
nestling cuckoo, so well described by Mr. Craig in his 
interesting article." 

There are various and conflicting theories about 
the cuckoo's power in adapting its eggs to the nests 
in which it drops them and also regarding the process 
followed, but it is undoubted that cuckoos' eggs vary 

Weight of Cuckoos' Eggs. 31 

through a wider range of colour than those of any 
other bird. 

As to size, the eggs are on an average only one- 
fourth of that expected from the size of the bird, 
though in weight, as the careful tests of Mr. Bidwell 
as well as my own undoubtedly show, the eggs are 
much heavier than any eggs of the same size. Dr. 
Rey, too, dwells on the weight of shell of egg of 
Cticulus canorus. 

This fact would be remarkable enough even did it 
not bear on remarkable facts beyond it. The habits 
of the foster-birds as to nests vary so vastly that it is 
hardly credible the young of one species could thrive 
in all — in open nests, in domed nests, nests hung over 
water or moist places as with the Reed-wren and 
Sedge-warbler, nests high in trees, nests low in shrubs 
or even on the ground like those of the nightingales 
and larks. 

A list of 120 species in which cuckoos' eggs have 
been found is published by Mr. Bidwell in the Bulletin 
of the British Ornithologists' Club for March, 1896. 
But adaptation and resource are everywhere con- 
spicuous. The cuckoo, when he cannot find his 
favourite nests, makes others, and apparently un- 
promising ones, suit him equally well.''' 

* The most notable in regard to numbers of eggs from nests 
of each species, in his collection of over 900, being : — i, Hedge- 
sparrow, 74 ; 2, Redbreasts, 65 ; 3, Reed-warblers, 62 ; 4, Mea- 
dow-pipits, 49 ; 5, Garden- war biers, 47 ; 6, Sedge-warblers, 41 ; 
7, White-Throat, 38 ; 8, Pied Wagtail, 34 ; 9, Blackcap, ^^ ; 10, 
Tree-pipit, 33 ; 11, White Wagtail, 32 ; 12, Red-backed Shrike, 
25 ; 13, Yellow Bunting, 23. N.B. — Mr. Bidwell tells me that 
among the 74 from Accentors' nests was a blue egg, taken by 
Mr. Robert H. Read, a well-known and reliable ornithologist. 

^2 l^ifc History of Common Cuckoo. 

Mr. Cecil Smith writes about Guernsey : " Tree 
and meadow - pipits, skylarks and stonechats, from 
their numbers and the numbers of their nests, must 
be the foster-parents most usually selected in the 
Vale of Guernsey ; other favourites, such as wag- 
tails, hedge - sparrows, and robins, being compara- 
tively scarce in that part of the island. ■'■ 

The Vale of Guernsey is singular in its lack of 
trees — it is devoted to gardening and culture of the 
vine ; — flat and over considerable spaces gorse-clad, 
it was at one time under water. 

As one other indication of the wide range and 
adaptability of the cuckoo we may note that Mr. 
Robert CoUett in his Bird Life in Arctic Norway 
puts Cuculus canorus among the breeding species of 
Arctic Norway. 

Mr. Popham found Cuculus canorus on the Yenisei. 
It arrived on May 22 and soon became common ; and 
there its cry is " Hoo, hoo," a sound which Seebohm 
attributed to the Himalayan Cuckoo. " The forest 
round Yeniseisk is full of cuckoos, but we soon left 
them behind us." t 


The rule laid down for birds generally with regard 
to helplessness after hatching is not without very 
marked exceptions, even in cases where the young are 
not, as in the case of partridges, water-hens, coots, 
etc., able to move legs and run freely, and have 
what is strictly no period of helplessness proper after 

* Birds of Guernsey, p. 98. 
"{Ibis. October. 1898. 

The Dahchick. 33 

emerging from the egg. The little Grebe or dab- 
chick is a most peculiar instance. It can when only 
a few hours old, with the help of the parent, dive and 
float and swim a little, but it cannot walk — cannot 
indeed in the least walk for some seven days ; yet it 
can move about pretty actively by help of legs and 
wings, which, by-the-by, is itself a wonderful adapta- 
tion by modification in view of remarkable exposure 
to enemies. 

Professor Alfred Newton in Zoologist^ 1889 (p. 577), 
told this about a newly-hatched little Grebe (Podi- 
cipes flnviatilis), that is, dabchick, not more than 
twelve hours old, which had been brought to him, 
that " when laid on a table covered with a cloth, it 
not only crawled about it, but crossed it completely 
from side to side without indeed actually sustaining 
its weight by its wings, but dragging itself forward 
by their means quite as much as it impelled itself by 
its legs. The resemblance of its actions to those of 
a slowly-moving reptile was very remarkable." 

Here, too, we find the young ones from the very 
nest armed with special powers for their protection in 
wholly special ways, the wings of the adult dabchick 
being so formed that the young must be able to cling 
to them so, in fact have some special means of so 
holding on in running, diving, and swimming that 
they are without risk of falling off, since there is no 
record I can find of their having been dropped when 
in the course of being so carried ; and this would be 
incomprehensible unless, as in one or two other cases, 
some express provision had been made in view of the 
necessity. Indeed, when you think of it in a creature 
no more than a few hours old, it is almost as wonder- 

34 Lfife History of Conuiwii Cuckoo. 

ful as the powers of the young cuckoo in turning 
eggs and foster-brothers out of the nest when a few 
days old. And this is all the more extraordinary in 
that a very careful observer has told us that in swim- 
ming '' old and young dabchicks use their legs like a 
frog, horizontally, striking both at once, and bringing 
their feet together at the end of the stroke. I have 
seen the old ones diving " [and swimming ?] " in 
clear water some distance, but they did not use their 
wings." ■■'- 

This is the more curious and suggestive, surely, 
that Professor A. Newton, as quoted above, is clear 
that on a flat surface the wings are at least as much 
called on in locomotion as the legs are, if indeed they 
are not more efficient than the legs in aiding the 
young dabchick here. But in these matters, where 
observation of the creature in wild nature can be but 
in hurried broken glimpses, much must always be 
doubtful. The point here is that since the wings are 
not used in swimming but the feet, the feet and legs 
should not have been more developed and the wings 
less developed at this stage in view of what, accord- 
ing to all the reasoning we can base on observed 
facts, it would earliest want to use both on land 
and in the water for its protection and escape from 

Then there is that truly unique bird — the Hoatzin 
— a native of South America and the West Indies, 
which is endowed with a peculiar power of moving 
about almost from the first. A curved or hooked nail 
is developed even in the egg on the finger points of 

* Mr. Bryan Hook in Seebohm's British Birds, quoted by Dr. 
Bowdler Sharpe in Handbook (Allen's), vol. iv, p. 210. 

Tlie Hoatzin. 33 

the wings, and by aid of this, it can move about from 
branch to branch on the trees, thus protecting itself 
from many dangers. Mr. J. B. Quelch, curator of 
the British Guiana Museum, gave a very full and in- 
teresting account of this strange bird in the Ibis for 
1890, (pp. 327-334), and Mr. Beddard had already 
dealt with its anatomical structure in the same maga- 
zine for 1889, (pp. 283-289.) 

Mr. Beddard elsewhere says, " There is a curious 
bird found in British Guiana, which is known as the 
hoatzin. In the very young nestlings of the hoatzin 
the claws of the fingers are so conspicuous that they 
are actually used by the callow chick to climb with, 
before the feathers of the wings are grown sufficiently 
to enable them to use their wings in the proper way 
in which a bird should." ■'' 

Mr. Lucas' study of the wing of the young hoatzin 
in the Smithsonian report 1893, is a most able and 
interesting document. He writes : 

" The wing is hooked on the points or thumbs, 
and by these soon after it is hatched, it can hold on 
to twigs, etc. Not the least of the many interesting 
features of the hoatzin is the rapid change which 
takes place in the fore limb during the growth of the 
bird, by which the hand of the nestling, with its well- 
developed, well-clawed fingers becomes the clawless 
wing of the old bird with its abortive outer finger." 

Other cases might be cited further to show that, in 
exceptional instances very young birds are gifted with 
extraordinary powers to enable them to fulfil certain 

* Mr. Beddard shows both the wing of young Hoatzin {Opistho- 
comus) and aduh wing with claws aborted in Mr. Hudson's 
British Birds, pp. 15 and 17. 

36 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

demands in view of self preservation and the continu- 
ance of the race, and that modifications of structure 
in the quite young bird prepared for even in the egg 
itself, are co-ordinated with other powers to enable it 
to effect quite special and wholly exceptional and 
almost incredible results. The curved or hooked 
fingers of the hoatzin are clearly co-ordinated with 
other powers that do not have, because they do not 
demand, such special and observable anatomical modi- 
fications ; and in the cuckoo I myself believe that the 
zygodactyle feet, the temporary depression in the 
back, which remains only for eight or ten days, are 
co-ordinated with other powers in wings, legs, etc., 
to enable it to do what it does when only a few days 
old to turn out of the nest the eggs and young ones 
of the foster parents and so secure their whole atten- 
tion and feeding. 

The writer of a very able and interesting article on 
the cuckoo, under the title of "A Wonder of the 
Bird World," in the Saturday Review, for March 4, 
1899, said : 

" A friend of the writer saw the thing " [the turning 
out of the nest of eggs and young] " done last season 
in the case of a young cuckoo, in a sedgewarbler's 
nest and then, not by any means, for the first time in 
his life. The legs of the cuckoo, in its blind and 
naked infancy, may not be able to support without 
props the weight of the body, but by combined move- 
ments of legs, wings and body the bird does hoist up 
and eject from the nest of wagtail, hedgesparrow, 
and pipit " [and of pied flycatcher, redstart and 
many others], " both young birds and eggs : how it 
can get them out of the deeper nest of the reedwarbler 
one can scarcely imagine." 

Transitory Tooth in Young S)iakes. 37 

The power of the young cuckoo to eject the eggs 
and true birds from the nest, we say again, is really 
not more wonderful than the power of the newly - 
hatched dabchick for diving, swimming, etc., though 
the results of the efforts are so very different, or of 
the newly-hatched hoatzin to travel considerable 
distances by aid of its hooked thumbs chiefly. 

Mr. Darwin was of this opinion, and these cases of 
ours above only support and give force to his, if, 
indeed, they are not more apt as dealing with birds : 

"The first step towards the acquisition of the 
proper instinct might have been mere unintentional 
restlessness on the part of the young bird, when 
somewhat advanced in age and strength ; the habit 
having been afterwards improved and transmitted to 
an earlier age. I can see no more difficulty in this 
than in the unhatched young of other birds acquiring 
the instinct to break through their own shells ; or 
than in young snakes acquiring in their upper jaws, 
as Owen has remarked, a transitory sharp tooth for 
cutting through the tough eggshell." {Origin, p. 214.) 

Cannock Brand {Longman's, June, 1891,) tries hard 
to explain the preponderance of cuckoo males by the 
fact of the males of all birds being most restless in the 
nest. But this for reasons we are prepared to give is 
certainly not exhaustive and final, if, indeed, it has 
any ground ; and when he says that it seems " still 
probable that the cuckoo sometimes lays in the nest," 
we need only point to the fact that the shorter time 
spent near the victimised nest is of the very essence 
of success — the more, if besides depositing the egg, 
there is an effort made generally to extrude one of the 
true eggs from it. 

38 Life History of Coinmon Cuckoo. 


Various theories have been advanced to account 
for these extraordinary powers, habits, and instincts 
in the cuckoo. Some have held that the individual 
birds must have powers to modify the colouring of 
the eggs to suit the nest into which they mean to 
deposit theirs. The writer of the article in the Ency- 
clopcedia Britannica rejects with scorn the idea that 
individual cuckoos have the power to vary their eggs 
in the least degree, not to speak of through such a 
range, and he suggests the theory that, by heredity, 
different sets of cuckoos come to lay always the same 
coloured eggs and to place them unerringly in the 
nests for which they are adapted, the eggs laid by the 
same individual bird being, he holds, always the 

He goes on to argue that were it not so, much of 
the ingenuity shown by the cuckoo would be wasted, 
as some birds are so much more easily imposed on in 
this respect than others that it would in certain cases be 
needless labour : " We know that certain birds resent 
interference with their nests much less than others, 
and among them it may be asserted that the hedge- 
sparrow will patiently submit to various experiments. 
She will brood with complacency the egg of a red- 
breast (Erithacus rnbecula), so unlike her own, and 
for aught we know to the contrary, may be colour- 
blind. In the case of such a species there would be 

no need of anything more to secure success 

But with other species it may be, nay, doubtless is, 

So here we really have what was a complete sliding 

The " Colour-Blind Variety.'' 39 

scale — from birds that eject the cuckoo's egg and 
either turn it out " or build it over," or desert the 
nest, down to those who seem colour-blind and un- 
suspicious, with all possible degrees of suspicion or 
innocence between. 

Observation shows that eggs of the cuckoo de- 
posited in nests of the red-backed shrike (Lauiiis 
collurio), of the bunting (Eiiiberiza miliaria), and of 
the icterine warbler approximate in their colouring 
to eggs of these species — species in whose nests the 
Cuckoo rarely, in comparison with others, deposits 

The facts according to the Eiicyclopcsdia Britannica 
writer, up to a certain point at all events, square with 
this theory. The birds in whose nests, in his view, 
the cuckoo most commonly deposits eggs are of the 
" colour-bhnd " variety, and more indifferent -to tam- 
perings with the nest than are the red-backed shrike, 
the bunting, and icterine warblers, where the cuckoo's 
eggs approximate in their colouring to the eggs of 
these species — species in whose nests the cuckoo more 
rarely deposits eggs. 

Dr. Rey is here so far at one with Dr. Alfred 
Newton, he says : " Each female lays only one egg in 
one nest. If more than one be found they invariably 
belong to different females." 

Most cuckoos, he holds again, " are in the habit of 
placing their eggs in the nests of one species of bird, 
and take to other nests only if they cannot find their 
habitual nests." 

Mr. E. Hartert, at Mr. Bidwell's exhibition of 
cuckoos' eggs, summarised as follows on this point 
from Dr. Rey : 

40 Life History of Covimon Cuckoo. 

" The eggs laid in the nests of Ruticilla pJia'nicurus 
(redstart) and Friiigilla montifringilln (brambhng) are 
nearly always like those of the nest-owners in colour 
and markings (57 out of 67 in those of the former, and 
all in those of the latter). Imitations are also common 
in nests oi Sylvia ciiierea (whitethroat),S>'/f /« hortensis 
(garden-warbler), Acrocephalus streperus (reed warb- 
ler), and A. phragmitis (sedgewarbler), while they are 
rare in others, and never yet found in nests of Troglo- 
dytes parvulns (common wren), Accentor niodularis 
(hedge sparrow), and the different Phylloscopi (warb- 
lers). In most countries, it may be said that there 
are many more cuckoos' eggs which do not imitate 
those of other birds than there are successful imita- 
tions." ■'■ 

But all this, acute as it looks, removes the difficulty 
only a step or two further back. If the thing has 
become a fixed habit or instinct by heredity, then at 
some point the birds reached a decision on the subject 
as to which birds could be imposed upon more easily 
than others ; and one fatal disadvantage pursues this 
theory that the earlier birds were the most discerning, 

* Mr. E. Hartert wrote to meeting of the British Ornitholo- 
gists' Club, 2ist February, 1894. to this effect : " The statements 
of Dr. Rey, in his Altes iind Neues aus den Haushalte des Kuc- 
kucks, are based upon an immense mass of material probably 
greater than has ever been examined by a single naturalist, and 
his results are founded upon a long experience. I myself can 
add no comment." But it needs to be emphatically remarked 
here that the unlike eggs are so very much more easily noticed 
than the matched ones, and that several, and not a few, blue 
eggs have now been found in nests with the blue ones of the 
accentor, and that matched eggs have been found in the nests of 
wrens. (See Zoologist, 1895, p. 228). 

Dr. Erasmus Darwin. 41 

and, like the Cambridge carrier's horse, able to draw 
an inference. 

Besides, one awkward fact recently observed by 
more than one person is that cuckoos have nested, or, 
at all events, have been seen sitting on eggs ; from 
which it is legitimately inferred that in days remote 
and more favourable to the bird they did themselves 
brood, and that in the cases of nesting observed we 
have a reversion to true and original habit. The 
supposition that the cuckoo, having laid an egg on 
the ground, takes a good view of its colour, and then 
looks round for a nest with eggs somewhat like it, is, 
to our mind, so clumsy that it will not bear looking 
at. Nor can we accept the theory that a species 
should have come systematically to vary so much in 
a fixed and uniform way through a range of indi- 
viduals and their descendants. 

We are inclined to believe that there was more 
power of mysterious adaptation than many would be 
wiUing to credit. 

Dr. Erasmus Darwin expressed his belief, based on 
observation, that the cuckoo sometimes hatches its 
own young ; and Dr. Darwin gives an extract from a 
letter of the Rev. Mr. Wilmot, of Morley, near 
Derby, describing an instance brought to Mr. 
Wilmot's notice in July, 1792, by one of his labourers 
and afterwards watched by Mr. Wilmot himself, and 
seen by many other witnesses, among them a Mr. 
and Mrs. Holioake. Mr. Blackwall, indeed, dealt 
critically with this case in the Zoological Journal for 
1829 ; and urged that the witnesses one and all made 
a mistake in thinking the bird a cuckoo, and that it 
was a nightjar ; but this error was hardly possible to 

42 Life History of Coiumon Cuckoo. 

persons accustomed to see the birds, for a nightjar 
brooding looks very different indeed from a cuckoo — 
in fact, it looks notoriously like a stump left there. 
Besides, there have been in a few cases, cuckoos 
lately observed sitting on eggs with no nest but 
merely a depression in earth, after the manner of the 

Dr. Charles Creighton writes on this point : 

•' Previous to 1771, or before Jenner, aged twenty- 
one, came to board with him. Hunter was known to 
have dissected hen-cuckoos, and had satisfied himself 
that there was nothing in the anatomical disposition 
of the viscera, as some before him had alleged, to 
prevent the bird from sitting on eggs like any other 

In a London newspaper of September 3, 1898, we 
are told that in a London garden three young cuckoos 
might be seen fed by a pair of hedge-sparrows. 

If this is correct, and, unfortunately I have not had 
a chance of verifying it, it would go some way in the 
direction of proving that the young cuckoos do not 
exercise towards each other the same efforts at turning 
out of the nest as they do towards the young and eggs 
of the foster-parents. And truly this would indicate 
wonderful instinct or reasoning ; transferring the 
whole process from a merely blind mechanical per- 
formance to one that bordered on discrimination, 
foresight, and method. This in a young, blind, and 
as yet unfeathered nestling clearly discerning between 
the young of its own kind and those of the foster 
parents is, beyond expression, wonderful ; and may 

* Jenner and Vaccination, p. 9. Creighton quotes Daines Har- 
rington, (Phil. Trans., vol. 62, 1771), for the first statement. 

Mr. y. H. Guniey. 43 

throw some light of explanation on the conduct of the 
great spotted cuckoos of Spain, which we shall by-and- 
by tell by quotation from Lord Lilford, often lay their 
eggs, numbering from three to eight, in the nests of 
the pies. 

E. T. Gunn, in Zoologist, 1863 (p. 9628), tells of a 
case of two young cuckoos in one nest which lived till 
they were a considerable size, when one of them died. 

Mr. J. H. Gurney thus closes a most interesting 
short paper in the Zoologist, for December, 1897 : 

" We have had two nests this year with two 
cuckoos in each, one belonging to a pied wagtail, and 
the other to a spotted flycatcher ; but from what I 
can learn one cuckoo only was reared in each nest." 

" I think," says Mr. Norgate, " we should more 
often find two or more cuckoos' eggs in one nest, but 
that I fancy the second and succeeding cuckoo would 
be likely to take out the biggest egg {i.e., the previous 
cuckoo's), rather than a smaller egg of foster-parent. 
... I have found cuckoo's eggs uninjured outside the 
nest, and on other occasions the foster-parents' out- 
side the nest sometimes uninjured. I have more than 
once found the cuckoo's egg uninjured in a nest with 
the foster-parent's eggs all broken, but in such cases 
usually found very many feathers of foster-parent and 
sometimes the dead foster-parent outside the nest : 
one often sees a scuffle between cuckoos and small 

Mr. J. H. Gurney writes: 

*' Two young cuckoos in one nest is a thing very 
rarely witnessed, and it has only happened in this 
county (Norfolk) about three times : on Mousehold 
Heath (as noted above), at Cringleford, and at Bracon- 

44 J^^f^ History of Common Cuckoo. 

ash. On one of these occasions I was told they both 
lived till they were a considerable size, and then one 
died, instead of being ejected by the other young 
cuckoo as might have been anticipated. The two on 
Household were in a titlark's nest, and what added 
very much to the discovery was the circumstance of 
an addled cuckoo's Qgg with the young cuckoos. 
There must, therefore, if there was no mistake about 
it, have been three cuckoo's eggs at one time in the 
nest, a portentous prospect indeed for the poor lark ! " 
On the other hand, we have the following para- 
graph : 

The Tables Turned. 

An Epsom contributor to Nature Notes writes, 
September, 1898 : — " I believe that when a cuckoo 
deposits her eggs in another bird's nest, the intruder, 
as soon as it is big enough, ousts the rightful nest- 
lings. But early in June an instance to the contrary 
occurred in my garden. 1 was sitting under a tree, 
on the trunk of which 1 knew there was a sparrow's 
nest and young birds, as I had watched the old birds 
going to and fro. There was a sudden clamour and 
disturbance, and a young cuckoo was jerked out of the 
nest, and fell, with rather a heavy thud, close to my 
feet. There had been violent measures before the 
expulsion, for there was blood upon its beak, and 
after a few gasps — showing its bright orange mouth 
and throat — it died in my hand. The nest was too 
high — it was eight or ten feet from the ground — for 
me to look into it, but it would be interesting to have 
known how many sparrow beaks it took to serve the 

*m--«^%,%^1pp. ft 


yenner's Report. 45 

Or whether another cuckoo chanced to be in that 
nest — a thing which, if ascertained, would have been 

Mr. Howard Saunders positively asserts that the 
same female sometimes deposits two and even three 
eggs in one nest ; and that where there are two 
cuckoos in the same nest the struggle for existence is 
sometimes severe.''' 

Jenner's report is absolutely in favour of the theory 
that the young cuckoos act towards each other pre- 
cisely as they do towards the true occupants of the 
nest. I do not, however, implicitly pin my faith to 
Jenner, and wish — devoutly wish — for well verified 
observations of others on this point to enable me and 
others finally to accept or to reject what is implied in 
the following passage : 

" Two cuckoos and one hedge-sparrow were hatched 
in the same nest ; one hedge-sparrow's egg remained 
unhatched. In a few hours a contest between the 
cuckoos for the possession of the nest, which con- 
tinued undetermined till the afternoon of the following 
day, when one of them, which was somewhat superior 
in size, turned out the other, together with the young 
hedge sparrow and the unhatched egg. The combat- 
ants," he says, " alternately appeared to have the ad- 
vantage, as each carried the other several times nearly 
to the top of the nest, and again sank down depressed 
with the weight of its burden ; till, at length, after 
various efforts, the strongest prevailed, and was after- 
wards brought up by the hedge-sparrow." 

In the case of the two young cuckoos in a meadow- 
pipit's nest, observed by Mr. John Craig, he thought 

* Manual of Birds, p. 278. 

46 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

that the eggs had been " deposited by two different 
birds, as they were different in colour, size and shape, 
but I do not mean," he goes on, " that the same 
cuckoo would not lay eggs quite as different in colour, 
size and shape. One or more of the nest owner's 
eggs must have been removed by one of the cuckoos, 
as she is in the habit of doing so, by swallowing them, 
whoi a full clutch is laid before she deposits Jier own, 
and I have never seen a meadow-pipit's nest with 
fewer than four eggs to the clutch." .... These 
two birds had a tremendous tussle, though, says Mr. 
Craig, " they were not two days old and blind." 

He goes on to write : 

" We again visited the nest on June gth to take a 
snapshot, when we found only one of the cuckoos in 
the nest and the other one outside. Having a young 
pipit with us we put it in the nest. The young 
cuckoo hoisted it again and again on its back, but the 
pipit always got jammed near the top of the nest. 
We then put in the other cuckoo, when a desperate 
struggle commenced. Sometimes the birds put their 
bill or head against the opposite side of the nest for 
more pressure when commencing to climb. Several 
times the top bird tumbled over the head of the other, 
like a rider falling over the head of a horse. After a 
short respite the birds became extremely restless, and 
again commenced the struggle. Two snapshots were 
then taken, but they were useless." 

" I again visited the nest with Mr. Barron, June 
loth, when we found only one of the cuckoos in the 
nest, and the other one outside ; but the photographer 
failed to put in an appearance, having got otherwise 
engaged. We then put the other cuckoo into the nest 

Mr. ^ohii Craig s Facts. 47 

again, when the one that was in possession began to 
hoist it once more on its back, and chnibed up the 
side of the nest backwards, and threw it out of the 
nest, which it had httle difficulty in doing, as the bird 
was so weak from want of food. We then put the 
weak bird into the nest again to give it a chance to 
recover, and took the other one away with us for 
about an hour. We then put it into the nest again, 
when the weak bird made several attempts to eject its 
companion, but it was too feeble. It then acted on 
the defensive, by lying in a canted position by keeping 
the side that was next its opponent downwards, with 
one of its legs stretched out , and its claws against the 
opposite side of the nest. We then bolstered up the 
nest to give the weak bird a chance to recover. On 
the following day I again visited the nest, but the 
weak bird had disappeared altogether. The parent 
birds paid no attention whatever to the young cuckoo 
when outside the nest, even although sitting at the 
side of it." 

These facts, from a very reliable field-ornithologist, 
taken in connection with others we have given, 
suggested the question : 

Is it possible that instinct as to birds from the same 
mother cuckoo in one nest indicates the cases in which 
two cuckoos in one nest lie apparently quite amicably 
together, while those from different hens bear them- 
selves toward each other precisely as they do to the 
legitimate birds of the nest ? — try to turn each other 
out and fight till the strongest prevails ? Mr. Craig 
beheved that in above case the eggs were from different 

We cannot, at all events, see anything whatever in 

48 Life History of Comiuoii Cuckoo. 

such procedure likely to be advantageous to the 
species ! 

The evidence is, however, by no means satisfactory 
or conclusive that, when two cuckoos' eggs are 
dropped into one nest the two cuckoos invariably try 
to turn each other out — the strongest finally prevail- 
ing. We have just cited two cases where this was 
not the fact, and others might have been added. 

Yet, Mr. Romanes, with the unfortunate tendency 
to generalise from too narrow a basis of particulars, 
writes thus : 

" Among birds we find mistaken instinct exhibited 
by the cuckoo when it lays two eggs in the same nest, 
with the inevitable result that one of the young birds 
will afterwards eject the other." '-^'^ 

And in not a few of the cases it is plain that there 
was no mistaken instinct at all in the sense Mr. 
Romanes means, because in not a few nests it would 
be simply impossible to see the former deposited 
cuckoo's egg : unless Mr. Romanes indeed supposed 
that these second eggs are invariably deposited by 
the same bird that laid the first egg — a thing about 
which we are still in the greatest uncertainty, and 
certainty regarding which would clear up a lot of 
other things for us. Meantime Mr. Romanes's words 
above are only like too many of his — a doubtful point 
assumed as certain and absolutely settled, and then 
a bold, big argument, dogmatically raised upon it ! 

In cases where cuckoos' eggs have been deposited 
in blackbirds' or pigeons' nests there would be a more 
equally matched contest between the young ones of 
the different parents from their size ; but in some 

* Romanes's Ment. Evolution, p. 168. 

'' The Cornhill Magazine.'' 49 

cases, both of blackbirds and pigeons, it has been found 
that the eggs of the blackbird or pigeon had been 
punctured or cracked by mandibles to prevent hatch- 
ing, that so the young cuckoo might not run the risk 
of such an equal contest. This shows still further 
forecast and ingenuity on the part of the parent 
cuckoos, if we are right in inferring, as we are surely 
forced to do, that the parent cuckoos were here the 
malefactors ; and also may be taken to prove that the 
cuckoos in certain ways do in so far look after the 
welfare and safety of their progeny. Darwin tells us 
that the Molothnis honariensis (American cowbird) 
has the most extraordinary habit of pecking holes in 
the eggs, whether of their own species or of their 
foster-parents, which they find in the appropriated 
nests,'" and to this we shall refer again with evidence 
from first-hand reporters. 


A WRITER on " British Birds : their Nests and Eggs," 
in the Cornhill Magazine, says : — 

" It was once thought that the cuckoo paired, but 
it is now known that the species is polygamous.! The 
number of hens that constitute a harem is not known, 
but from the number of bachelor birds the males 
must greatly predominate over the females. The 
egg of the cuckoo has been found in the nests of sixty 
different species, several of which are exceedingly 

* Origin of Species, p. 215, 6th edition. 

t Not polygamous, surely, but polyandrous, and instead of 
harem, with a number of hens, the question must be how many 
cocks attend one hen ? 

50 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

small, and moreover domed/'' Among the sixty nests 
patronised were the unlikely ones of the butcher-bird, 
jay, and magpie — all either bird or egg destroyers. 
This may seem to reflect on the cuckoo's stupidity ; 
and the bird certainly exhibits deplorable ignorance 
of the fitness of things when it deposits its egg in 
the nest of the diminutive goldcrest, or the cumber- 
some one of the cushat. A goldcrest might con- 
veniently be stowed away in the gape of a young 
cuckoo without the latter detecting that the morsel 
was much more than a normal supply. The nests in 
which the eggs of cuckoos are most frequently found 
are those of the meadow-pipit, hedge-sparrow, and 
reed-warbler. Now the eggs of these birds vary to 
a very considerable degree ; and the question arises 
whether the cuckoo has the power of assimilating the 
colour of its egg to those among which it is to be 
deposited. Certain eminent continental ornitholo- 
gists claim that this is so, but the facts observed in 
England hardly bear out the conclusion. Brown 
eggs have been found among the blue ones of the 
the hedge-sparrow, redstart, wheatear ; among the 
green and grey ones of other birds ; and the purely 
white ones of the wood-pigeon and turtle-dove. The 
cuckoo's egg is brown, and it must be admitted that 
the great majority of the nests which it patronises 
contain eggs more or less nearly resembling its own. 
There is a general family likeness about those laid by 
the bird, not only in the same clutch, but from year 
to year. Admitting that the eggs of the cuckoo, as 
a species, vary more than those of other birds, it is 
yet probable that the same female invariably lays 

* Exactly double sixty Mr. Bidwell gives. 

Mr. Seehohrns Reproductions. 51 

eggs of one colour. This can only be surmised by- 
analogy, though the one fact bearing on the question 
is where two cuckoo's eggs were found in the same 
nest [and] which differed greatly. More might have 
been learnt from the incident, had it been known for 
certain whether the eggs were laid by the same or 
different birds. There is a general tendency in the 
habits of animals to become hereditary, and it seems 
not unreasonable to suppose that a cuckoo which has 
once laid its egg in the nest of any particular species 
should continue to do so, and that the young cuckoo 
should also continue the practice in after years." 

Mr. Seebohm's reproductions of cuckoo's eggs, 
however, show that this writer was in the greatest 
possible error in declaring the cuckoo's eggs to be in- 
variably brown, which suggests the idea that, while 
right on some points, he wrote from imperfect know- 
ledge in others, and was not himself a close observer. 

Mr. Bidwell's list gives 120 species in the nests of 
which the cuckoo drops its eggs, and in the Zoologist 
for 1883 he writes that " five eggs are said to be laid 
in the season by the cuckoo at intervals of seven or 
eight days ; " but this is surely an exaggeration. It 
is probable, however, that the cuckoo has more power 
than other birds in retaining perfect eggs in the ovary 
— a point supported by a fact thus given by Mr. J. 
H. Gurney : 

"Our Norwich bird-stuffers have on two or three 
occasions taken perfect eggs out of cuckoos, which 
indicates some latent power of retaining them in the 
ovarium — a power long ago suspected by Montagu." 

Mr. Romanes, in his Animal Intelligence, writes in 
a note at the end of his chapter on " Bird Intelli- 
gence : " 

52 L,if^ History of ConiDion Cuckoo. 

" Sii\ce going to press, I have seen, through the 
kindness of Mr. Seebohm, some specimens of cuckoo's 
eggs coloured in imitation of those belonging to the 
birds in the nests of which they are laid. There can 
be no question about the imitation." 

Dr. Baldamus, in Naiiniannia, vol. for 1863-4, (P* 
414), gives sixteen coloured drawings of eggs of com- 
mon cuckoo— all very different indeed, from the blue 
of the redstart and hedge-sparrow and pied fly-catcher 
to the brown-blotched eggs of larks and pipits. 

The late-lamented Mr. Henry Seebohm, on the 
whole a careful observer, despite Professor Newton's 
depreciation, as well as an exquisite writer, in his 
plates of birds' eggs, appended to his History of 
British Birds, gives fifteen cuckoo's eggs which vary 
through a wide range, one or other of which might 
fairly simulate the eggs of the hedge-sparrows, red- 
starts, pipits, fly-catchers, warblers, little buntings, 
wagtails, tits, and some of the finches, wrens, and 
blackcaps. One of these has undoubtedly a blue tint 
which would make it admirably adapted to impose 
even upon the redstart, or the pied fly-catcher, or the 
accentor — pace Mr. Luke Ellis, who in the Echo 
some years ago, ridiculed the idea that a cuckoo 
could lay a blue ^gg- But Mr. Seebohm was of 
another mind. He wrote : 

" A cuckoo which lays blue eggs always lays blue 
eggs, and its descendants will continue to lay blue 
eggs ; it was probably hatched in a nest containing 
blue eggs, and will, to the best of its ability, intrust 
the care of its eggs to foster-parents of the same 
species as those which tended it in its infancy. . . . 
It is very seldom that the cuckoo's egg is found with- 

Pralle's Collection. 53 

out small round dark markings, like fly spots. ... I 
have taken a young cuckoo out of a blue egg on 
which they were so pale as almost to escape notice.'"'' 

Mr. Dresser gives the following very interesting 
passage from Mr. Seebohm's notes on Mr. Pralle's 
collection at Hildesheim : 

" In this collection are twelve blue cuckoo's eggs, 
some uniform, unspotted, whereas others have faint 
spots, like fly spots, here and there. The first of 
these was in a nest of Saxicola stapaz'uia, and is blue, 
with a few fly spots ; No. 2 ditto ; Nos. 3 and 4 are 
unspotted blue, and are each with five eggs of Phyl- 
loscopns sibllatrix ; No. 5 is with three eggs of 
Ruticilla phcBnicurus, and No. 7 with three eggs of 
the same species, this latter egg being blue, with a 
few faint fly spots; Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 are all blue, 
with traces of spots, and are all with four or six eggs 
of Ruticilla phcenicnrns except the last which was 
found Avith only one egg of that species." f 

Mr. J. H. Gurney, in his admirable paper in the 
Norfolk and Suffolk Natural History Society Journal, 
well says : 

" Our cuckoo lays blue eggs oftener than is thought, 
and Coccystes jacobinus, a cuckoo inhabiting Africa 
and India, always lays them : to say blue cuckoo's 
eggs have never been met with in England is quite 
incorrect. ... In one nest we learn the blue egg 
was a very little larger than a hedge-sparrow's, but it 
produced a cuckoo, which only shows how easily they 
may be passed over.'' [Italics are mine.] 

In the second volume of Dr. Bowdler Sharpe's 

* p. 384, vol. i. 

t Birds of Europe, ad loc. 

54 -^(A History of Common Cuckoo. 

Handbook of British Birds, we find him following 
Mr. Seebohm in the idea that the cuckoo which 
lays blue eggs had itself come from a blue eg^, and 
always lays blue eggs, and so with the other coloured 
egg-laying cuckoos. But this seems to carry the 
great difficulty only one short step further back. 
How did the cuckoos get differentiated into different 
coloured egg -layers ? It could not have been before 
the habit had been formed of putting the eggs into 
other birds' nests. If the cuckoos, then, became at one 
step definitely classed as blue egg-layers, fly-spotted 
blue egg -layers, light -brown blotched egg -layers, 
or dark -brown blotched, or lark -like egg- layers, 
and so on, is that not even as much a mystery as 
though we were to allow some individual variation in 
the coloration of eggs ? Let anybody look at the 
fifteen different eggs of the cuckoo carefully engraved 
and coloured in the supplement of Seebohm's British 
Birds, or at the sixteen coloured specimens from Dr. 
August Baldamus in Naumannia, and he will admit 
that something wholly unexampled and exceptional 
must apply to a class of birds producing such varied 
eggs. The problems connected with the cuckoo are 
not yet by any means settled ; so there is an interest- 
ing field of observation and inquiry still left open for 
any ambitious young naturalist. 

Among the blue eggs of Mr. Pralle's collection, 
Mr. Seebohm speaks of blue eggs uniform, unspotted, 
and of others with spots, — faint spots, like fly-spots. 
Now, what I wish to ask on this head is, are the uni- 
form blue eggs confined to one bird or definite family 
of birds, and each of the variously fly-spotted eggs to 
another bird or class of birds. By this process we 

A Clear Rule Wanted. 55 

should have another lot of dififerent eggs, say, six to 
add to our differentiated cuckoos, and, following the 
same reasoning applied to all slight differences, we 
should have at least another half-dozen, thus bringing 
the number of known different egg-laying cuckoos up 
to at least nearly thirty. It would be a benefit if the 
supporters of the theory of different cuckoos for each 
different egg would tell us at what point of difference 
you have assurance of the fixed and definite ma- 
ternity, so to speak. Some such rule of principle is 
much needed. Do the various fly-spots and different 
distribution of fly- spots (for in some cases they are 
freely and almost equally scattered at one end, and in 
others drawn into a sort of faint ring between the end 
of the egg and the part where it begins to contract), 
each trace themselves to definite cuckoos ; or at what 
point does the process end ? We know perfectly 
well that when closely looked at there is no case in 
which any birds' eggs are exactly alike, and that 
sometimes the eggs of one clutch — more especially of 
certain birds — will so markedly differ from each other 
as to spots and arrangement of spots as to look rather 
a motley group ; and if in the case of the cuckoo no 
variety is to be allowed to the female here, we want 
to have some clear rule about it. We know nothing 
definite about what determines these differences, but 
our point here is, that if you go the whole hog, as 
you ought to do, about your different egg-laying 
cuckoos, you foist on the individual layers a uni- 
formity such as is found in no other bird — a thing 
adding another mystery to the mysteries about the 
cuckoo and its eggs. 

In case of any dispute, here are Dr. Bowdler 
Sharpe's own words : 

56 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

*' It is supposed that the colouration of the cuckoo's 
egg is an hereditary faculty, and that each female 
cuckoo lays a particular type of egg. This is in all 
probability the case, and cuckoos which lay blue eggs 
come of a stock which has been hatched from blue 
eggs, and will continue to lay them and deposit tJiejii 
in the nest of some hlue-egg-laying species.'''''' 

Set this against the following: "In none of the 
hedge-sparrows' nests, for instance, have we a blue 
cuckoo's egg.'' Another authority puts it that canorus 
*' will by preference lay in the nest of the species 
which brought her up." The great comparative 
number of blue cuckoos' eggs laid in the nests of 
birds with brown-blotched and even lark-like eggs, 
and, more still, eggs like those of the nightingale, 
suffices to prove that there must be so very many ex- 
ceptions to the rule laid down in the words italicised 
above that it is completely invalidated, and so far as 
that point is concerned cannot be said to give force 
to the reason for the production of blue eggs in certain 
families of the cuckoo. It is a very good theoretic 
reason to justify, as it were, a hard and fast theory of 
radical differentiation of cuckoos into blue egg-laying 
and other egg-laying faniiUes ; but facts are against it 
clearly enough ; seeing that in so many instances the 
blue eggs are not laid in the nest of some blue egg- 
laying species — and thence a mere waste of more 
specialised colouration — since, surely, it would have 
been a gain to have better matched the eggs, were it 
only that bird-nesters and even ornithologists might 
have been more completely and longer deceived ; 
though it is difficult to see how if, in times past, blue 

* Allen's Handbook, ii, p. 28 

Mr. Howard Saunders's View. 57 

eggs of the cuckoo were as liberally laid among 
clutches of a wholly different colour, as they are now, 
English ornithologists could have gone on from the 
days of Jenner down to those of Seebohm and Elwes 
— about a whole century — -and denied that any cuckoo 
whatever laid blue eggs. It is almost incomprehen- 
sible that such a condition of things could have gone 
on — unless indeed the facts were different in the past 
from what they are now and have been for several 
recent years, when one of the most extraordinary 
things has been the appearance of cuckoos' blue eggs 
not with blue eggs, but with eggs of all other and con- 
trasted colours, even in the nest of the nightingale. 
If this had been so invariably for nigh a hundred 
years, what utterly blind bogglers EngUsh ornitholo- 
gists must indeed have been ! 

Further still, Mr. Howard Saunders says (right in 
teeth of Dr. Bowdler Sharpe's deliverance above) that 
eggs of a pale blue have been found, though not 
invariably located, in nests of the hedge-sparrow and 

If you go strictly for a blue-egg-laying cuckoo as 
having come from the nest of a blue-egg-laying bird, 
always laying its eggs in a nest where blue eggs are, 
how do you account for the very, very large number 
in proportion of blue eggs laid beside other coloured 
eggs, making in many cases very motley groups ? 
And if, like the hedge-sparrow, there are whole species 
that are easily taken in, and will bear any amount of 
interference with their nests — birds which are every- 
where numerous — why should the cuckoo need to 

* Mamcal, p. 278. Mr. Saunders writes in new edition of 
1897-8, " though these have not invariably been located." 

58 Life History of Coinnion Cuckoo. 

have recourse to such as demand exact matching of 
eggs as Professor Newton above has told us ? In 
every case of that kind the cuckoo takes on itself 
a lot of trouble for nothing. And, besides, what do 
you make of the bird out of a blue egg that was laid 
in a brown blotched egg-laying birds' nest — would it, 
when its turn came, choose a blue-laying bird's nest 
to drop its eggs in, or would it choose the same kind 
of nest as that it came out of ? 

Dr. Bowdler Sharpe has yet this problem to solve 
and this question to answer. Thus the two state- 
ments of tendency expressed in the one case, as con- 
tinuing to deposit the blue eggs (a la Dr. Bowdler 
Sharpe, Seebohm, and Professor Newton) " in the 
nest of some blue-egg-laying species," and in the 
other, as "by preference laying in the nest of the 
species which brought her up," are almost through 
the whole range exclusive of each other, simply be- 
cause such a large number of blue eggs are laid, 
not in blue-egg nests, but in others. The two ten- 
dencies cannot be brought into harmony in view of 

Even so late as 1873, as the much cuckoo-laden 
volume of the Zoologist for that year bears witness. 
Professor Alfred Newton was very sceptical about 
blue cuckoo's eggs, openly expressing doubts as to 
the correctness of Dr. Baldamus's report in that par- 
ticular, and so positive was he that the Rev. Alfred 
C. Smith, after citing from a letter to the Field, Mar. 
15th, 1873, where the Professor declared, that so far 
as he was aware, " no one has ever found in the nest of 
a hedge-sparrow a cuckoo's egg which is similar to 
that of the hedge-sparrow," simply went on to print 

Mr. Brine's Letter. 59 

the following letter from a friend — a gentleman whom 
he could absolutely trust : 

Dear Sir, 

I have found the cuckoo's egg several times in the hedge- 
sparrow's nest, and once two eggs, but varying from each other 
both in colour and size. Having a doubt whether both belonged 
to one cuckoo, or even one of them to a cuckoo at all, it being, 
if almost, as intense a blue as the hedge-sparrow's, but very 
little larger (the other being much lighter in colour and freckled 
at its larger end), I determined to watch the nest, which con- 
tained four hedge-sparrow's eggs besides the cuckoo's two eggs 
above mentioned. Of the hedge-sparrow's eggs, one was some- 
how lost ; the rest were all hatched, but one of the young cuckoos 
died after two or three days' existence (I believe from being 
too freely handled and exposed) : the other managed, in about a 
week's time, to get rid of its companions, and when fledged was 
himself made a prisoner, lived some months in a cage, and then 
moped and died. I have also found the cuckoo's egg in the 
wagtail's nest (though how it got there I could never tell), in the 
yellow-hammer's and chaffinch's nests, and I have known it 
found in the thrush's nest, and in all of these I have been re- 
markably struck with the similarity of colour with the eggs of 
the difterent birds in whose nests they were ; indeed for several 
years I had the egg from the thrush's nest, which could scarcely 
be recognised from the egg of the thrush in size, colour, or in 
markings. I will add only one other fact : that I have found a 
cuckoo's egg in a hedge-sparrow's nest two years in the same 
hedge, which induces me to think it probable that both eggs 
may have belonged to the same bird. As the facts above stated 
are strictly within my own knowledge, you may make what use 
of them you please. 

J. E. Brine. 
Abbey House, Shaftesbury. 

And about the same time, Mr. Henry Hadfield, 
Ventnor, Isle of Wight, in Zoologist, June, 1873, in 
replying to some of Professor Newton's statements 


6o Lift- History of Coiniiion Cuckoo. 

about hereditary intUience on cuckoo's eggs, said : — 
" I do not see why the presumed habit should be 
more Hkely to be hereditary in the cuckoo than in 
any other species. Mr. Newton, it is true cites an 
instance or two of there having been a family likeness 
found between the eggs laid by the same bird, so that 
they could be readily distinguislied from others ; but 
these rare — not to say accidental — varieties in the col- 
ouring of eggs may arise from different causes — for 
instance, the age of the bird or defective organization. 
The eggs of many birds are found to vary more or 
less in colour, — the eggs of the common house- 
sparrow, for mstance, — though I know of no regular 
or permanent varieties in the species." 

And, let Professor Newton now reconcile it how 
he may, we are fully assured that, in this last sen- 
tence, Mr. Hadheld, from his point of view, is right. 


The peculiar formation in the cuckoo which is said 
to prevent incubation is shared in greater or lesser 
degree with other birds which do incubate. This 
malformation results from the stomach lying beneath 
the sternum ; but the nightjar is so formed, and yet 
it broods its own young ; and more recent investi- 
gators show that at least one other brooding bird has 
the same form ; while the two connnon North Ameri- 
can cuckoos have the same form, and yet brood so))ie 
ot their eggs and young ones. The cause of the 
habit must therefore be sought in other sources. 
Herissant attributed the non - brooding of the 

Hunter's Dissections. 6i 

cuckoo to the position of the gizzard ; which is placed 
further back on the abdomen, and is less protected by 
the sternum than in other birds. But all these points 
are efficiently met by the results of the dissections of 
Hunter, already referred to at p. 42. 

With regard to the theory that the same female in- 
variably lays eggs of one colour, the observations of 
Herr Adolf Miiller, communicated to W'estermann's 
Monatshcfte, raised difficulties. 

On the 1 6th of May, 1888, Herr Adolf Miiller was 
crossing a wood, when a cuckoo started from almost 
under his feet. He examined the ground carefully, 
and discovered beneath a tussock of grass, in a little 
hollow, three eggs. The first was light yellow with 
brown spots, the second orange with greenish 
lines, the third, smaller than the others, was of a 
greenish grey with minute red spots and blotches of 
reddish brown. Herr Miiller, with true German pa- <^ 

tience, came every day, and, by the aid of an opera ^ 
glass, observed, without disturbing her, the habits of 
the extraordinary bird, which chance had revealed to 
him. She proceeded to sit with irreproachable regu- 
larity. In ten days a young one was hatched. The 
mother abandoned the two sterile eggs and devoted 
herself to the little cuckoo, whom she sheltered under 
her wings in the keen morning air, and supplied with 
caterpillars from a neighbouring oak copse. In three 
weeks it could fly ; whereas under the care of foster 
parents young cuckoos do not master that accom- 
plishment until after the lapse of six or seven weeks. 

Herr Adolf MuUer draws from these observations 
the following results: Ihis 1889, p. 219. 

I. That the cuckoo, in exceptional circumstances, 

62 Life History of Cojiinioii Cuckoo. 

incubates and hatches one or more of its own eggs, 
which, in these cases it apparently lays together in a 
safe place on the ground, without preparing any nest. 

2. That the eggs of the same cuckoo may be very 
different in colour and markings. If this be so, the 
purely theoretical idea held in certain quarters, that 
each hen cuckoo lays eggs of the same colour and 
markings, and of " one beautiful type," which are 
destined to be laid in the nests of one particular 
species of small bird, and are rarely the same colour 
as those of the foster-mother, and that she only lays 
them in the nest of this species, falls to the ground. 

I am perfectly aware that certain ornithologists 
and ornithological societies were well inclined to dis- 
credit Miiller and to reject his report ; but, taking his 
observations in connection with those of Dr. Erasmus 
Darwin and Mr. Wilmot, and, more recently, obser- 
vations as reported, I think, in the Field of a case on 
Wimbledon Common and some observations of my 
own, I am not so certain that there may not be some- 
thing in Herr Miiller's report. Certain of the ornitho- 
logists who rejected Miiller were the very men who 
had obstinately insisted for years and years that 
cuckoos never laid blue eggs ; and some of them, to 
save their amour propre, would fain deny them still. 

There is also the case of Herr Kiessel and three 
other eye-witnesses who reported that in the end of 
May, 1868, a cuckoo reared her young in a wood near 
St. Johann. Kiessel observed the bird regularly and 
saw that both the eggs were hatched and the little 
birds reared with tenderness and care, and the whole 
story was told and verified in the German Garten- 

Tlie Cuckoo Jia^ an Object. 63 

Since then there have now and again been notes 
made by observers to the same effect. An Essex 
naturahst, with whom I am acquainted, declares an 
experience of the same kind. It is evident that the 
cuckoo at one time — though a remote time — nested 
and brooded its own eggs and young, and there is 
surely no impossibility in reversions to original habit 
in rare circumstances here as is found to be the case 
in many other instances. 

If it is argued that other birds' eggs vary to a 
much greater extent than is believed by any but 
systematic ornithologists, it is enough to say that this 
is beside the mark, because, so far as we know, there 
is no object in this variation : it is matter of accident 
or change of physical condition ; but it is wholly 
different with the cuckoo, because in its case there is 
an object — an object of the most definite kind. Its 
success must depend either on the stupidity of certain 
birds, or on its own cleverness and power of imita- 
tion, so far as certain other birds are concerned ; and, 
since it can never know beforehand exactly what may 
be required of it — as witness the case of the reed- 
warbler which buried two cuckoo's eggs because it 
could not turn them out (and to this we shall refer 
again) — the very existence of the race depends on 
deception or studied colouration of eggs up to a 
certain point, so far as certain birds' nests are used 
by it. 

If there were no difference in the powers of birds in 
discriminating and rejecting, the problem to our mind 
would be much simphfied from the point of view of 
Professor A. Newton, but he, alas ! is very clear on 
the difference, and indeed makes all he can of it. 

64 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 


In the cases at the South Kensington Museum de- 
voted to birds' eggs and nests, we find in those set 
apart for the clutches among which the cuckoo's eggs 
were found, one case in which the blue eggs of the 
Accentor modiilaris (hedge-sparrow) were exactly imi- 
tated as to tint, though the cuckoo's egg was a good 
deal larger than the sparrow's ; in three other cases 
brown spotted eggs lay beside the sparrow's pale-blue 
ones ; and another blue egg beside blue eggs of the red- 
start, only larger ; while, with regard to reed-warb- 
lers, yellow wagtails, white wagtails, aquatic warblers, 
garden warblers, pied wagtails, the eggs had a general 
likeness, but were larger, and some of them some 
shades darker. In a few cases — that of the meadow- 
pipit especially, on which the cuckoo very frequently 
imposes — the eggs were markedly lighter — much 
lighter and larger. The cuckoo's egg was much 
darker than those of the yellow-hammer beside it, and 
the intruded egg was very unlike those of the willow- 
warbler — much larger and darker.'" Dr. Bowdler 

* Nor can there be, on my part, any error of memory or lapse 
here ; for a writer — very exact and reliable — in Cha7nbtrs'<: 
Jourmil for August, 1899 (since this book was written), in an 
article on " Cuckoo Mimicry," has this paragraph : 

" The hedge-sparrow — the most frequent foster-parent of the 
cnckoo — lays a turquoise blue egg, whilst the ordinary colour of 
the cuckoo's egg is a dull speckled-brown, very like that of a sky 
lark. In the Natural History Museum collection there are six 
clutches of eggs of the hedge-sparrow, each containing a cuckoo's 
egg. The localities from which they come are : (i) Brighton, (2) 
Hayward's Heath, (3) South West Lancashire, (4) North West 
Cheshire, (5) and (6) Hampshire. In the case of No. i (Brighton) 

Wonderful M'uuicry. 65 

Sharpe assured me, however, that they had in reserve 
many blue eggs of the cuckoo ; which just leads to 
the question, in what proportion of cases the brown- 
spotted eggs are intruded into the hedge-sparrow's 
nests, as in the three cases noted above. 

Here arises a difficulty about the theory of the 
cuckoo always laying eggs the same colour. For, 
if the blue-laying cuckoos know the hedge-sparrow's 
nest, and use it, these facts would indicate failure on 
the part of the cuckoos who lay brown-blotched eggs, 
and place them too in the nests of accentors, or lay /iJ?// uL^ 
blue or bluish eggs in the nests of birds which have 
brown, or brown spotted, or blotched eggs. 1 myself, 
in Essex, last year (1898) found two blue cuckoo's 

the cuckoo's egg is the counter-part of the hedge-sparrow in texture 
and colour, though almost twice as large — a wonderful instance 
of mimicr3^ In all the other cases (Nos. 2 — 6), the cuckoo egg 
is the ordinary dull speckled-brown — a striking contrast. In 
the case of two other species — the pied fly-catcher (Silesia), and 
the redstart (Vaalkerstaad), both of which lay blue eggs — the 

cuckoo imitates their colour, but the egg is much larger 

In the following instances the imitative colouring is very perfect : 
Lesser whitethroat, mottled greenish-grey (Halle, Saxony) ; 
Orphean warbler, white pale greenish-blue, spotted (Malaga) ; 
garden warbler, buff-speckled (Brandenburg) ; blue-headed 
yellow wagtail, grey speckled ( Frank fort-on- Oder) ; barred 
warbler, pale mottled green (Alsace) ; meadow pippit, reddish 
brown (North West Cheshire) ; white wagtail, grey speckled 
(Germany) ; linnet, white greenish spots (Germany). In the 
case of the red-backed shrike or butcher-bird (Marne), the resem- 
blance between the two eggs in size and colouring— cream body 
colour with reddish cloud at the upper end — is so remarkable 
that one might be pardoned for imagining that there had been 
some mistake." And yet in spite of the words in this extract, put \ ^ 
in italics by me, Dr. Bowdler Sharpe unaccountably says there ■ >' 
is no record of a blue cuckoo's egg in a hedge-sparrow's nest ! 

66 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

egf^s in hedge-sparrow's nests, and also two brown 
blotched cuckoo's eggs in hedge-sparrow's nests. I 
do wish observers would make careful note of this, 
that some idea of the proportion obtaining in these 
matters might be reached, and further inferences as 
to the cuckoo's power and knowledge carefully drawn 
from the facts observed. 

In the collection of clutches of eggs in the British 
Museum, are cuckoo's eggs showing the exact colour 
and markings of the eggs of the birds victimised : 
*' pied wagtails, yellow wagtails, blue-headed wagtails, 
meadow-pipits, tree-pipits, skylarks, chaffinches, reed- 
warblers, and sedge- warblers, orphean- warblers, etc." 
So says Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, in effect, and he thus 
further notices curious points : 

*' The small size of the egg laid by the cuckoo, con- 
sidering the bulk of the bird, is another peculiar 
feature in its economy. Great diversity of colour, 
also is one of its characteristics, and considering the 
various types of eggs laid by the cuckoo, it is not 
wonderful that the theory exists that the bird places 
its eggs in the nest of a species, the eggs of which 
most resemble its own in colour. That there is great 
truth in this theory I firmly believe, otherwise, it 
would be difficult to account for the fact that blue 
cuckoos' eggs should be placed in the nest of a red- 
start, which likewise lays blue eggs. In the British 
Museum are such clutches of eggs, and also blue eggs 
placed in the nest of a pied fly-catcher, the eggs of 
which are also blue. The fact of the cuckoo produc- 
ing a blue egg was for some time doubted in England, 
though well known in Germany ; but the question 
was set at rest by two English ornithologists, Mr. 

Blue Cuckoos' Eggs. 67 

Henry Seebohm and Mr. H.J. Ehves, who were col- 
lecting together in Holland, and who received a nest 
of redstart's eggs, one of which, larger than the rest, 
was said to be that of a cuckoo. The eggs proved to 
be hard set with well formed young inside. They 
were alike blue in colour, but in trying to blow the 
larger egg, the foot of the Uttle bird, a zygodactyle 
foot, protruded from the whole, and effectually proved 
that the tiny occupant was a veritable cuckoo.'"'' 

And Dr. Bowdler Sharpe tells of the experience of 
his friend, Mr. C. Bygrave Wharton, who discovered 
a nest of the sedge warbler, with cuckoo's eggs in it, 
only distinguished from the true eggs by being larger ; 
and some days afterwards he found an egg precisely 
this same sedge-warbler type in the nest of a reed- 
bunting, whose eggs are very different. This seemed 
to show that the egg laid by the cuckoo was like that 
of the sedge-warbler, and that on the first occasion 
the cuckoo had found the matching nest ready to 
hand, but, in the case of the second egg, no sedge 
warbler in the neighbourhood had been found with a 
nest ready, and so the cuckoo was forced to put it 
into the nest of the reed-bunting. 

But, unfortunately, as we think. Dr. Bowdler 
Sharpe does not press forward certain facts that would 
have still further strengthened his position here. On 
another page we find him saying : 

" In none of the hedge-sparrows" nests have we a 
blue cuckoo's egg, and it is curious to find an egg like 
that of a skylark or a tree-pipit deposited in the nest 

* " The zygodactyle foot," as said already, simply means that 
the bird has two toes to the front and two to the back — a point 
in which but a limited group of birds any way resemble it. 

68 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

of a warbler or chiff-chaff — the eggs of it are so 
differently coloured that the sombre cuckoo's egg lies 
in striking contrast." ■•' 

But, as I said already, in the British Museum, one 
of the clutches has most distinctly a blue cuckoo's 
egg beside the accentor's eggs, that of the cuckoo 
being only noticeably larger ; and in another clutch 
there a blue cuckoo's Qgg lies beside the five blue 
eggs of the redstart, here, too, only a little larger than 
them, but in tint exactly matched. It is clear that 
the intention of a blue egg is to be laid with blue 
eggs ; and if we could but definitely get at the causes 
of the cuckoo's power so to place it, we should be 
some steps nearer to a true understanding of this bird. 

Many instances we have now of blue cuckoos' eggs 
in nests of hedge-sparrow. Professor Newton writes : 

" One was recorded in Zoologist, 1873 (p. 3526), on 
Mr. Brine's authority, and a few others have since 
been recorded." t We have heard of several quite 
recently and oursehes found two in North - East 
Essex the season before last and one last year so 
alike in tint that only a slight excess in size betrayed 
them : and there is Mr. Read's specimen exhibited in 
Mr. Bidwell's exhibition. 

* Handbook, ii, p. 28. 

■\Dictionary of Birds, i, p. 121. [Now, this is not correct : Mr. 
Brine, as we have seen, declared the finding of such several 
times, and in the specific case referred to there were two cuckoos' 
eggs — one as dark blue as the hedge-sparrow's, the other lighter. 
If Mr. Brine was to be believed about one, he should have been 
believed about the rest, or else very distinct reasons given why 
he was believed about the one and not about the others. Dis- 
crimination is good ; but picking and choosing with birds are 
sometimes not so good.] 

Mr. BidwelVs Results. 69 

Mr. Bidwell has found the egg of the cuckoo in the 
nest of the reed-warbler twenty-two or twenty-three 
feet from the ground, and I have found it at even a 
greater height in that of the jay and wood-pigeon. 
Nor is this, according to Mr. Bidwell's view, any 
accidental or occasional case, since he holds that 
cuckoos which lay eggs in nests high in trees come 
of a class which always do so — a point in which I for 
one am inclined to agree with him. These nests are 
so removed from the examination of the ordinary boy 
bird-nester that he is little likely to exaniine carefully 
or exhaustively all such nests in a given area. In 
this fact alone we have a suggestion of a much wider 
deposition of cuckoos' eggs than is usually conceived 
— and this the more especially — and it needs to be 
emphasized here if, as Mr. Bidwell holds, those cuc- 
koos which deposit their eggs in such lofty nests will 
always choose such nests if they are to be found 
within their beat. 

In the Zoologist for 1883 (pp. 372-3), Mr. Bidwell 
contributed a very interesting note, telling how, in a 
certain small area near his house at Richmond, he 
had found, in different nests of the reed-warbler, four 
cuckoo's eggs so alike in their markings that no 
ornithologist could doubt they were laid by the same 
bird ; and he drew certain inferences from his facts : 
(i) that the cuckoo does not always turn out one of 
the victim's eggs for her egg ; (2) that a cuckoo will 
always use, if she can find it, the same class of nest 
to lay her egg in ; and (3) that the cuckoo does not 
wander far if she can find fitting nests to put her 
eggs in ; and (4) that cuckoos that lay in high nests 
will always prefer high nests, as in this case each 

70 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

nest that had a cuckoo's egg in it '* was high and had 
to be cHmbed for ; " and (5) that the number of 
cuckoo's eggs laid in a season is five. Mr. Bidwell 
is very careful and exact usually, but here there are 
a great number of mere assumptions : (i) the cuckoos' 
eggs laid in low nests would be more exposed to many 
enemies — bird-nesting boys and collectors, not to 
speak of vermin ; (2) he admits the possibility of 
other grounds that he could examine being used by 
the assumed identical cuckoo, and thus he has simply 
to suppose certain things ; and (3) after all, the iden- 
tification of the one cuckoo is mere inference from 
egg-markings and is an assumption — no more. I 
should like to know if Mr. Bidwell pursued these 
same investigations on that area, as I do not find any 
record of them in the Zoologist for 1884 ; and if he 
did, then, unfortunately, I have missed his report of 
it, and would be glad to know his later specific results 
in this httle area ; but, so far as this writing of his 
goes, 1 do not regard either his assumed facts or his 
inferences as so entirely convincing as he seems to 
think them. 


Various theories have been advanced to account for 
the origin of these habits in the cuckoo. It is a very 
voracious feeder, and the food which it favours, hairy 
caterpillars — more especially those of the tiger-moth 
(Arctin cajaj, commonly known as the "woolly bear," 
— has become so scarce very often, through woods 
cut down and other changes, argue one set of natu- 
ralists, that it would not be able to satisfy itself and 

Another Mystery. 71 

to provide for a brood also. The young of the cuckoo 
are so voracious that it has been observed to be hard 
work for a pair of foster-birds to satisfy the ravenous 
maw of one. Indeed it has been set down as an 
estabhshed fact that the young cuckoos struggle to 
eject each other from the nest if put together, and the 
stronger survives, but this is not yet sufficiently or 
finally proved. Though there has been much exag- 
geration about time between layings, the cuckoo, as 
we have decidedly seen, does not deposit her eggs 
quite so rapidly as some other birds. Whether this 
slower deposition of eggs has been encouraged by 
later habits, or was original to the bird, may well be 
an open question ; but in the former case you would 
have a very marked departure from general habit ; in 
the latter you have the survival of a species in face of 
such drawbacks in its own habits and tendencies as 
is at least exceptional almost beyond belief. 

The whole question of the migration of the young 
cuckoos later than the parents is one which also in- 
volves something like mystery. Kad they from 
hatching lived along with their true parents, there 
would not have been so much to wonder at in their 
following them ; but having been so far reared apart, 
and having so far lived apart, their migration forms, 
perhaps, one of the strongest illustrations of the 
power of inherited instinct that we have. 

Inherited instinct ! Yes : if it were not that there 
is so much to suggest that the cuckoos were originally 
quite like other birds in all the points in which they 
now so much differ from them. In truth, nothing is 
more misleading than this word instinct. 

Unlike most other birds, the female cuckoos are, as 

72 Life History of Coninioii Cuckoo. 

already said, in a great minority compared with the 
males ; so that in a sense there is hardly true mating. 
This is another fact of the most singular character ; 
because, on one side, it suggests that some explana- 
tion of the parasitic tendency in cuckoos may be 
found in the comparatively low development of the 
parts subservient to generation, the small eggs of some, 
and a consequent weakening of the parental impulses ; 
though this may be so far met by the fact that the 
males clearly suffer in this respect more than the 
females, and by this other and further fact, that some 
of the parasitic cuckoos, the species of Coccystes 
amongst them, still lay normally sized eggs. 

We found the following description of the conduct 
of the female cuckoo towards the males in one of the 
best authorities : 

" It not infrequently occurs that three or four males 
are in full chase of a female, who entices them on, 
and grants her favours to one after the other as they 
approach her ; after which each male will return to 
his own district. It appears also that not only does 
the male return year after year to the same locality, 
but the female — though she wanders about in search 
of various lovers when pairing — seems to affect a 
particular district^ where she deposits her eggs in the 
most suitable nests she can find." ■■'- 

But, if certain of the males thus return to their 
own districts, it is out of the question that they can 
attend on and aid the hen in the guarding of the nest 
from the foster-parents when she is intruding her eg^^ 
and doing whatever is needful to secure its accept- 

* Dresser's Birds, nd loc. 

A Peculiar Point. 73 


Here a very peculiar point arises regarding the 
migration of the young cuckoos from this country. 
Mr. Muirhead, in his Birds of Berwickshire, a truly 
good and beautiful book, says : 

" It is not likely that the young instinctively know 
the route to be taken on migration, any more than a 
young, untrained homing pigeon knows the direction 
in which to fly to reach its cote, when it is conveyed 
a long distance away from its native haunt." '■' 

And yet, in face of this, we know that the elder 
cuckoos quit this country in large numbers in the 
end of July, and certainly go in the earlier part of 
August, consistently with the old rhyme : 

" July, he may fly : i -^ 

August, go he must." 

Mr. Muirhead himself, at another place, says that 
young cuckoos are common in Scotland till the end 
of August, and some have in different seasons been 
found there in the beginning of September. They 
certainly migrated, but the question is, if Mr. Muir- 
head is right, how ? — if they had no intuitive notion 
of the route — how ? The old ones had all long gone, 
and, if no intuitive notion of route — once again — Jiow ? 

The following paragraph appeared in the Daily 
Chronicle, of Sep. 6th, 1898 : 

" The Cuckoo in September. — The Rev. Selwyn 
C. Freer, High Ercall Vicarage, Wellington, Salop, 
writes, under date Sept. i : — ' It may interest some 
of your readers to know that a cuckoo was seen by 

*i, p. 326. 

74 Life History of Common Cuckoo. 

myself to-day quite distinctly twice ; the second time 
at a distance of not more than twenty yards. It 
must be rare that this early migrant is seen at so late 
a date in the year.' " 

It raised so many questions and suggested so many 
problems that I am thankful I was led to write to 
Mr. Freer asking about it. In answer Mr. Freer was 
so good as to write to me as follows : 

High Ercall Vicarage, 


September 8, i8g8. 
My dear Sir, 

I was pleased to hear from you. I have long been familiar 
with your most interesting work on " German Life and Litera- 
ture," and have read some of your contributions to the Spectator. 
I have talked with an old forester to-day — a man of about the 
average intelligence, whose statements were quite decided, and 
I think may be relied on for their limited range. He said the 
cuckoo arrives here on April i6, generally, April 14 or iS occa- 
sionally, sometimes a little later than April 18, if there is a cold 
stormy spring. 

He said he had certainly never seen the old bird as late as 
September i. That on two or three occasions he had seen the 
young cuckoo in October. Once, many years ago, when 
working in a distant part of this parish, he had seen a young 
cuckoo constantly which remained till "nigh upo' Christmas." 

He said that it was the opinion of some men about here that 
the young birds did not leave at all, but he added that he had 
also heard some men " argy " that in the spring they " turned 
into throstles ! " 

Apart from this latter contribution to knowledge, may not 
there be something in the statement that the young cuckoo 
occasionally fails to migrate from this country ? 

May not the occasional very early appearance of the cuckoo 
(my brother saw one this year in Somerset in February) be 

Young Ctickoos not Migrating. 75 

accounted for, not by an unusually early arrival, but by the fact 
that the supposed early visitor was a young bird who failed to 
migrate at all in the previous autumn, and who survived a mild 
winter in a sheltered neighbourhood ? 

If this were so, it would seem to indicate a failure in instinct, 
or an incipient variety in instinct, not destined to establish itself 
under existing conditions, which would not be out of harmony 
with the apparently somewhat unstable, or at least variable, 
nature of the instinct of the cuckoo tribe. 

I will try to find out anything more I can about the cuckoos 
here, where they are exceptionally numerous, so far as my 
observation goes. 

If you can tell me of any point on which information would be 
desired, I will try to investigate it. 

With sincere desire to be of any service that lies in my power. 

I remain, 

Yours faithfully, 
S. C. Freer. 

P.S.— May I add that if you are ever in Salop it would be a 
great pleasure to me if you could find your way to Ercall. I 
have nothing indeed in the ornithological line, but have some 
good American fossils, and a considerable collection of American 
Indian antiquities, embracing amongst them some rare stone 
implements, and other ethnological iota. 

Mr. Freer's suggestion that some of the young 
cuckoos may wholly fail to migrate, is well worth 
consideration, and has led me to put together possi- 
bihties — in fact, to frame a kind of theory on the 
matter. We know that, though the cuckoo prefers 
for its eggs the nests of insectivorous birds, it never- 
theless does occasionally — nay more frequently than 
is believed, drop its eggs into nests of seed or fruit- 
eating birds ; and that with their feeding the young 
cuckoos flourish equally well as with the strict insect 
diet — another remarkable fact. This would do some- 

^1. : .-> . N £^ (/^""^U^e^ ^ 


76 Life History of Coiiniioii Cuckoo. 

thing towards forming a taste for seed or fruit or 
berries, and in sheltered, protected corners, it is quite 
possible that a very late young cuckoo, or a cuckoo 
which had but imperfectly moulted the wing feathers 
might pull through, following in the footsteps of our 
own feathered residents. 

In this, indeed, it would be but following closely 
the example of the meadow-pipit and some other 
birds it favours for foster parents, which, with nice 
adaptability, have recourse to seeds, berries and fruits 
in winter. 

Even in the case of the accentor you have a bird 
whose staple in summer and autumn is insects, but in 
winter and spring it adopts an almost entirely seed or 
berry diet. 

The observation of out-of-door people, like Mr. 
Freer's forester, of young cuckoos " nigh upo' Christ- 
mas " would be thus explained, and made, in fact, 
consistent with a general principle, viz., that cuckoos 
reared in nests of seed and berry eating birds, or, 
indeed, of insect eaters, that become seed eaters in 
winter might, more especially if imperfectly winged, 
without any very rude shock to a former experience 
in food, maintain themselves through the winter in 
mild situations and in mild seasons. Of course, this 
could not be the case with those bred of purely insecti- 
vorous birds — the whole of the available life in that 
line having been shut up. We read in the EcJio of 
October 20, having missed the correspondence on 
which it is based, the following : 

" Can the cuckoo be heard in October, as someone 
at Bodington, in Dorsetshire, has recently claimed to 
have heard it ? A correspondent suggests that the 

Cases Unexplained. 77 

bird was a sparrow-hawk, a species that is sometimes 
mistaken for the cuckoo." 

But in the case of a bird where the migratory in- 
stinct is so strong, and in any case where this instinct 
failed to act, some reason must be found in the ex- 
ceptional physical condition of the bird which led it 
to brave the rigours of winter here instead of to 
attempt migration — some defect of wing feathers or 
power of flight. The food element is in all such 
questions a most important one. 

This would account for what we are constantly 
hearing of the cries of cuckoos at dates so early that 
no ornithologist can believe that cuckoos had then 
returned from migration. Other cases there are an- 
alogous and at present wholly unexplained. There 
is, for example, that of the corncrake, or landrail, 
where, considering the defect of wing-strength, the 
persistent migration is wonderful, and the instinct to 
it is as powerful in view of its drawbacks as in any 
bird ; yet in many districts landrails remain and skulk 
about here through the winter, and of this we know a 
case the year before last in Essex. 




Use of Imitative Element. 8i 


Dr. Bowdler Sharpe tells a story which illustrates 
well one use of the imitative element in the cuckoo. 
The male bird is striped and barred in the breast and 
is in head and expression very hawk-like — an aspect 
he can emphasize by mode of flight, etc. 

On one occasion a friend of his was desirous to 
observe a whinchat which was busy in the process of 
laying its eggs. The friend sat down in a protected 
corner and remained perfectly still and quiet, and 
what was his surprise very soon to see a female 
cuckoo come near and hide herself in the long grass. 
Then, in a very little time, the male cuckoo came and 
flew round and round, putting on his most hawk-lixe 
expression ; the whinchats were frightened and flew 
ofl", the male cuckoo after them. This furnished a 
fme opportunity for the female cuckoo to deposit her 
egg in the nest of the whinchats which ere long re- 
turned, of course, to do the needful, foohsh little 
simpletons, for the egg of the would-be hawk. Here 
is a case, said Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, where the resem- 
blance of the male cuckoo to the hawk was clearly of 
use to it. 

But more may be suggested by this than Dr. 
Bowdler Sharpe intends or foresaw. All this was 
scarcely needed, surely, to allow the hen-cuckoo to 
drop into the nest an egg with her bill — the work of a 
moment. But perhaps she had more to do. Mr. E. 
Blyth beheved that the canorus^ when she deposited 
her egg, did either destroy or turn out some of the 
legitimate eggs of the nest, and he goes on to say : 

" From many experiments which I have tried, I 

82 Further Facts and sonic Results. 

have found that, generally, in each case when a 
strange egg is put into a nest before the owner of it 
had begun to lay, that nest is deserted — if it be placed 
along with the owner's eggs, it is very commonly 
ejected, but if substituted for the latter, then the 
duped bird will lay other eggs to it and sit on all." " 

I am inclined to think there is much more in this 
suggestion than has yet been realised. And my idea 
is, in so far, not theoretic, but practical : I have twice 
seen hen cuckoos flying away with shells or pieces of 
shells from nests — one that of a pied wagtail, and the 
other that of a robin redbreast, in each of which, 
certainly, there was found, on looking, a cuckoo's 
egg. The bird had broken an egg in the nest, sucked 
out the contents, and was carrying away the shell — 
just as a bird would do in the ordinary course after 
hatching, and as I have seen them do hundreds of 
times. My idea is that from observing this arose the 
idea that the cuckoos were egg-suckers, which, I 
believe, they are — but only now-a-days under the 
necessity of effecting the abstraction of an egg from 
the nest to make a place for their own egg, and so 
more perfectly dupe the victim. It is known now 
that the cock cuckoo habitually assumes his most 
hawk-like form, as Dr. Bowdler Sharpe by one case 
has illustrated, to drive away all birds from about the 
selected nest ; this would be the more necessary if 
more were needed than merely to drop an egg in from 
the bill — the work only of an instant. 

We have confirmatory evidence on this from a 
good authority : 

" Some observers state that the hen cuckoo always 

* Asiatic Sue. Jrl., 1842, p. 4. 

Contests with Victims. 83 

destroys one or more eggs of the foster-parent ; but 
this seems only occasionally to be the case, and 
more frequently when her egg is placed in an open 
nest. . . . It has also, with justice, been accused of 
devouring eggs, for my friend, Mr. Sachse, has seen 
one do so. Even after her egg has been deposited, she 
has been knoian to revisit the nest and destroy or throw 
out eggs or young birds, never, Jiowever, her own.'' '^'' 

With regard to contests of the cuckoos with vic- 
timized birds, Mr. R. Swinhoe, in his Ornithology of 
Hongkong, Macao, and Canton, thus describes one : 

" One I was watching (Cuculus orientalis) flew off 
to another large tree, in which there was a magnal's ^ /JflAfrxa/^ 
nest, and close to the nest a brown bird, much like 
himself in form. The brown bird turned out to be 
the female, and set up a chattering noise on the 
arrival of her mate. She, very probably, had dropped, 
or had come to drop, an egg into the nest, for the 
magnal (Gracupia nigricollis) soon returned to the 
tree, and, seeing strangers so near his abode, charged 
them : the magnal, however, was defeated and driven 
off, and the cuckoos remained victorious." t 

Mr. Swinhoe does not tell any more, which is un- 
fortunate. Had he watched further, he might so far 
have decided the point whether with this species 
there was an attempt to destroy and take a magnal's 
egg from the nest. 

Mr. J. H. Gurney quotes Mr. Norgate to this effect : 

" June 4th, 1885. At about 3 p.m., my housemaid 
told me she had just put her head out of the window 
and saw a large slate-coloured bird, with a long tail, 

* Dresser, v, ad loc. 
t P- 46- 

84 Fuythtr Facts and some Results. 

flying from a pied wagtail's nest, two or three feet 
below her face, on a pear tree on the wall, and that 
the bird had what looked like an egg in its bill, and 
two small brown birds were flying at it. Her atten- 
tion was first called to it by hearing a great noise and 
fluttering. I at once climbed to the wagtail's nest 
and found one fresh cuckoo's egg and one wagtail's. 
I am quite certain that cuckoos usually abstract one 
or two (perhaps rarely more) of the foster-parents' 
eggs in exchange for their own." 

A few years ago Colonel Butler found a green- 
finch's nest in his garden in the north of Suffolk, with 
one egg in it, which he marked with a pencil. A day 
or two afterwards the nest contained a cuckoo's egg, 
and the marked greenfinch's egg was picked up on a 
path a considerable distance from the nest ; almost 
certainly dropped there by the cuckoo. 

Mr. J. H. Gurney also gives evidence sufficient to 
prove that sometimes, at least, the old birds do remove 
the true nestlings from the nest. This may be in 
certain cases where the young cuckoo for various 
reasons may have been unable to throw them out. 

The late J. J. Briggs mentioned a circumstance 
which would indirectly tend to establish this, if we 
admit that, when the adult cuckoo throws the true 
nestlings out of the nest, it would also naturally, at 
the same time, try to guard its young from enemies. 

The circumstance was this. When passing a cer- 
tain point he saw a cuckoo strike down at his dog, 
and try to dodge or entice it away from a certain 
place. He found a young cuckoo was close by there 
in the nest of a hedge-sparrow. Dr. J. B. Gray tells 
us that he had seen a cuckoo, day after day, visiting 

My. Rowley's Obser-vations. 85 

the spot where its offspring was being reared. Mr. 
Gurney also gives several cases where the eggs or 
young birds of the foster-parents were ejected from 
the nest on the very day on which the cuckoo was 
hatched, and therefore not able to have done the 
deed. He also cites the authority of a gardener, who, 
hidden in a pig sty, saw the old cuckoos carry off three 
young ones from a hedge-sparrow's nest. All this 
goes to show that, in favourable cases, the old cuckoos 
do the work themselves, thus assuring better feeding 
for their young ones from the very start. But this 
could not be invariably the case, simply because of 
the position of certain nests into which the cuckoo's 
eggs have been dropped, but from which it was im- 
possible that the cuckoo could have entered far enough 
to extract even an egg for the one deposited, not to 
speak of abstracting young, without tearing and 
destroying the entrance of the nest ; and this especi- 
ally applies to the domed nests of wrens, and to some 
other nests. 

Professor Newton quotes Rowley, (Ibis 1865, p. 
286) to the effect that traces of violence and of a 
scuffle between the intruder and the owner of the 
nest at the time of introducing the egg often appear, 
whence we are led to suppose that the cuckow, or- 
dinarily, when inserting her egg, excites the fury 
(already stimulated by her hawk-like appearance) of 
the owners of the nest, by turning out one or more of 
the eggs that may be already laid therein, and thus 
induces the dupe to brood all the more readily and 
more strongly what is left to her." Mr. Rowley 
dwells merely on turning out the eggs : if so, we 

* Dictionary of Birds, i, p. 121. 

86 Further Facts and some Results. 

believe that that is alternative to sucking them and 
taking out the shells. 

[Professor Newton uniformly spells the word 
cuckow — we follow in extracts from his writings.] 

We do wish Professor Newton had in Eiicyclopcedia 
Brittanica given a few references to such works, for 
example, as Mr. Blyth's '' Monograph on the Cuckoo," 
in the Asiatic Society Journal^ to Mr. Jerdon's section 
on Cuckoos in his Birds of India, and to such things 
as Captain Shelley's work on the Cuculidae. 

Mr. Emerson tells of several reliable fishermen in 
the Norfolk Broads, who affirmed to him solemnly 
that they had caught Mr. Cuckoo sucking duck's eggs, 
mavis's eggs, thrushes' eggs and even reed-bunting's 
eggs ; and Mr. Emerson adds that, in cuckoo's crops 
he has found a yellowish substance that he can not 
but regard as egg, and adds, " I believe cuckoos do 
suck eggs as do most predatory birds." '•' 

On another page, Mr. Emerson says, " though I 
never caught him in the act, I have found eggs 
sucked that were whole before the cuckoo hopped 
about them.f .... The marshmen say they often 
hear the cuckoo talking to the titlarks and sedge- 
w^arblers, the birds answering them, and then, they 
say, they are on the look-out to suck their eggs and 
lay their own in the nest." 

Mr. J. H. Gurney cites the evidence of Mr. H. L. 
Wilson who, in the spring of 1880, at Powick, near 
Worcester, took the remains of eggs out of a cuckoo's 
crop, judged to be robins' and hedge-sparrows'. 

Mr. Wilson wrote in the Field, January 28, 1882 : 

* Birds of the Norfolk Broadland, p. 162. 
t Birds of the Norfolk Broadland, p. 163. 

Young Cuckoo's Dress. 87 

*' On skinning it (the cuckoo) I found its crop was 
full of a mash of eggshells. I carefully examined this 
mash and succeeded in separating the broken shells 
(held together partly by the inside skin) of at least 
seven eggs, two of which were robins, and the rest 
either hedge sparrows' or thrushes', or some bluish 

And Mr. Gurney avows himself a believer in occa- 
sional egg-eating cuckoos. 

The great spotted cuckoos also eat eggs, as shells 
have over and over again been found in their stomach.'-' 

Thus we reach some definite results. The cuckoo 
destroys some of the eggs of the birds in whose nests it 
places its own — sometimes it sucks them in the nest, 
and carries out the shell in its beak : sometimes it 
eats part of the shell and carries out the rest ; some- 
times it eats the egg absolutely, shell and all. 

Another point : It would perhaps be rather strange 
to the foster-birds if the young cuckoo had anything 
like his true cuckoo feathers at first, which would be 
something very different in aspect from that of their 
own true progeny. But the young cuckoo does not 
get his true feathers till before migration ; and so 
long as he remains in the foster-parents' nest or under 
their protection, his feathers are dull and dark, almost 
black — another very peculiar point about the bird. 

And these distinguishing marks in plumage main- 
tain themselves, though not to the same extent, en- 
tirely through the first season. Lord Lilford wrote : 

" The difference of plumage between adults and 
birds of the year is so singular and noticeable that 
more than one writer on ornithology has treated of 

* Ibis, 1862, p. 35S. 

88 Further Facts and some Results. 

the latter as a distinct species ; for this reason, and 
because the adult has been more frequently figured 
than the young bird, I have given the prominent 
place on the plate to a bird of the year. The young 
of the cuckoo differs much in plumage from the old 
bird, being dove-brown, barred with reddish brown." 

Here is the report of another observer : 

*' During the pairing time, the cuckoo acts in a 
very headstrong, jealous, and wild manner. He gets 
into a dreadful rage when another of the same species 
dares to invade his territory. And yet he is a Simple 
Simon all the while. He will come blindly to the call 
of the sportsman, who understands how to imitate his 
note. Sitting on a branch, with raised tail and ruffled 
head-feathers, he cries ' cuckoo ' as if in defiance to 
all the world — of birds, at any rate. 

" While flying he will often glide slowly in front of 
his mate and tell his passion with a low ' crawawa,' 
to which the latter answers, ' kwikurkurk,' etc., with 
great rapidity, a cry savouring more of laughter, or a 
chuckle, than a favourable response to his affectionate 
invitation. When both are at the height of their 
courtship, the one cries ' cuckookook cuckookook,' 
while the other laughs and chuckles. After the 
breeding season is over, both sexes are silent. It is 
possible that in many cases the cuckoo is content 
with one mate ; yet, the males being in excess, this 
is hardly possible either ; and that each male should 
in turn court all the females alike, which might in 
certain cases justify this unbounded jealousy." 

The call of the cuckoo, it may be added, is a true 
song, that is, a music made for the mate, and the 
changes it undergoes in the season are only further 

Dr. DybowskVs Facts. 89 

proof of this. As to jealousy of the male, that is 
explained by later observation already referred to 
that hens are in the minority, and the rule must be 
not polygamy, but polyandry. 

The Rev. Charles Alfred Smith, in the Zoologist 
for April, 1873, threw great doubt on the point 
whether the young cuckoo does invariably throw the 
birds of the foster-parents out of the nest, and he 
also raised questions on other points. As he wrote 
from personal observation in every case, his remarks 
may claim regard. Though he did not dispute the 
facts of the young of the foster-parents being thrown 
out of the nest, he endeavoured to cast the blame for 
this on the elder cuckoos, and quoted foreign obser- 
vers, though it needs always to be remembered that 
foreign families of cuckoos may, in quite different 
circumstances, act quite differently from what ours 
do, as indeed the American cuckoos are, in several 
points, very different. In confirmation of his own 
views, he cited the experience of Dr. Dybowski, given 
in the Journal fur Ornithologie, to the following 
effect : 

" With the theory that the newly-hatched cuckoo 
turns the young of its foster-mother, either mechan- 
ically or involuntarily, out of the nest, I cannot 
declare myself to coincide, since I have facts to pro- 
duce which tend to quite different conclusions. For 
we found in an uninhabited valley near the river 
Alengui, in Dauria, a nest of AntJms riJardi. It was A 
inserted in a depression at the foot of a rather large 
heap of earth, whose surface up above projected over 
the nest on all sides to a considerable extent. In this 
nest there was only a young, still quite unfledged 

go Further Facts and some Results. 

cuckoo, and not more than from two or three days 
could have elapsed since it had crept forth from the 
the egg. 

" Not far from the nest two young pipits were lying, 
which were certainly still alive, though extremely 
feeble ; and, a little further off, a similar young bird, 
already dead. As we took the little birds in our 
hands, it was apparent that their crops were full, and 
their stomachs also well filled. Nevertheless, the 
poor things were so exceedingly cold that they gave 
hardly any distinguishable signs of life. 

" Now the question arises, what could be the reason 
of this (at all events, to say the least of it,) invol- 
untary abiding of the above-named young birds out- 
side their nest ? The young cuckoo certainly could 
not have caused it, as he was still much too young 
for such a task ; the young pipits themselves could 
not have got out of the nest, because it lay much too 
deep down for them to have done so. There remains 
only the theory that the parents (either those of the 
pipits, or those of the cuckoo) must have done the 
deed. Of the pipits, there can surely be no question ; 
indeed, in my opinion, in the case before us, one can 
lay the blame solely and entirely on the cuckoo, and, 
indeed, on the female bird. 

" Again : not far from Darasun, where several 
cuckoos had been killed a short time before, we 
found, in the month of June, in a nest with a young 
cuckoo, a young pipit, nearly full grown. The young 
cuckoo could not yet leave the nest, nor did he even 
know how to make his escape out of it, to get away 
from us ; so he sat still in his place, and hissed at us ; 
whilst the young pipit could already run, and was 

Damaged Nests. 91 

just preparing to slip out of the nest away from us. 
In this case it must be assumed that there was none 
near at the proper time who could cast out the young 

" Again : in one and the same nest we found two 
cuckoo's eggs, the colouring of which entirely dif- 
fered, the one from the other. 

" Again : in a nest of Phyllopneuste fnscata we 
found a cuckoo's egg, green-speckled black, like that 
of Uragiis sibiricus, which (as is well known) will 
not receive the egg of the cuckoo, but will rather 
destroy the nest, and remove its materials ; but near 
the aforesaid nest lay the eggs of the Phyllopneuste, 
of a pure white colour. 

" Again : we often found damaged nests, some 
even torn asunder ; the eggs of which were not eaten, 
for they for the most part lay around, at a little 
distance from the nests, broken. 

" The above facts, as well as many other cases, 
cause us to express the following opinions upon the 
cuckoo : 

" (a). The female cuckoo deposits her eggs in the 
nests of other birds ; she does not cast out the eggs 
of those birds intentionally, and if this should some- 
times happen it ought to be considered as done by acci- 
dent. [This is a big assumption, and must be felt to 
be so, when we have in view what has been said on 
the subject of substitution of eggs.] 

" (6). Every female cuckoo has her own district, 
and certain chosen nests, in which to lay her eggs. 
If she sees that another female cuckoo comes near 
this district, then she pursues it, and drives it away : 
but if the other female cuckoo is able to slip into 

g2 Further Facts and some Results. 

such a district without being seen, then it may well 
come to pass that two cuckoo's eggs may be laid in 
one and the same nest. 

" {c). With the spoiling of the nests and the scat- 
tering of the eggs we must not charge the female, but 
in every case the male cuckoos, which probably adopt 
these means to force their mates to a prolongation of 
the pairing time. (Verlangerung der Paarungszeit.) 

" (d). xA-fter hatching, the female cuckoo turns the 
young of her nurse out of the nest, in order to secure 
a more certain existence for her own offspring." 

It should be noted that at this time the reports of 
observations of Mrs. Blackburn and Mr. Hancock 
were not yet published, or, at all events, well known ; 
and, it should be emphatically repeated, that cuckoos 
in different climates and latitudes may and do act 
quite differently ; though with these commentaries, 
Mr. C. Smith's carefully observed facts and his infer- 
ences, as well as the facts cited from Dr. Dybowski, 
may well be modified and fall into range exactly. 

A writer in Science Gossip a short time ago raised 
an important question in the following passage : 

" I was one evening, about seven o'clock (it was 
almost midsummer) searching for the nest of a grass- 
hopper warbler, whose note I had heard in a certain 
field on several successive evenings. While thus en- 
gaged, I saw a cuckoo, followed by a grey wagtail, 
flying over a neighbouring wood. After a few 
minutes the wagtail returned, and I went in that 
direction, but failed to find her nest. On the follow- 
ing evening I was again engaged seeking the grass- 
hopper warbler's nest, and I again saw the cuckoo 
pursued by the wagtail. 

Anxious about Young? g^ 

" Once more I sought for the wagtail's nest, and 
again failed. I would fain ascertain for a fact whether 
or not the custom of the cuckoo is to visit its eggs and 
young periodically, and if so, how often. 

" I knew that it was said the physical conformation 
of the cuckoo incapacitates it from the work of incuba- 
tion, and that, consequently, its maternal instinct 
teaches it to deposit its eggs to be hatched in the nest 
of other birds. According to my idea, it would seem 
a painful blot on the cuckoo if it did not feel anxious 
for the welfare of its young, and manifest its watchful- 
ness and care by frequent visits. I would much 
rather believe that the cuckoo pays daily visits to its 
eggs and young ; and when they are all fledged, 
gathers them, though reared in different homes, into 
one family, and then takes them, under its fostering 
care, to distant lands." 

This we know well now the cuckoo does not do. 
When this observer wrote it was not so well estab- 
lished as it is now that the parent cuckoos migrate 
weeks before the young birds — mainly, no doubt, 
because of facts connected with moulting. 

We have seen that Mr. J. E. Gray is firm in his 
conviction, based on observations of his own, that the 
cuckoo does not uniformly desert her offspring, but on 
the contrary, continues in the precincts where the 
eggs are deposited, and, in all probabiHty, takes the 
young under her protection when they are sufficiently 
fledged to leave the nest. If, however, the cuckoo 
lays four or five eggs, or even more, this would be 
difficult — far more difficult than with some of the 
foreign varieties, which lay the whole lot in one nest. 

From the evidence of close observers and expert 

94 Further Facts and some Results. 

ornithologists like Mr. Hancock and Mr. R. P. Harper, 
there is some ground for thinking that the youn;.^ 
cuckoos when they take the wing are sometimes fed 
by the old ones. Whether each young one is recog- 
nised by its own true parents, or whether the atten- 
tion is merely one of kind to kind is a question on 
which at present no decisive judgment can be given, 
as there is really no data to justify such a decision one 
way or another. 

A very keen discussion on the habits of the cuckoo 
took place in the Zoologist for 1873, in the course of 
which Mr. G. B. Corbin wrote : 

" As a lover and student of the feathered tribes, I 
may be allowed to offer my small item of experience 
with regard to the above question. The two nests in 
which I have most frequently found a cuckoo's egg 
are the hedge-sparrow and meadow-pipit, more com- 
monly the latter. I have at different times taken 
scores of nests of the red-backed shrike, but on no 
occasion have I found a cuckoo's egg in them ; neither 
have I ever seen a cuckoo's egg bearing the least 
approach to the blue of the eggs of the hedge-sparrow 
and redstart. 

" Some two or three seasons ago I noticed that 
whenever I passed along a particular hedge-bank in 
the meadows, a cuckoo was always to be seen some- 
where in its vicinity, so I concluded that an egg had 
been deposited not far off. I searched the herbage 
very closely, and at last found what had been so 
attractive to this summer-loving bird, viz., a nest of 
the blackheaded-bunting, containing a cuckoo's egg 
and five of the rightful owner's. Four of the bunting's 
eggs were of the usual colour and markings, but the 

Blue Cuckoos' Eggs. 95 

other was white, with a single small dark spot upon 
it. As they lay in the nest, I thought they were 
rather a motley group. On another occasion I found 
a meadow-pipit's nest, containing six of its own eggs 
and one of the cuckoo. My limited experience would 
point to the fact that cuckoo's eggs are less variable 
than many other species as to colour and marking, 
U7iless indeed their colour is so variable that they are 
often confounded with the species amongst which they 
are laid,-'' for, as a birds' -nesting schoolboy, I was 
often surprised at the abundance of the cuckoos com- 
pared with the number of their eggs found in a 
season ; and provided each female lays more than one 
egg, which, I believe, is the case, the proportion 
seems still greater, as the birds always appeared to 
be ten to one against the eggs. Probably an unskilful 
way of finding the egg is the chief cause of such 
apparent disparity, but I have noticed that the parent 
cuckoo generally loiters about the spot where her egg 
is deposited, unless she has a circuit — spots in which 
she visits at intervals — and thus becomes a kind of 
overseer of her scattered brood. I never found more 
than one cuckoo's egg in the same nest, nor is it often 
that nests containing a cuckoo's egg are placed very 
near to each other. 

" Why do we often see small birds mobbing a 
cuckoo ? Is it love or fear that prompts the per- 
formance, as these smaller birds in like manner tease 
rooks and hawks ? That the cuckoo introduces her 

* A thing rendered probable by Mr. Corbin's never having 
met with a blue cuckoo's egg. It does, indeed, require a quick 
eye to detect it among those of the hedge-sparrow, as, not 
seldom, they differ only a little in size. 

6 Further Facts and some Results. 

egg into the nest with her bill is, I think, unques- 
tionable, as the pipit's nest before adverted to was in 
such a situation, under a large tuft of heather, that 
no cuckoo could possibly have laid in it, and I found 
the nest by the mere chance of seeing the pipit come 
out, after nearly treading upon it." 

I have given these records mainly because the 
writers in certain respects proceed without prepos- 
session, and may influence later writers, and when 
thus regarded their observations are the more valu- 
able when we adjust and set them in line. 

It is proved by my own experience, as well as that 
of several others, that two cuckoos' eggs are some- 
times to be found in one nest : sometimes more nearly 
like each other, sometimes very different. Here, on 
this point, is the experience of a correspondent of 
The Field, under date June, 1894: 

" Two cuckoos' eggs in one nest. — While strolling 
over Ashtead Common, in Surrey, Saturday, I noticed 
a hedge-sparrow dart hurriedly out of a gorse bush a 
few feet away, and on looking into the bush I found 
her nest, which contained three of her own eggs, and 
two of those of the cuckoo. I believe it a rare oc- 
currence to find two eggs of this bird in the same 
nest. The eggs were totally unlike each other ; one 
being much larger and of a lighter colour, while 
both were slightly set. This locality seems to be a 
favourite resort of this bird, for on the same after- 
noon I heard at least a dozen different cuckoos calling 
from various directions at the same time. — W. R. 

And to this the Editor of The Field himself gave 
the followin": note : 

Two in One Nest. 97 

"In the chapter on the cuckoo in Our Summer 
Migrants, it is remarked (p. 230) that two cuckoos' 
eggs of a different colour have been found in the 
same nest. If both were laid by one bird, then we 
have proof that the same cuckoo does not always lay 
eggs of the same colour ; if laid by different birds, 
then the cuckoo is not so impressionable as has been 
supposed. The full bearing of these remarks will be 
better understood by referring to the context, which 
is too long to be here quoted." ■''- 

* Field, June 2, 1894. 



" Inconveniently Long.'' loi 


Mr. Darwin found the cuckoo one of the most diffi- 
cult creatures he had to tackle — to explain and to 
reconcile the phenomena it presents with his theories 
of evolution and natural selection. In fact, the great 
master there just wrote a little nonsense, and, though 

" a little nonsense now and then is relished by 
the wisest men," 

we could not relish it from Darwin, who had as little 
of fun about him as he had, as he himself confessed, 
of poetry. He wrote, in the remarkable 8th chapter 
of the Origin of Species^ 6th edition, as follows : 

" It is now commonly admitted that the more im- 
mediate cause of the cuckoo's instinct is that she lays 
her eggs, not daily, but at intervals of two or three 
days, so that if she were to make her own nest, and 
sit upon her own eggs, those first laid would have to 
be left for some time unincubated, or there would he 
eggs and young birds of different ages in the same tiest. 
If this were the case, the process of laying and hatch- 
ing might be inconveniently long, more especially as 
she has to migrate at a very early period, and the first 
hatched young would probably have to be fed by the 
male alone.'' (Italics in the two places are mine.) 

In answer to this proposition it has been very well 
written : 

*' Might it not just as reasonably be said that the 
parasitic instinct is the more immediate and final 
cause of her laying her eggs at long intervals ? " 

And Mr. Darwin thus proceeds : 

I02 Dariaiu and Romanes dealt with. 

" Let us suppose that the ancient progenitor of our 
European cuckoo had the habits of the American 
cuckoo, and that she occasionally laid an egg in 
another bird's nest. If the old bird profited by this 
occasional habit through being enabled to migrate 
earlier or through any other cause ; or if the young 
were made more vigorous by advantage taken of the 
mistaken instinct of another species than when reared 
by their own mother, encumbered, as she could hardly 
fail to be, by having eggs and young of different ages 
at the same time, then the old birds or the fostered 
young would gain an advantage. And analogy would 
lead us to believe that the young thus reared would 
be apt to follow, by inheritance, the occasional and 
aberrant habit of their mother, and in their turn 
would be apt to lay their eggs in other birds' nests, 
and thus be more successful in rearing their young. 
By a continued process of this nature, I believe that 
the strange instinct of our cuckoo has been gener- 
ated." (pp. 212-213.) 

By the way, so many " may be's " and " would be 
apts " do not seem to us quite so scientific as might 
be. Again specially note the words I have put in 

Mistaken instinct ! How can an instinct, in the 
sense here too obviously meant, be mistaken ? It is, 
in view of its own intention, unerring, a fact which 
Dr. A. Russel Wallace has duly recognised, and has 
to fall back on failure of reasoning power. Either 
this or the word " instinct " has really no proper 
meaning. To nurse and feed an intruded alien to 
the detriment of the creature's own young is surely 
against instinct, and is to be accounted for by some- 

" Mistakeyi Instinct / " 103 

thing else. But " mistaken instinct " is a contradic- 
tion in terms under any true definition of instinct 
that we can think of. Mistaken here only means lack 
of instinct and failure of reason which is not able to 
make up for its absence. Yet we have cases of Birds, 
as, for example, the reed-warbler we have told of, 
that twice, not being able to turn out the intruded 
eggs, built them over and removed them from the in- 
fluence of the heat of its own body necessary to hatch 
them. Here, surely, instinct and reason worked to- 
gether to one end : not so in the cases Mr. Darwin 
includes under "mistaken instinct." 

To Von Hartmann's definition of instinct, that it 
is action taken in pursuance of an end, but without 
conscious perception of what the " end is," Mr. 
Romanes supplies the rider, that it is the uniformity 
of instinctive action as performed by different indi- 
viduals of the same species. As in all such cases of 
definition, you"find assumptions contradicted by what 
are meant to be qualifying clauses. Thus, even Von 
Hartmann's " action taken in pursuance of an end " is 
reason which he thus maladroitly qualifies by " with- 
out conscious perception of what the end is." But how 
can an end be pursued without more or less conscious 
seeing what it is ? And Mr. Romanes then comes in 
with a rider, in regard to which we would ask, is the 
tendency of the members of the cuckoo tribe to in- 
cubate an instinct, or is it not ? And in that case, 
what is it, seeing that his " uniformity " of instinctive 
action, as performed by different individuals of the 
same species, will not here hold ? And all this points 
to a more general question still. How are these 
gentlemen to define strictly and consistently these 

I04 Darivin and Roiuanes dealt with. 

" occasional habits," out of which Mr. Darwin — to 
us rather illogically, and surely inadvertently — says 
that instincts are developed with co-operation — be it 
noted — of time and chance. Are these " occasional 
habits " instincts, or what are they ? If they are got 
purely out of occasional habits ; then certainly your 
effect is greater than your cause, and so far outside it. 
And at what point, pray, does the " occasional habit " 
become an instinct ? 


There is no such absolute uniformity in the case of 
other birds, as against the cuckoo, in hatching eggs 
simultaneously, as Mr. Darwin founds on here. In- 
deed, there is no such thing as absolutely simul- 
taneous hatching of eggs. It would be very trying 
and troublesome to the female bird, if it were so : for 
she has a duty to the shell — to clear It away ; and a 
duty to the young bird — to dry and clean it. And, 
transparently, it would be disadvantageous, if, while 
she dried and cleaned one — three, four, five, six, or 
even seven others were lying wet and cold, waiting 
her attentions. I say then, firstly, and from observa- 
tions alike of tame birds — canaries, linnets, and others 
bred by me — and of wild birds, that, to a greater or 
lesser degree, birds of different ages are invariably in 
the same nest, and the first hatched young are in the 
multitude of cases fed by the male alone, or by the 
female receiving the food from the male and really 
giving it to the young without leaving the nest — 
the wonderful accommodation of the digestive organs 
during incubation enabling her to do this for long, 

Egg -Shells brought out. 105 

long periods without more than rising from the 
nest, to stand on the edge of it. Why, in my 
own case I have had birds that shpped till the 
second and even, once, till the third day between 
the eggs in laying, and the youngest of the brood 
was nigh three days younger than the next to it, 
and seven days younger than the eldest of the 
brood. And in this lies, indeed, a great aid to 
the parent birds in the feeding — most anxious time 
when the young birds scarce can fly steady and 
yet will leave the nest — in that when the first 
fledged birds will go out, the younger one or two 
will still lie contentedly in the nest, dividing the 
attention needed and lessening the care and labour. 
But for this arrangement very few birds could survive. 
1 have over and over again seen two and even three 
eggs almost or partially covered by the birds only a 
day or two from the eggs — the warmth of their little 
bodies no doubt assisting the female greatly in hatch- 
ing them. Every sitting bird, as the eggs are 
hatched, brings out in her bill, as with a kind of 
triumph, the pieces of the egg-shell, which most care- 
fully she carries to some distance (cunning thing !) 
before she drops them, as, if she merely threw them 
out of the nest, they might to some enemies mark 
clearly her nesting place. My birds uniformly carried 
the pieces of the shell to the farthest corners of the 
room and there, after a moment or two, dropped 
them — never near the cages in which the nests were 
- — and this in the cases of canaries and other birds. 
It would not do for all the eggs to hatch absolutely at 
once were it for nothing more than this (to some, 
perhaps, apparently rather unimportant reason), 

io6 Dar7v'ni and Romanes dealt with. 

which, however, it is not. It would take the female 
too long from the nest at once to carry out ten or a 
dozen pieces of egg-shell. Some birds come much 
nearer to simultaneous hatching than others ; but, 
simultaneous hatching in the absolute sense is not 

Why, Mr. James S. Gould, in My Canary Book, 
following Buffon and Bechstein, writes : 

" All you need to do is, when the nest is finished, 
to open the side door of the nest-box quietly, and 
ascertain when the first egg is laid. Do not toiicli it 
on any account . Never use ivory eggs, one by one, 
to replace the eggs until they are all laid. Let 
Nature alone. The birds ought not to be all batched 
at one time." 

And Buffon long ago gave the reason : " The plan 
of removing the eggs so as to have them all hatched 
at once is unnatural and bad because it causes the 
mother a greater loss of heat, and burdens her at 
once with five or six little ones, which coming together 
disturb rather than please her ; whilst in seeing them 
hatched successively one after the other her pleasure 
is increased and her strength and courage better 

And this, even in cases where the male assists the 
female in brooding. Again, in a large number of 
cases, it is very well known how strict the cock is in 
hunting the hen back to the nest, and this more 
especially after the first of the eggs have been 
hatched, as though the very sight of the breathing 
living things added greatly to his jealousy of the nest 
and watchful care of it. 

As regards intervals betv\een layings, several of 

Not well based. 107 

the owls lay their eggs at intervals quite as long as 
the cuckoo, or even longer than the cuckoo, according 
to Darwin, and the owlets first hatched help to hatch 
the other eggs. This indeed is done, as just said, in 
all cases of birds more or less. Further, the cuckoo's 
stay in this country is no briefer than that of some 
of the swallows or the exquisite little garden-warbler, 
yet the swallows and the garden-warbler contri\'e 
easily to bring off a brood and sometimes even two 
broods. Thus (and there are yet other arguments 
which would take us into too technical matters) Mr. 
Darwin's explanations are not well based, in some 
points seem even ignorant, and in certain respects 
explain nothing but his own limitedness and utter 
lack of power to grasp the difficulties that he per- 
ceives and wrongly fancies that he at least partially 
meets and explains away. The difficulties remain 
after all his efforts have been made. 

Further, we may make bold to ask, what is so very 
out of the way in expecting this of the cuckoo, when 
the blackcap, which comes later than the cuckoo, and 
has a nest to build and courting besides to do, in 
which he is indeed a proficient, has eggs in the earlier 
half of May ? Dr. Bowdler Sharpe says that he has 
found hard-set eggs of the blackcap as early as the 
1 2th of May." '■'•' 

Even the night-jar, with but two eggs, does not /or 
this reason hatch them both absolutely at once. We 
have found the little young one for all the world like 
a tuft of fur torn from a rabbit's breast, and left 
almost imperceptibly wavering there in a slight gust 
of wdnd beside the other egg ; and this is true also 

* Allen's Handbook of Birds, ad loc. 

io8 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

of the American species as told us by Nuttall and 
Burroughs, and by Thoreau, whose wonderfully- 
graphic description may here be given : 

" There was one egg still, and by the side of it a 
little pinch of down fluttered out and was not ob- 
served at first. More than a foot down the hill had 
rolled half the shell it had come out of." 

Where, I would ask, was the other half ? Thoreau's 
eye would not have missed it had it been there. May 
be the mother had just then gone off with it thirty or 
forty yards at least and had not got back for the 
second half when Thoreau came along too near. The 
inside of the egg, you see, was not protectively 
coloured Hke the outside, and would have told her 
secret too clearly. That mother night-jar or night- 
hawk would not forget that — believe me ! 

'' There was no callowness as in the young of most 
birds," Thoreau goes on. " It seemed a singular 
place for a young bird to begin its life, this little 
pinch of down, and lie still on the exact spot where 
the egg lay — a fiat, exposed shelf on the side of a 
bare hill, with nothing but the whole heavens, the 
broad universe above it, to brood it when its mother 
was away." 

But she was not far away, nor would be away for 
long. The second half of the egg shell would go 
after the next short sitting on the egg to keep it 

The Broken Egg-Shells. 109 


Darwin himself well points out that "it is sur- 
prising instinct should lead small nesting birds to 
remove their broken eggs — (it should surely have 
been egg shells) — and the early mutings ; whereas 
with partridges, the young of which immediately 
follow their parents, the broken eggs — (it should 
surely have been egg shells), are left round the nest." 
More often they are left in it, or a portion of them. 
The protection of the partridge, which nests on 
the ground, or very close to it, lies in the power 
of her brood to run, if disturbed, even on being 
hatched ; the partridge at once leading the young 
ones to protective holes, and under cover of hedge 
bottoms, etc., so that the removal of broken egg 
shells is not particularly necessary, considering other 
protective points ; but it is of importance — of the 
utmost importance — to nestlings which are unfledged 
and cannot move from the nest for many days : and 
I think it one of the most extraordinary things that 
Mr, Darwin never seems to have in the least con- 
nected this remarkable fact with the necessity, in the 
small birds, of non-simultaneity of hatching.='= 

Major Bendire has this passage in one of his able 
articles : " It is said" (Origin of Species, chap, viii), 
" that the American cuckoo lays at long intervals, 
and has eggs and young at the same time in its nest, 
a circumstance manifestly disadvantageous. Of the 
Coccyzus melanocoryphus, I can say that it never 
begins to incubate till the full complement of eggs 

* Romanes' Mental Evolution, appendix, p. 379. 

no Darw'ni and Romanes dealt with. 

are laid ; that its young are hatched simultaneously. 
But if it is right to trace the origin of the European 
cuckoo's instinct in the nesting habits of the American 
coccyzus, it might be attributed, not to the aberrant 
habit of perhaps a single species, but to another more 
disadvantageous habit common to the entire genus — 
their habit of building exceedingly frail platform 
nests, from which the eggs and young very frequently 
fall." - 

Major Bendire's remark about simultaniety of young 
hatched — if we admit the correctness of his observa- 
tion — is not conclusive against our position, nor does 
it really touch it. What we hold is, that absolute 
simultaneity does not exist in any strict sense ; that 
in any case there is only the more or less close ap- 
proach to it. Eggs vary in size, in thickness of shell, 
etc., just as much as to provide the margin we claim. 
Besides, Major Bendire here founds, not on one of 
the more common species, but on one which he does 
not even treat of — at all events, under this name — in 
his Smithsonian volume, where he distinctly says of 
the yellow-billed cuckoo, that as to incubation there 
is no absolute rule. Sometimes it does not begin till 
laying is done, and in other cases incubation is begun 
when the first egg is laid.f But the Major's argu- 
ment against Darwin is conclusive. 

Further still, with regard to intervals between the 
laying of eggs, there is in no species whatever the 
uniformity which Mr. Darwin seems to found on here. 
Sudden frost and cold will completely stop egg laying. 
Once in the case of starlings, which I could observe 

* Smithson Report, 1893, p. 610. 
tP- 23- 

Intervals hetiveen Layings. iii 

from a dormer attic window, four days, owing to cold 
and frost passed between the third and the fourth ; 
and Mr. Robert Read, a most rehable authority, 
assures us that he once found a blackbird's nest at 
Blackheath, very early in the spring, in which the 
bird had laid a single egg. A spell of frost and snow 
supervened, and no more eggs were deposited for a 
fortnight, when mild weather once more set in and 
two more eggs were laid precisely similar to the first 
and evidently by the same bird. There are certain 
general rules about this point connected with species 
of birds, but the exceptions are the most interesting 
in all cases to observe and study ; leading to the idea 
of resource, adaptation and contrivances manifold, 
so that there is in no case the absolutely assured 
uniformity Mr. Darwin assumes. All this Mr. Darwin 
would on his principle here, in ornithology, wipe out 
— a strange thing for him to do : for here, in this very 
bird, we have, perhaps, the most remarkable hints of 
his own favourite evolution and natural selection ! 
Truly the race is not always to the swift, nor the 
battle to the strong, nor even the power in the case of 
great observers to see the point. This much in our 
own favour. 

Mr. Darwin in the sixth edition of the Origin of 
Species also, rather maladroitly says : 

" 1 have lately heard from Dr. Merrell, of Iowa, 
that he once found in Illinois a young cuckoo together 
with a young jay in the nest of a blue jay {Gamihts 
cristatus) ; and as both were nearly fully feathered, 
there could be no mistake in their identification." 

Here the fact of the two young birds of different 
species together has a significance as to differentiation 
at which he does not even glance. 

112 Darwiti and Romanes dealt with. 

Indeed, from my own observations, in conjunction 
with those of Mr. Hancock, as given respecting the 
young cuckoo turning out its foster-brothers from the 
nest, I am convinced that the non-simultaneity of 
hatching is one of the circumstances that tend to give 
the young cuckoo much of his power : he has a 
chance at once against eggs and young ones, and it is 
clear that he is keen to w^ork upon both, so long as is 
necessary, by his restlessness, making it impossible 
for the foster-bird to hatch out the second half of the 
eggs, which he inclines first of all to dispose of, as 
was notably the case in regard to the nest observed 
by Mr. Hancock. Absolute simultaneity of hatching, 
that is, practically, four young birds at one moment 
to deal with, in place of one or two, would present 
difficulties — at least the business would be, on all 
natural considerations, rendered longer, more hazar- 
dous and hard. 

One fact, which was not only before Mr. Darwin, 
but specially dwelt on by him, might have led him to 
revise his whole passage relative to the cuckoo in 
eighth chapter of Origin of Species had he been any- 
thing of a thinker, which he was not. This fact was 
the stay of young cuckoos in our country up to the 
month of September. It might surely have struck 
Mr. Darwin that if the young ones could stay, the old 
ones surely could. It did not strike him to ask any 
question in connection with that, therefore we say he 
was not a thinker. It seems to have struck another 
writer with great force : 

" The cuckoo's early migration can hardly be part 
of the cause, it is rather a correlated effect. The 
cuckoo leaves us early because its parental instincts 

A Suggestive Question. 113 

or duties are not strong enough to detain it. The 
young cuckoos do themselves remain until compara- 
tively late in the year (September), or until they 
are strong enough to undertake their flight. W^hat 
cuckoos of the first year could do, the same birds in 
their second and subsequent years could surely do 
also." --■• 

If the adult cuckoos leave this country because of 
the failure of food supply — it being said often that 
they leave this country just when the majority of the 
summer caterpillars assume the imago stage — the 
question may well be asked, how do the young birds 
fare when the larger supply of their natural food is 
cut off? Is there a provision in this case for making 
up for this defect by adapting themselves to other 
food ; and if they do so, why cannot the adults do the 
same ? This question is, indeed, a very suggestive 
one — that the young cuckoo's foster-feeding has pre- 
pared it for this adaptability, whereas that of the 
adult has not ; but then there is the further considera- 
tion and question : why is this adaptability limited 
only to birds of the year, and why should they in 
such a matter linger so long behind the old birds ; 
and, more than all this, why, when they stay in our 
country so late as end of September and even into 
October, they should go at all on such a long and 
perilous journey over lines they have never traced 
before, when they can adapt themselves to what is 
properly winter-feeding, and when in various portions 
of the country there are mild and protected portions, 
where the cold could not injure them if fair supplies 
of food were to be had ? 

* Dr. Creighton's Jenncr and Vaccination, p. 14. 

114 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

Mr. Darwin, in the first portion of passage noted, 
does no more than merely condense the remarks and 
reasonings of Jenner ; and in a matter so very ex- 
ceptional and peculiar we really should have expected 
something very different from him. For it is all too 
clear that Jenner, having got, as he fancied, on to a 
" good thing," could not refrain from endeavouring to 
go one better than the facts, and to explain them con- 
formably w4th a foregone theory. Mr. Darwin was 
cute enough in dealing with that same tendency some- 
times, and severe enough in condemning it ; so that 
here indeed we find something to wonder at in his 
very meek acceptance of all that Jenner said. To 
gain his end, Jenner, after laying it down that the 
adult cuckoos — coming about the middle of April — 
do not lay until about the middle of May, certainly 
gives full time for accidents ; for, as the bird builds 
no nest, what has it got to wait a month for before 
beginning the main business for which it came here ? 
Mr. and Mrs. Cuckoo are too much " persons of 
business " for that ! Cuckoos' eggs have in many 
years been found in nests in the very beginning of 
May. It is then, indeed, that the hedge-sparrow is 
most imposed upon ; which may well have led to the 
idea that it is more often the victim than it really is ; 
whereas the meadow-pipits, pied fly-catchers, the 
wagtails, the warblers and wrens are most duped 
afterwards. Another and very good reason for this 
is that the hedge-sparrow, (Accentor inodularis) is 
one of the very earliest builders — its nest being found 
finished often as early as March. It is laying eggs 
often in that month, and, therefore, the cuckoo loses 
the chance of depositing among the first clutch. 

jfenuer both right and wrong. • 115 

But the second is what in many cases will come just 
to suit it about the beginning of May. Jenner would 
give the cuckoo a fortnight for sitting and hatching 
the eggs, and three weeks in nest for young ones 
before they fly, and then he would give the young 
cuckoos five or six weeks to be fed after they fly. 
And he asserts that the cuckoos quit this country in 
the first week of July ; which is not correct — they 
go later, often not till August — verifying the old saw : 

"July, he may fly, 
August, go he must." 

Dr. Bowdler Sharpe is much nearer the mark when 
he says (" Birds," Allen's Naturalist's Library ii, p. 25), 
" leaving about the end of July ; " for adult cuckoos in 
sheltered situations in mild seasons are often seen in 
the earlier days of August. 

By this kind of process you could prove or establish 
anything ; but Jenner, though he was so far right in 
his observations, got wrong the moment he took up a 
theory as other clever men have done, and was deter- 
mined to make everything bend to his plausible ex- 

Though it is true, as Cuvier says, that the young 
cuckoos are " exceedingly slow in learning to take 
their own food," yet, jive or six weeks, taken up in 
feeding the young cuckoos after they fly is too much, 
you would by that have such a disturbance of the 
breeding process in all victimised birds as would 
indeed be very marked and revolutionising. Sparrows, 
pipits and others which have three and sometimes 
four broods a year would have only one brood or at 
most two ; and the long drawn out periods of feeding 

ii6 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

the flying cuckoos would cause such a complete 
departure from the instinct towards a new brood that 
I for one believe that the young cuckoos would after 
all be left to their fate. For this instinct is one of the 
most imperative of all instincts ; and I do not believe 
that in such circumstances the motive would be strong 
enough to cause it to be so absolutely departed from 
in this special case. Eckermann, in talking with 
Goethe, saw this, but scarcely realised the whole 
result of what he allowed in his own mind. 

There is, besides the best reasons for believing that 
in cases — very rare cases, when the cuckoo itself 
broods its young, the young can forage for themselves 
in three weeks, while, under care of the foster-parents, 
they need five or six weeks. This is a point that I 
do not remember having seen any attempt whatever 
to explain ; yet it is so peculiar that it demands 

Then, in view of the propagation of species and 
the securing of the desired end by the most direct 
possible process, does it not seem a sad defect in 
nature's contrivance that she has not made the young 
cuckoos quick and ready to learn how to find their 
own food. The chicks of the mound-building birds, 
after having forced their way through some feet of 
mould and dust, run into the thick forest and can at 
once provide for themselves. This seems all right 
under the ordinary rule of natural selection and sur- 
vival of the fittest ; but if these laws are here illus- 
trated by the chicks from the mounds, they certainly 
are not so, in the extraordinary time the young 
cuckoos remain practically helpless, dependent on 
others absolutely, when they should be self-support- 

Romanes follows suit. 117 

And, notwithstanding the extraordinary reputation 
accorded to Mr. Darwin, for patient observation and 
persistence, and his independence of all authority, 
here we find him, implicitly foUow^ed, too, by Mr. 
Romanes, most meekly accepting Jenner's endeav- 
ours to force the facts to fit his theory ; and neither 
one nor the other of our great geniuses of evolution 
think for a moment of waiting a year or two, and 
quietly going to look for themselves. No, they prefer 
to accept Jenner's version, and to theorise, and dog- 
matise, and say " it may be," and " probably it was," 
etc., etc., instead of using their much vaunted observ- 
ing faculties, and just for a little while going to look 
and see for themselves. 

Just compare all this Jennerised theory and argu- 
ment about the cuckoo, both on Mr. Darwin's and 
Mr. Romanes' parts, with the excellent result of ob- 
servations close and careful of Mr. Romanes and his 
sister on the Cehus, in Animal Intelligence, pp. 484 — 
498, where due and careful observation of the creature 
was directly and patiently made ; though, of course, 
one disadvantage is still involved in observation under 
such circumstances, that the creature is isolated and 
in artificial conditions. But you cannot bring a 
cuckoo into your house, and get it to live with you, 
as you can do with the Cehus, and therein lies the 
mighty difference, — ^just as certain deer the artist can 
get into his studio, and can there paint from them ; 
but others, that he sometimes very much wants to 
paint, he cannot get brought to him in this way, and 
hence some of the most notable blunders.''' 

* See Lord Southesk's Britain s Art Paradise, which contains 
a list of some natural history errors in Academy exhibitions. 

Ii8 Darwin and Ronianes dealt with. 


If slight change of external conditions could have 
such effects as Mr. Darwin has described in chap, xii, 
Domestication, in the case of the Aylesbury Ducks, 
which in a different part of England lost their habit 
of early laying, to lay exactly at the same time as the 
common ducks do there, does this not suggest that 
more weight should be laid on possible changes in 
external conditions in wild birds and other wild crea- 
tures, and certain possibiHties of birds of different 
families, if not of different species, under similar 
conditions, coming to act similarly even under very 
unexpected lines ? 

Mr. Darwin's own argument, at p. 43, vol. ii, of 
Domestication, surely in full force applies here. He 
says : 

" There are some breeds of fowls which are called 
* Everlasting layers,' because they have lost the 
instinct of incubation ; and so rare is it for them to 
incubate that I have seen notices published in works 
on poultry, when hens of such breeds have taken to 
sit. Yet the aboriginal species was, of course, a good 
incubator ; for with birds in a state of nature hardly 
any instinct is so strong as this ... I raised several 
chickens from a PoHsh hen by a Spanish cock — 
breeds which do not incubate — and none of the young 
hens at first recovered their instinct, and this 
appeared to afford a well-marked exception to the 
foregoing rule ; but one of these hens, the only one 
which was preserved, in the third year sat well on her 
eggs and reared a brood of chickens. So that here 

One General Law. 119 

we have the appearance with advancing age of a 
primitive instinct in the same manner as we have seen 
that the red plumage of the Gallus hankiva is some- 
times re-acquired by crossed and purely bred fowls of 
various kinds as they grow old." 

Here Mr. Darwin speaks of certain breeds of hens 
recovering their instinct for brooding : if they re- 
covered an instinct which they had lost, is it logical or 
legitimate to speak of them as acting on an instinct by 
persistent laying ? If the one was in the true sense an 
instinct which was, as he says, recovered, then the 
other practice was not due to instinct, but to some- 
thing else. This is exactly on all fours with the 
cuckoos which over and over again have in his sense 
recovered the instinct of brooding by sitting on eggs, 
and these departed from what he says elsewhere is 
developed out of " occasional habits." There is no 
escape from this. They cannot both be true and 
primary instincts. 

Mr. Darwin is here dealing with modifications due 
directly to man's intervention. Dr. Russel Wallace, 
with his own characteristic clearness, has given 
warning that nothing can be more unsafe than to 
argue from such instances to wild-nature, yet surely 
one general law may be assumed as here controlling 
both. If certain birds under the direct manipulation 
of man, and for his own purposes, lose a certain 
"primitive instinct," and one of the strongest, may 
we not assume in the case of a wild bird, that it has 
lost its strong instinct of the same character from the 
same or similar general causes, that certain changes, 
certain influences arose upon it at a certain period, 
broadly corresponding to those that we find can be 

I20 Darw'ni and Ro)iiant's dealt with. 

brought about by man and operate on creatures 
under man's control and manipulated by hinv 

The great question with regard to the cuckoo and 
its utter loss of the brooding instinct is this — what 
were the changes or influences which, at a certain 
definite time, led it to abandon its brooding propen- 
sity ? — its former habit of brooding being, as we saw 
already, proved even now occasionally by reversions 
to this very habit, and, unlike the tame fowls, it has 
to seek otherwise an attainable means of securing the 
same end. The tame fowls did not do this ; appar- 
ently leaving it to man w^hom they better served by 
" everlasting laying " to look to this, only wonderfully 
attesting this original instinct by in middle life or age 
reverting to primary habit ; while the cuckoos having 
no man-manipulator to trust to, have themselves to 
look out for some way to secure the same end. The 
grand question which Mr. Darwin does not at all 
face or even try to face is, what in the case of the 
cuckoo were these changed conditions or influences ? 
There must have been such — whether we can in any 
way trace them or not, conditions and influences in 
which general operations of men may have had a 
share, nay, must have had a share, since, nothing is 
more clear than that no step — not the slightest, 
towards " improving " the land, etc., etc. — can be 
taken without eff'ects far-reaching on certain classes 
of creatures. 

Now, in the case of the cuckoo more definitely 
than perhaps anywhere else, you can trace out the 
process by which a latent element of reason, giving 
rise to very marked invention and resource in that 
bird, has come in to enable it so far to meet and make 

Mr. Romaiies's Test. 121 

up for the changes it could not otherwise resist or 
subdue. Instead of itself brooding, as assuredly it 
once did, it contrived to make others do the brooding 
for it, and, what is yet more, it also managed so to 
impress on its young the necessity for a certain kind 
of action in order to its own well-being and sus- 
tenance. 1 do not say whether this is, in the terms 
of Romanes, simple reflex action, or otherwise — the 
fact — the necessity of certain actions in throwing out 
the birds of the foster-parents from the nest is there, 
and most powerfully strong and availing, and all the 
more significant that it does not stand alone, but is 
part of a whole crowd of changes and modifications, 
all agreeing to secure one grand result. 

Mr. Romanes puts down as the prevaihng test the 
following : 

" Does the organism learn to make new adjust- 
ments, or to modify old ones, in accordance with the 
results of its own individual experience ? If it does 
so, the fact cannot be due to mere reflex action in the 
sense above described ; for it is impossible that here- 
dity can have provided in advance for innovations 
upon, or alternations of its machinery during the life- 
time of a particular individual." 

This points, though it was not meant to do so, 
exactly to our difficulty as regards actions of the 
young cuckoo, thoroughly opposed to its proper and 
earlier instincts. 

But even these exceedingly able men, by their very 
aptness in thinking, sometimes bring out in painful 
prominence their lack of special knowledge or obser- 
vation in which they ought to be pre-eminently strong. 

Here is a proof, from quite another point, of what 

122 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

I say. At p. 298, Animal Intelligence, Mr. Romanes 
writes : 

" The goat-sucker, when its nest is disturbed, re- 
moves its eggs to another place ; the male and female 
both transporting eggs in their beaks." Now, from 
this would it not appear that the goat-sucker is a 
nest-builder and a layer of many eggs ? One of the 
leading peculiarities about it is that it builds no nest, 
therefore its nest cannot be disturbed. It never lays 
more than two eggs, and often only one ; so that Mr. 
Romanes' picture, set so close to the procedure of the 
partridge, which may have as many as twenty eggs 
to remove, is very out of joint, and misleading as to 
the bird's ways ; and his words about male and female 
transporting eggs in their beaks is a gross inaccuracy 
and exaggeration, and something worse — worse surely 
in regard to many cases, where the female bird lays 
but one egg. But Mr. Romanes, quite unconsciously^ 
as it would appear, corrects one of his own errors at 
p. 292, when he writes that " the stone-curlew and 
goat-sucker deposit their eggs on the bare soil," which, 
as regards the goat-sucker, is not quite correct either, 
for as often as not the egg or eggs is laid simply on 
dried grass or fern at the foot of a tree ; and round 
about Coldharbour, near Leith Hill, at Mosses' Wood, 
and elsewhere, where night-jars abound, we have 
more often found it so than on the bare soil ; but, 
assuredly, it makes no nest.''- 

* And who corrected Mr. Romanes' proofs ? Surely he did 
not do so himself, for scientific names of birds are awfully 
blundered — instance, Melothrus canariensis instead of Molothrus 
ionariensis, for one, and Molothrus haciius becomes Melothrus 
cadius for another ! 

" Animal Intelligence ! " 123 

Mr. Darwin and Mr. Romanes, for one thing, might 
have done far more for the science they loved so well 
had they devoted almost half-a-year at the proper 
season to the study of the cuckoo and nothing else, 
not forgetting the problem of the young cuckoos left 
behind, to stay on at least a month after the old 
cuckoos have migrated — one of the most wonderful 
things about the species — and, taken along with some 
other things, makes them wholly unique ; and yet on 
this point, as well as on some others, neither of these 
great authorities says a single word, though they both 
close as though once for all they had settled the 
whole mystery of the cuckoo and left nothing unmet. 
Evolution, as they lay it down, is taken to exhaust 
the whole thing — to us, even after evolution has done 
its very best in their able hands, the mysteries not 
only remain, but are increased. To increase the 
mystery about a very familiar bird is not, surely, the 
true end of science — evolutionist science ! 

In Animal Intelligence, p. 307, Mr. Romanes quotes 
the first part of the passage we have given from the 
Origin of Species on the cuckoo, and he actually adds 
a note to the passage thus : 

" Allusion is here made to the fact that the cuckoo 
lays her eggs at intervals of two or three days, and, 
therefore, that if all were incubated by the mother, 
they would hatch out at different times — a state of 
things which actually obtains in the case of the 
American cuckoo, whose nest contains eggs and young 
at the same time.'' 

As though this were such an exceptional fact in 
bird-history as to justify this wonderful note. Both 
Mr. Darwin and Mr. Romanes unfortunately (as we 

124 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

have said already) accepted almost implicitly Jenner's 
statements and explanations. From my own obser- 
vations and those of several others, I am doubtful if 
cuckoos do not lay a greater number of eggs than is 
generally supposed, and, in a general way, at inter- 
vals of two days at most ; this is nothing extraor- 
dinary, and certainly it is extraordinary to learn that 
any bird is fed by the parents or foster-parents for 
jive or six weeks after it flew/'' 

Dr. Rey, the great German oologist, to whom we 
have already referred, quoted by Dr. Bowdler Sharpe 
(Allen's Naturalist's Library, *'Cuckoo,") declares that 
cuckoos lay as many as twenty or twenty-one eggs, 
and within intervals of each other much shorter than 
is generally believed. Dr. Bowdler Sharpe puts a 
mark of exclamation at this, which, no doubt, is 
meant to undo the effect of his quoting it, and yet if 
it was deserving only of silent discredit, was it really 
worth his while in using up his valuable space with it ? 

Mr. Gurney agrees that the cuckoo lays a much 
greater number of eggs than is usually beHeved. 

Colonel Irby tells us that " a female (cuckoo), shot 

* " The American cuckoo " (it should be cuckoos) " being well 
known to build its nest and rear its young in the ordinary 
manner" (Romanes's Animal Intelligence, p. 301). And "that 
the small size of the egg is a real case of adaptation in order to 
deceive the small birds (in whose nest it is laid), we may infer 
from the fact of the non-parasitic American cuckoo laying full- 
sized eggs." (p. 306.) All which is wrong for the inference 
cannot be drawn unless blindly — the American cuckoos — the 
two commoner American ones — being largely parasitic, and de- 
positing their eggs in the nests of larger birds than our cuckoo, 
as is the case with the Egyptian cuckoo and the Indian koel ; 
so that the imaginary fact here based on can give no reason for 
parasitism at all. 

Col. Butlers Early Egg. 125 

in the second week in May, had then two eggs re- 
maining in the ovaries, nearly ready to lay. Verner 
found, on the 25th June, 1879, near Gibraltar, a 
cuckoo's egg in a wood-w^arbler's nest." " 

Colonel Butler wrote to the Zoologist from Brat- 
tingham Park, Suffolk, the following, which appears 
in that magazine in 1895, P* 229 : 

" On May 25, I found, on the ivy over a potting- 
shed in my garden here, a robin's nest containing a 
young cuckoo about a week old, so that the egg from 
which it was hatched must have been laid quite at 
the beginning of May ; and I also heard of another 
bird in the neighbourhood rather older, so that the 
egg in that instance must have been laid earlier still. 
The young bird in my garden w^as discovered by my 
noticing four young robins — only just hatched : in 
fact, one w^as still in the broken shell — lying on the 
ground below the nest. On looking into the nest 
to ascertain the cause, I found a young cuckoo in 
possession ; he must have turned his companions out, 
therefore, almost as soon as he w^as hatched." 


Now, how does this bear on the question before 
us ? If the cuckoo begins to lay in the very early 
part of May, which there are the very best reasons 
for believing she does (for I have found eggs then), 
and goes on laying, she must at the least lay eggs till 
the 25th of June, as the Gibraltar cuckoos do, and 
even later, as some instances testify that our cuckoos 

* Ornithology of Straits of Gibraltar, p. 135. 

126 Darwin mid Roinajies dealt with. 

do. It is easy to be seen that, as no brooding comes 
in to interrupt the laying, she must at the least lay a 
dozen eggs, and that is allowing a good deal more 
than four days between each of them. If the de- 
mands of migration would, in our country, make it 
impossible that she should rear and feed, after fledg- 
ing, the young from an egg still in the nest on 25th 
of June, this certainly cannot apply to the eggs laid 
up to the second week of May and before it. 

A point for Dr. Charles Creighton : if our cuckoos 
go on laying eggs up to anything like the date given 
here for Gibraltar (and I have proof that they do it 
in record of my own observations), then that would 
allow nearly, if not quite, a fortnight for observation 
after the date he sets down with such decision for 
Jenner, and, from my own experience, a good deal 
can be observed in a fortnight by one who can devote 
all, or almost all, his time to a special purpose, and 
has some scientific curiosity, determination, and 
patience to lie or to stand still for hours. 

All Mr. John Hancock's observations of young 
cuckoo turning out eggs and young of hedge-sparrow 
were within a fortnight — nay, really within a week ; 
while Mr. John Craig's yet more remarkable and 
fruitful observations and experiments, resulting in a 
whole series of valuable and unique snapshots, de- 
scribed in the preface, were really accomplished in 
eight days in the case of one nest, and in the case of 
the other, within a week. 

And this position of mine is certainly confirmed by 
Mr. J. H. Gurney's words : 

" The latest egg I have found was on June 28th, 
but Colonel Butler tells me of a fresh egg in a yellow- 

Shell of Cuckoo's Egg. 127 

hammer's nest on July 3rd, and of a young cuckoo 
unable to fly on the 28th July last." 

Further yet : Mr. Rowley (Ibis, 1865, pp. 178-9) 
says that, from personal observation, he believes the 
period of laying to begin in the beginning of May 
and to go on at least to the middle of July, he having 
taken eggs of the cuckoo's as late as on the 29th of that 

In certain seasons, in certain parts from which the 
cuckoos migrate early — that is, in the latter part of 
July — it is, of course, impossible that, in the case of 
eggs laid so late as to show young cuckoos only a 
short time before the 28th July, and eggs taken from 
nests on the 29th, the elder cuckoos should be able to 
do the service of removing the companion foster- 
parents' eggs, and, still more, the young ones, after 
their hatching, which generally follows that of the 
cuckoo — the cuckoo's eggs, like the eggs of the 
American molothrus or cow-bird, as we shall see 
afterwards in the proper place, needing shorter in- 
cubation by some days than those of the victimised 
birds — another most remarkable fact in the economy 
of the bird, more especially considering the thickness, 
and hardness, and heaviness of shell of the cuckoo's 
Qgg. The cuckoo's egg, indeed, contains the shell 
matter requisite for an egg the normal size of the 
bird, and the contents are, so to say, concentrated.''' 

And here arises another question. Many of those 
who wish — following Jenner — to shorten the period of 
the cuckoo's sojourn here as much as they possibly can, 
in order to gain one point in their favour, have also 
to show how in this case the young foster-birds are 

* Miller's Essays and Nature Studies, p. 59. 

128 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

thrown out of the nest. This point will recur in a 
later section. Another difficulty. These young birds 
that are still to come out of eggs yet unhatched a few 
days before the 28th of July, most distinctly cannot 
enjoy the long period of five or six weeks feeding by 
the foster parent, after they fly, because that would 
carry them far beyond their date of migration — 
middle of September : that is, allowing ten days for 
brooding, twenty in nest before flying, and between 
five and six weeks for being fed after they are able 
to fly. Two months and a half would bring them, 
at the latest, into the middle of October. Either, 
then, they migrate at the proper time — middle of 
September, at latest — or they do not migrate at all, 
and remain all the winter in this country — which is it ? 

Dr. Bowdler Sharpe makes this record about the 
American cuckoos : 

" There seems to be even with this well-behaved 
parent (! !) the same difference in time between the 
deposition of the eggs as is to be found in the case of 
Cnculus canorus. Audubon relates that he found a 
nest in which were five young cuckoos and two eggs. 
Two of the young birds were sufficiently advanced 
to scramble out of the nest, and the other three were 
of different ages — one being just hatched, another 
several days old, and the third still further advanced, 
covered with " pen " feathers, so that it would have 
been able to fly in about a week. His friend, Mr. 
Rhett, in whose garden the nest was found, assured 
him that he had known as many as eleven young 
cuckoos to be reared in a nest in the course of one 

Mr. Blyth gives, fortunately, a longer account of 

Mr. RJieffs Case. 129 

the nests at Mr. J. F. Rhett's house, near Charles- 
town, in South Carohna, direct from the words of the 
persons there : 

" Two young cuckoos, nearly ready to fly, scrambled 
off from their tenement among the branches of the 
tree, and were caught by us, after a while. The nest 
was taken and carefully handed to me. It still con- 
tained three young cuckoos, all of different sizes, the 
smallest apparently just hatched, the next in size 
probably several days old, while the largest, covered 
with pen-feathers, would have been able to leave the 
nest in about a week. There were also in the nest 
two eggs, one containing a chick, the other fresh or 
lately laid. The two young birds which escaped from 
the nest, clung so firmly to the branches by their feet, 
that our attempts to dislodge them were of no avail, 
and we were obliged to reach them with the hand. 
On now looking at all these young birds, our surprise 
was indeed great, as no two of them were of the 
same size, which clearly showed that they had been 
hatched at different periods, and I should have sup- 
posed the largest to have been fully three weeks 
older than any of the rest. Mr. Rhett assured us, 
that he had observed the same in another nest . . . 
and that eleven young cuckoos had been reared in it 
in one season, young birds and eggs being in it 
together for many weeks in succession. 

" On thinking this over," the account proceeds, " I 
have felt most anxious to discover how many eggs the 
cuckoo of Europe drops in one season. If it, as I 
suspect, produces, like the American bird, not fewer 
than eight or ten, or what may be called the amount 
of two broods in a season, this circumstance would 

130 Darwin and Romaiies dealt with. 

connect the two species in a still more intimate 
manner than theoretical writers have supposed them 
to be allied." " 

Then Mr. Blyth refers to domestic pigeons as 
wanting to lay again before the former brood are 
quite ready to leave the nest : in no case of birds that 
I have set up to breed has this not frequently been 
the case : canaries especially wishing to turn the 
young brood out of the nest to lay in it again. 

Mr. Blyth, after having referred to the migratory 
instinct of the common British swifts being so strong 
that they will sometimes leave later broods to starve, 
asks whether the instances referred to by Mr. Audubon 
of eggs of the American piayas being found in other 
bird's nests happened at a late period of the season. 
This is a most important point, and if it has not 
already been answered by American ornithologists, I 
hope that it soon will be, to enable us to compare 
more satisfactorily these American piayas with our 

Now, in view of all these facts, is it likely — the 
least likely — that our cuckoos, w^hich had passed 
through long processes of change and differentiation, 
at length involving the complete dependence on others 
for brooding the eggs, and much consequent risk and 
loss, would cease, in view of the preservation of the 
species, to produce so many eggs as it had done in 
the days when it was like its American congeners in 
the points wherein it now differs from them ? If the 
preservation of the species is the one great end of the 
breeding process, then it is clear that certain of the 
modifications very gradually effected on the cuckoo 

* Quoted by E. Blyth, Asiatic Soc. Jl., 1S42, pp. 1206-7. 

A Clever Reed-Warhler. 131 

were not in the line of the preservation, not to speak 
of the increase of the species. 

And here indeed arises a whole set of facts of the 
most interesting and suggestive character. 

The reed-warbler's nest has an incurved rim, and 
is, compared with most other nests, very deep ; so 
that, as the nest, attached to reeds or stems of sedges, 
and other water-plants sways about much in the 
wind, the eggs or young ones can't be thrown out. 
I myself three years ago found in north-east Essex a 
nest of the reed-wren from which the young ones had 
flown, and noticed that it was very irregular looking 
at the bottom, I put in my finger, and was surprised 
to find it at one side very hard, and pulling off" the 
lining of moss, grass, hair, etc., nicely felted, there 
was a cuckoo's egg lying cold, buried, in fact. The 
wren had, for the reason given above, been unable to 
eject the egg^ and had simply built it over, putting, 
in fact, a second bottom into the nest, and as she had 
to do this, be it remembered with eggs of her own in 
it, she could not make it so regular as the true bottom 
below, which I now beheld, all smooth and neatly 

On mentioning this to my friend, Mrs. Perrin, her- 
self a naturalist, and exquisite painter of our native 
wild flowers, she told me that some time before she 
had seen in one of the illustrated magazines (American, 
she thought), a drawing, showing how the same in- 
genious little bird had dealt with intruded cuckoo's 
eggs, which it, too, had been smart enough to detect, 
but could not turn out. The clever little creature 
had manged to separate the cuckoo's egg from its 
own, and put over it a layer of small leaves, and 

132 Darivin and Romanes dealt with. 

moss, and hair; and then, a second cuckoo's egg 
being dropped in, it repeated the exact process — the 
httle nest thus becoming, really, a house of three 
irregular stories — two containing the unborn dead, 
and the upper a nursery of the living. I can abso- 
lutely trust Mrs. Perrin's accuracy in report ; and 
should be exceedingly pleased if any one who remem- 
bers the drawing or photograph in the magazine 
would be so good as to send me, through the pub- 
lisher, the reference for it.''- 

Mr. Emerson, in his Birds of the Xoifolk Broad- 
lands, says that he has never found a cuckoo's egg in 
a reed-warbler's nest, though he has often found it 
in the sedge-warbler's nest. This is not at all in 
agreement with the experience of ornithologists else- 
where — Mr. Bidwell's list gave 62 reed-warblers, out 
of 909 eggs — and certainly not with my own. But 
even as regards the district with which Mr. Emerson is 
connected, the fact leads one to ask a question : what 
can be the reason — the reason, mark you, of such 
nice distinction between nests of reed-warbler and 
sedge-warbler over the district of the Broads. Have 

* The reed-warbler builds its exquisite hung-nest on sedge or 
reed-stems, etc.. generally ; but sometimes it will take a fancy 
to build in a willow or even a thorn or alder tree not far from a 
lake or marsh, or even in a gooseberry or currant bush — not too 
far from water. Mr. Emerson, in Birds of the Norfolk Broad- 
lands, gives a photograph of a reed-wren's nest in situ in a 
black-currant bush, but this seems shallower than most of its 
nests resting on reed-stems, depth not being there so much 
needed as in the reed-stems, which would sway more to the 
wind. But how did the little creature come to know this ? 1 
have noticed that nests in willow and other nests are not so 
deep either as those hung on reed-stems. 

Mr. Emerson and Mr. Stevenson. 133 

the cuckoos there discovered that the reed-wren has 
found them out, and will build over any alien eggs 
deposited in their nests ? There must be some 
reason, whether we can find it out or not, for the 
aversion the Norfolk Broad district cuckoos have 
come to have, apparently, to the reed-wren's nest. 
Mr. Bidwell's exhibition list told certainly a very, 
very different story, as to general procedure. 

Mr. Emerson's rule cannot, however, apply to any 
portion of Norfolk, save strictly "the Broad-land;" 
for we find Mr. J. H. Gurney writing: "It would 
not be hard to find several marshy places in Norfolk 
where cuckoos rather abound, and often lay their 
eggs in reed-warblers' nests." And the general fact 
is borne out by Mr. H. Stevenson, who, in his Birds 
of Norfolk, gave an account of finding reed-warbler's 
nests in bushes or shrubs (laurels, etc.) near to water. 

He wrote : 

" The most curious fact in connection with these 
five reed-warblers' nests, built into shrubs or bushes 
at the foot of a garden near the water's edge, was the 
finding a cuckoo's Q^^g in three of them, and a young 
cuckoo, of course per se, in the fourth."'' Occasionally, 
but rarely, I have known a cuckoo's egg deposited in 
the nest of this species when placed as usual among 
the reeds ; but, in the above four instances, increased 
size and width and easiness of access afforded, no 
doubt, peculiar attractions." 

And again, at i, p. 387, Mr. Stevenson writes : 

" It is somewhat singular that the latter (the nest 
of reed-warbler), although perhaps the most frequently 

*i, p. 117. 

134 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

used of all, should be almost invariably omitted from 
our published lists." 

Mr. Norgate has made one very remarkable dis- 
covery, which is cited by Mr. Gurney in his paper. 
He has noticed in reed-warblers' nests, where cuckoos' 
eggs were laid, cuckoos' feathers woven into the out- 
side and bottom of the nest ; and his notion is that 
these are put there by the cuckoos themselves to 
accustom the reed-warblers to the smell, as they have 
not been met with in other nests. This would indi- 
cate that particular methods and expedients have to 
be resorted to by the cuckoos in the case of the reed- 

Mr. Gurney's own explanation of the undoubted 
tendency of some cuckoos, in certain circumstances, 
to hang about nests has a bearing here. He thinks 
that this is done more especially when the egg has 
not been properly matched. One case, he cites, was 
that of a reddish egg in the nest of a reed-warbler ; 
and there the cuckoo " was close at hand, perhaps 
from a consciousness of the wrong colour, which 
rendered her anxious." 

And he has this further reflection on this matter : 

" If the foster-bird is not quite happy with the 
splendid usurping egg, which she is deluded into the 
behef that she herself has laid, she will perhaps move 
it from one side of the nest to the other, and, if there 
is reason to think it unfertile, ultimately bury it in 
the lining of the nesf, rejected. In June, 1879, Mr. 
Norgate saw a cuckoo's egg, in Hockering Wood, on 
the ground beside a tree-pipit's nest, which egg had 
some hours before been seen to be in the nest ; and 

Robin and Cuckoo's Egg. 135 

there are similar evidences by other observers, show- 
ing the disposition above mentioned." '•' 

" That year," writes Mr. W. J. C. Miller, late Regis- 
trar to the General Medical Council, " it happened 
that a pair of robins had built a nest in a box in our 
garden, and had there laid two eggs. But on looking 
in one morning, I saw a similar egg, though a little 
bit larger, lying close beside the other two. Up to 
that time, I had only seen a cuckoo's egg when laid 
beside the ' eggs of heavenly blue ' of the hedge- 
sparrow, where it was clearly to be recognised. And 
the hole in the box was much too small for a cuckoo 
ever to get through. This, however, was a cuckoo's 
egg, which must have been brought and placed there 
by the cuckoo's beak. It would have been interesting 
to note the hatching of the young cuckoo, and watch 
its behaviour towards its nest mates ; but whether 
the robins had ever been deceived or not I cannot 
say ; anyhow they forsook this nest and went off and 
built and reared their brood in another box." f 

In this case, it may be inferred that the cuckoo, 
which could manage to introduce an egg here could 
not manage to take one out, and so the little robins 
declined to have the extra egg and deserted the nest 
— another instance of cuckoo's egg rejected by a 
small bird. 

* Trans. Norfolk and Nortvich Nat. His. Soc, p. 369. 
"Y Essays and Nature Studies, p. 26. 

136 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 


The analogy with America here is strong. Several 
of the American birds will not receive the cuckoo's 
eggs. One of them is Bullock's oriole : she rids her- 
self of the cuckoo's egg by at once throwing it out, 
and not resting till she has done so. 

Another observation of Mr. Gurney's, faithfully re- 
corded, suggests yet further and more indirect means 
of promoting their own chances for foster-parents on 
the part of cuckoos. 

He writes : 

" On the 2oth of May, 1897, ri^Y son and I were in 
the pursuit of swallow-tailed butterflies on Sutton 
Broad, when three cuckoos passed me, one behind the 
other, probably a hen and two cocks. After flying 
over a small bog-myrtle or sweet gale bush, not more 
than two feet high and six feet long, standing by 
itself on the fen, they betook themselves to an adjoin- 
ing field. In three or four minutes my suspicion was 
aroused by one cuckoo returning, which, not heeding 
me, entered the bush where it remained, but though 
drawing near very cautiously, I could not see it there, 
small as it was. When at length the cuckoo had gone, 
a minute search revealed nothing, and we were just 
going away, when some ten feet from the bush, the 
marshman nearly trod on a new yellow wagtail's nest 
in the grass. It was empty, but scattered round were 
live young wagtails, quite a week old, the furthest one 
six feet off, the others nearer, no doubt dropped 
where we now saw them by the cuckoos. I can only 
come to the conclusion that this was a cuckoo which 



American Cowbirds. 137 

had a predilection for yellow wagtails' nests,"'- and as 
nothing else would suit it, its motive in this instance 
was, by removing the young wagtails, to incite their 
bereaved parents quietly to build a new nest, and 
again lay eggs beside which the crafty cuckoo might 
deposit her own. It may be when my binoculars 
were on the bush was just the time when the cuckoo 
happened to be searching to see if this had been done. 

" It is true there are stoats on the marsh, but the 
dead nestlings showed no marks of teeth. Their re- 
lative position, and that of the nest and bush, can 
best be shown by a sketch, and, accordingly, the 
accompanying drawing has been made from my recol- 
lections of this rural tragedy in bird life by our well- 
known draughtsman, Mr. Keulemans." 

Our " accompanying drawing " is here presented 
by kind favour of Mr. Gurney. 

This above noted conduct of the reed - warbler 
would seem to be exactly on all-fours with the pro- 
cedure of some of the species on which Molothriis 
bonariensis (the cow - bird of North America, the 
Argentine and elsewhere) is parasitical. Some species, 
however, though they do not throw the parasitical 
eggs out, which would seem the simplest plan, have 
discovered how to get rid of them, and so save them- 
selves the labour of making a fresh nest. Their 
method is to add a new deep lining, under which the 
strange eggs are buried out of sight and give no more 

*' The Sisopygis icterophrys — a common tyrant-bird 
in Buenos Ayres — frequently has recourse to this ex- 

* Mr. Bird found a cuckoo's egg in a yellow wagtail's nest 
near Suttton, May 23, 1890. 

138 Darw'ui ajid Roiuaues dealt witJi. 

pedient ; and the nest it makes being rather shallow, 
the layer of fresh material, under which the strange 
eggs are buried, is built upwards above the rim of 
the original nest ; so that the supplementary nest is 
like one saucer placed within another." 

And the writer goes on to tell how, finding such a 
nest one day, he tore off the upper bottom to find 
three molothrus's eggs, two rotten, but the third with 
a living embryo in it ready to hatch, which was very 
lively and angry when, excluded from the shell, he 
took it in his hand. He goes on to say : 

" The young tyrant-birds were about a fortnight 
old, and as they hatch out only about twenty days 
after the parent bird begins laying, this parasitical 
egg, with a living chick in it, must have been deeply 
buried in the nest for five or six weeks. Probably, 
after the young tyrant-birds came out of their shells 
and began to grow, the heat from their bodies, pene- 
trating to the buried egg, served to bring the embryo 
in it to maturity, but when I saw it I felt (like a 
person who sees a ghost) strongly inclined to doubt 
the evidence of my own senses." " 

Dr. Elliot Coues confirms this, remarking that 
certain species of birds decisively reject the molo- 
thrus's egg, and build a two-storey nest, leaving the 
obnoxious egg in the basement. I want no better 
proof that birds possess a faculty indistinguishable, 
so far as it goes, from human reason. Instinct, in 
the ill-considered current sense of the term, could 
never lead a summer yellow bird up to building a 
two-story nest to let a cow-bird's eggs addle below. 
No question of inherited tendency here.! 

* Birds of the Argentine, p 112. 
■\Birdsof North-West, p. 1S3. 

All Easy Assumption. 139 

Mr. H. S. Rodney reports having found in Pots- 
dam, N.Y., May 15th, 1868, a nest of Zonotrichia 
leucophrys (white-crowned sparrow), of two stories, in 
one of which was buried a cow-bird's egg, and in 
the upper there were two more of the same, with 
three eggs of the rightful owners. 

Mr. E. A. Samuels, in 1862, wrote: "Some birds 
build over the strange egg a new nest." ■•' 

Mr. Romanes writes : . 

" We may perhaps at first sight wonder why some 
counteracting instinct should not have been developed 
by the same agency in the birds which are liable to 
be thus duped ; but here we must remember that the 
deposition of a parasitic egg is, comparatively speak- 
ing, an exceedingly rare event, and therefore not one 
that is likely to lead to the development of a special 
instinct to meet it." 

See how nicely here the whole difficulty is got rid 
of by an easy assumption ! But there are instances of 
birds — wrens, reed-warblers, robins, wagtails, etc. — 
abandoning nests because of the intrusion of a cuckoo's 
egg. I myself have met with two cases in North- 
East Essex, wherein certain parts cuckoos so abound, 
that I do not agree with Mr. Romanes that the de- 
position of a cuckoo's egg there is "an exceedingly 
rare event." The nest of a wood-pigeon, and the nest 
of a sedge-warbler, and, in a third case, in the nest 
of a reed-wren, the cuckoo's egg was thickly rolled 
in small leaves and moss at the bottom, and put to 
one side, that it might not be hatched by receiving 
heat from the sitting bird's body. Now, here the 
question for Mr. Romanes's disciples, admirers, and 

* Birds of New England, p. 340. 

140 Darwin and Romanes dealt witli. 

followers is, as it would have been for him, had he 
still been with us, to tell why the gift of detection 
has been so clearly conferred on some birds, that 
they will not receive a cuckoo's egg at all. If in- 
stinct suffices for tnem, why not for all the others ? 
though their own interests, and the increase and con- 
tinuation of their own species, were clearly threatened 
by it. And yet Mr. Romanes contents himself with 
saying that, except as regards the question of some 
voluntary power of colouration of eggs, there is 
nothing connected with these instincts of the cuckoo 
and duped birds that presents any difficulty to the 
theory of evolution. If not to it, they most certainly 
did to him ; and that he did not see or feel it is ex- 
actly our point proved. 


If the cuckoo lays a larger number of eggs than is 
generally supposed, as both Dr. Rey and I believe — 
though I do not tie myself to Dr. Rey's number, and 
if I may draw any inference from the immense number 
of cuckoos in the area with which I am best acquainted, 
then it is beyond all things clear that " the deposition 
of a parasitic egg " is far from being " comparatively 
an exceedingly rare event : " eggs having been found 
by me in nests which it is not generally thought that 
the cuckoo at all has resource to — in the nests of 
starlings, thrushes, linnets and larks — (on the ground, 
mark you, where the throwing out would be difficult) 
and bullfinches, namely. Whatever errors the indi- 
vidual cuckoos may be guilty of, or whatever necessity 

Exact Matchings. 141 

may lead them to choose such a course in dropping 
eggs into nests, the true eggs of which are easily 
discriminated from that of the cuckoo ; yet I am con- 
vinced that in the vast majority of cases the cuckoos' 
eggs are so well matched with those among which 
they are intruded, that even by experts they are very 
often not recognised, even though seen, and thus has 
arisen the wholly misleading and erroneous idea to 
which Mr. Romanes gives all the support he can that 
the " deposition of a parasitic egg is comparatively an 
exceedingly rare event." The unmatched eggs, 
which, as I beHeve are, after all, a minority, are more 
noticed than the matched eggs — a point which is 
egregiously proved by this that up till a comparatively 
recent date it was not believed in England that 
cuckoos laid blue eggs, the Conihill writer quoted, 
and Mr. Luke Ellis did not believe it, when they 
wrote recently — a thing certainly not creditable to the 
observing power and patience of British naturalists, 
for here German observers had long anticipated them ! 
Mr. Bidweli has in his collection, which he was so 
very kind as to invite me to see, a cuckoo's egg in a 
redstart's nest, which is so well matched, that even 
the late Mr. John Hancock, when he first saw it, 
would not accept it as a cuckoo's egg ! and it was only 
after very careful, prolonged and minute examination, 
and on certain very indistinct markings being pointed 
out to him by Mr. Bidweli, that he would at length 
admit it was. When specimens are found thus so 
well matched, that even an expert and practical field 
ornithologist like Mr. Hancock is in doubt about them, 
and in nature would no doubt have passed them over, 
what is extravagant in the position that large numbers 

142 Darivin and Rouiaiies dealt with. 

of cuckoos' eggs are missed simply because they ar 
so well matched — missed and never recognised even 
when seen as being cuckoos' eggs ? It almost tempts 
one here to be guilty of a small joke, and to say that 
the cuckoo has not only managed to dupe, gowk 
(Scottice), or take-in small birds, inany of them, but 
some even of the gi'eat ornithologists and men of 
science also, thus oddly reversing natural positions. 
And certainly 1 for one cannot accept Dr. Rey's notion 
of excess of unmatched eggs here over matched ones. 
Then, if the deposition of a cuckoo's or parasitic 
egg is, according to Mr. Romanes, " comparatively 
an exceedingly rare event," how account for the vast 
collections of cuckoos' eggs that have been made, 
and that are being made, every year in almost every 
district of the United Kingdom ? When Mr. Bidwell 
had his exhibition some years ago, which he organised 
so well and successfully, he showed something like 
909 cuckoos' eggs. There are well-known vast, 
private collections of cuckoos' eggs in various parts 
of the country (not to speak of those on the Conti- 
nent, including that of Herr Pralle at Hildesheim), 
the most extensive and complete being those of Col. 
Butler,''= Mr. Massey, Mr. Norton, and Lord Roths- 
child, besides those in the pubhc collections or mu- 
seums, which are constantly being added to and im- 
proved, and also sections of the more general collec- 
tions of well-known ornithologists, such as those of 
the late Lord Lilford, the late Henry Seebohm, and 
the late John Hancock, and unnumbered smaller 
endless private collections, which are constantly being 

* Most of the eggs in Colonel Butler's collection were taken 
during the first week in June. 

Parasitic Eggs not rare. 143 

increased, — all which goes to prove that the " depo- 
sition of a parasitic egg is not comparatively an ex- 
ceedingly rare event." And more than that : if such 
vast collections of eggs withdrawn does not, in a 
marked way over a course of years, perceptibly — very 
perceptibly — diminish the numbers of cuckoos in a 
given district, then, assuredly, we have here another 
and most convincing proof that vast numbers of 
cuckoos' eggs, whether through perfection of match- 
ing or not, entirely escape, and the notion that the 
" deposition of a parasitic egg is comparatively an 
exceedingly rare event " is thus conclusively blown 
to the winds, as one of the easy, comfortable assump- 
tions by which late evolutionists get apparent consis- 
tency in their very ambitious works ! 

When we come on such cases as that described by 
Herr Braune, where he found, in the oviduct of a 
cuckoo he had shot, an egg so exactly like that of 
the icterine warbler's that only by this was he led to 
recognise as the cuckoo's an exactly similar egg in a 
warbler's nest ; and that other reported by Herr 
Grunach, who, in a most abnormally coloured egg, 
quite unlike the ordinary eggs of the cuckoo, by dis- 
section undoubtedly found the cuckoo parentage of 
the bird inside by the zygodactyle feet ; or that of 
Messrs. Seebohm and Elwes, who decisively estab- 
lished the fact of cuckoos laying blue eggs by finding 
the young bird inside a blue egg with zygodactylic 
feet, 'we may well be excused implicitly accepting 
dicta of certain kinds too frequently given us, as 
though all was practically and satisfactorily explained 
under certain axioms and theories about the cuckoos 
and their ways. 

144 Darwin and Romanics dealt with. 

The time that elapsed between the date (1787) of 
Jenner's observation and those of Messrs. Seebohm 
and Elwes, who conclusively demonstrated the fact 
of cuckoos laying blue eggs was, as already said, 
about a century — a century on which English ornith- 
ologists would pique themselves, regarding it as one 
of the greatest activity and definite result, with evo- 
lution, natural selection, etc., etc. — and the very fact 
that cuckoos' blue eggs for so long escaped all notice 
w^hatever, is a kind of justification for our saying that 
points of almost equal importance about this mys- 
terious bird may be overlooked even now. One of 
them, the very frequency of parasitic deposition, in 
opposition to Mr. Romanes' easy, very easy assump- 
tion that it is so " comparatively an exceedingly 
rare event" that it wasn't worth while for mother 
nature to arm the hosts of little birds by counter-in- 
stinct to prevent and defeat it ; and so with a full 
appearance of philosophy get quit of that difficulty 
by a most monster assumption — the most pretentious 
petitio principii that I, in the language of the delight- 
ful Artemus, " have ever experiunced." Besides, just 
realise where these fellows go. Instead of patiently 
looking and pointing us to new facts, they are keen 
to speak ex cathedra for mother nature in what she 
might, may, would, could, or should do. Mother 
nature, you may rely on it, will not come and make 
her bosom bare in this sort of way, even to them. 
She doesn't come : indeed, she mostly goes ; and she 
has no back hair or odd fal-als about her, on which 
you can lay hold to hinder her, either, or pull her 
back. All you can do is very laboriously and humbly 
to follow after— often even with sighs, and groans. 

Do Woodpeckers see in the dark ? 145 

and weary feet : and I may even venture to say that 
she does hate the fellows that want to show wiser or 
deeper than she is, and would pose as if they knew 


Colonel Butler had a query in the Zoologist (or 
Ibis) — certainly one or other — some years ago, re- 
specting the power of the woodpecker to see in the 
dark. His query arose in this way. He found a 
woodpecker's nest with one egg. Cutting a round, 
circular piece out of the tree, just below the nest, he 
was able to extract the true egg, and to put in its 
place a thrush's egg — about the same size and shape, 
though very different in colour. Having done this, 
he at once filled up the hole with the bung, as near 
as he could, exactly colouring it over to the likeness 
of the bark of the tree. Almost to his surprise, after 
all this, he found that the woodpecker stuck to the 
nest ; and when she had laid four more eggs, he took 
out the bung, and found, to his surprise also, that 
the thrush's egg had been rolled into the recess left 
by the bung just there not penetrating far enough in 
to get even surface inside as well as out, and the 
thrush's egg almost fell out when he extracted the 

Now, it was clear that when the bird was in the 
nest the place was quite dark beneath her ; and how 
did she know that the thrush's egg was not her's — 
which she most conclusively proved that she did ? 
But have birds no sense either of touch or of smell ? 
Either of these senses might have aided the bird even 
if no light was there. 

146 Darwin and Romanes dealt ivith. 

The coot will not sit upon duck's eggs. The sense 
of touch and smell in certain birds must be very keen : 
for a gentleman, a friend of mine and true naturalist, 
in Essex, has persevered with experiments with the 
coot in this direction : he had at last the eggs both of 
the teal and mallard carefully coloured to imitate the 
coot's eggs, and, taking away the coot's, these ducks' 
eggs were carefully substituted. But the wary coots 
were not to be done : in all cases they abandoned the 
nests and at once set about laboriously building others 
at different parts of the pond side, and nothing would 
tempt either of them back again, though their own 
eggs were restored. They would not be tempted to go 
near the nests nor look at them. The argument 
suggested by these facts is exactly on all fours with 
that from the woodpecker and the thrush's egg. And 
one question which arises here is important indeed. 
If the woodpecker in the dark is able so decisively 
to detect the egg of a thrush about the same form and 
size as its own, and to deal with it effectively, why is 
it that so many birds fail to discriminate, and in their 
open nests with full light to aid them, between a 
cuckoo's egg, which is much bigger frequently and 
almost always a little bigger, than their own eggs, 
and will adopt it and hatch it, and at great labour, 
rear the alien nestUng, to the utter destruction of 
their own brood, their instinct or intelligence just 
there failing to protect the species. Is the one 
instinct a lack of instinct or a " misleading instinct " 
— which ? They cannot both spring from the same 
source. Besides all which, the little birds many of 
them must have had experience and have utterly 
failed to profit by it ; while the woodpecker, with no 

Qnestio)is needing Answers. 147 

experience at all, rejects an egg which to certain 
senses must in the dark seem very much like its own, 
or the coots rejecting the ducks' eggs and deserting 
the nest. 

In one word. Nature has here armed the wood- 
pecker and the coot with a wonderful instinct against 
brooding alien eggs — an instinct, by the way, which 
is seldom or never called out : while Nature has 
failed — absolutely failed — to arm many small birds 
with any such instinct as regards cuckoos' eggs. 
Why is this ? Mr. Romanes argued with all his 
might that the deposition of cuckoos' eggs was " com- 
paratively so exceedingly rare an event " that Nature 
had not deemed it worth her while to call out a 
counteracting instinct, mark you ; but here is a puzzle 
which has three branches : (i) she has, apparently, 
armed the woodpecker and coot with this instinct 
without any great call to do so — deposition of alien 
eggs in their nests being certainly "an exceedingly 
rare event ; " and she has not so armed many birds 
where there is assuredly the very greatest call : for (2) 
the deposition of cuckoos' eggs is not, either here or in 
foreign countries, "an exceedingly rare event" — 
whole species being much reduced on this very ac- 
count ; so that Mr. Romanes was either writing in 
ignorance, or writing so from design, helplessly. The 
problem remains : Why has Nature bestowed on 
certain birds so strong an instinct, which is seldom or 
never called into exercise, and refrained from bestow- 
ing it where, for preservation and increase even of 
the species, it was so much needed ; and (3) how is it 
that a few species of birds, more and more in all 
countries, have come, and are coming, to reject or to 
build over the cuckoo's egg ? 

148 Darwin and Ro))ianes dealt with. 

Nature, from the Romanes point of view, seems to 
be so very capricious that she has no laws at all — 
she arms birds with a strong instinct where, practi- 
cally, they don't need it — the deposition of a thrush's 
egg in a woodpecker's nest being, not comparatively, 
but absolutely, an " exceedingly rare event," and 
where they do much need it — the deposition of 
cuckoos' eggs in the nests of other birds being, by 
comparison here, not at all an " exceedingly rare 
event," she takes care to think it not worth while 
to arm them against it, or to allow them to learn 
anything by constant experience of injury to the 
species. In a word, Nature — too like, alas! to Jahve, 
the Hebrew god — is, according to Mr. Romanes, a 
playful, capricious bully and tyrant, full of favour- 
itism and of unreasonable dislikes — allowing some 
species to increase by wilfully depriving others that 
more minister to man's pleasure, of countervailing 
instincts, which she does not think it worth while to 
bestow, to develop, or to call out, because "it isn't 
worth her while." Mr. Romanes was a bit of a 
theologist : here he is so, too, and didn't know it. 

When, therefore, Mr. Romanes said that Nature, 
because of the rarity of deposition of cuckoo's eggs, 
had not thought it worth while to bring into play a 
counteracting instinct in the little birds, he was 
doubly wrong — wrong (i) as to the fact of the depo- 
sition of cuckoo's eggs being, " comparatively speak- 
ing, an exceedingly rare event ; " and wrong (2) as to 
the fact that Nature had not thought it worth while 
to call into play in victimised birds a counter-balancing 
instinct. And the question to be answered by ]\Ir. 
Romanes' friends and disciples now is, why Nature 

Dv. Russel Wallace s Law. 149 

has called into play this counter-balancing instinct in 
some few species and not at all in some others. If 
they will satisfactorily answer that, then we shall 
heartily thank them : till then we shall take leave to 
say, that so far as they follow their master, they but 
make " confusion worse confounded," by assuming 
certain things, and then, on the ground of these false 
and most groundless and ignorant assumptions — 
speaking categorically for Nature in her doings or not- 

And how does Dr. Russel Wallace reconcile this 
with his law, that useful variations tend to increase, 
and useless or hurtful to diminish ? 


The assumption, moreover, that parasitic deposits 
were so rare that it was not worth while for Mother 
Nature to generate a counteracting instinct to defeat 
them, is fully met and upturned by the facts we have 
just dwelt on ; and, besides that, the mystery here, 
by Romanes' suggestion, is only deepened : for, if 
Mother Nature has not deemed it worth while to 
bring in any counteracting instinct to defeat such 
parasitism, then she seems just here to have gone a 
shade too far in the direction of " survival of the 
fittest " — if fittest is indeed to mean anything else 
than '• survival of those that survive.'' " Fittest ! " 
How are you to discriminate and justify such pro- 
cedure here on your own ground ? Goethe put it 
clearly from his point of view : " Nature does not 
appear to be very scrupulous. She has a good fund 

150 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

of life to lavish, and she does so now and then with- 
out much hesitation. But how docs it happen that 
so many young singing birds are lost for a single young 
cuckoo ? " 

This suggests to us a very different notion from 
that of ^Ir. Romanes, who too boldly spoke for 
Mother Nature. Nature, on a broader reading, is 
perpetually contriving, by the ministry either of 
special families or special individuals of these fami- 
lies, to meet, modify, and defeat such plans as those 
of Mr. and Mrs. Cuckoo. The secret of deserted 
nests may often, in our idea, be found here. It is 
certain that not only do some species reject the eggs 
of the cuckoo, but that, more and more, certain in- 
dividuals of other species come to reject them, build 
them over, wrap them round wnth moss, etc., etc., 
and refuse to hatch them. See you, the balance of 
Nature is something, and is preserved in ways so 
subtle, that such assumptions as those of Mr. Romanes 
are at once very bold and very blind ; for, in our idea, 
in precisely other ways than that does Nature work. 
She is ceaselessly modifying, advancing ; showing by 
more gradual and subtle processes that species do 
awaken to the fact of non-production of their own 
kind through such practices as that of Mr. and Mrs. 
Cuckoo. And just look for a moment at this fact. 
The more that these cunning pairs in a district suc- 
ceed in victimising gullable birds, they reduce exactly 
in proportion their numbers in succeeding years ; so 
that they are then compelled more and more to have 
resource to more doubtful nests, or nests of those 
birds in which the counteracting instinct has been 
more fully awakened, and thus the balance is in some 

Why Ctcckoos' Eggs are heavy. 151 

degree kept even ; otherwise there would be no 
balance at all. The more easily duped birds would 
gradually decrease, or even be exterminated, and the 
cuckoos would so increase, that the inroads, even on 
doubtful birds, would go on apace. If there is any- 
thing in this, it might go some w^ay to account for the 
existence or the increase of unmatched eggs : account 
for the evidences in certain directions of the cuckoo's 
methods becoming more and more patent and observ- 
able — and account, too, for the very belated discovery 
in our country of the most remarkable points in the 
life-history of this most extraordinary bird. Thus, 
instead of there being any ground for Mr. Romanes' 
assumption, it is proved almost to demonstration that 
Nature is, as Goethe says, very lavish of life, but also 
very careful to preserve her balance : leading up to 
the conclusion that the results of true study of her 
are exactly in the teeth of such statements as that of 
Mr. Romanes now specially under notice, and some of 
those even of Mr. Darwin. 

Yet Mr. Romanes, as we have seen, actually says 
that, " with the one doubtful and not sufficiently in- 
vestigated exception — that of cuckoos adapting the 
colour of their eggs to that of the eggs of the foster- 
parents — there is nothing connected with these in- 
stincts that presents any difficulty to the theory of 
evolution." Surely, there is at least this one other, 
referred to most unreservedly by Dr. Bowdler Sharpe 
— the cuckoo now lays an egg which, compared with 
that of other birds, is of but a quarter the size that 
it should be, though it is, compared with other eggs 
of the same size, heavy. How is this, and how has 
it been brought about ? Did the bird always lay 

152 Darwin and RoDiaiies dealt ivitJi. 

such an eg^ even when in those days its habits were 
like those of its American congeners ? If not, how 
did it come to effect such an extraordinary change as 
to get rid of three-fourths the area of an egg without 
any the least injury to the vitality or to the size of 
the young bird that is to come from it ? That is 
quite as remarkable a point as anything about it, and 
raises a problem exactly analogous to that of colour- 
ation of eggs. If the reducing of the size of the eggs 
was a very, very gradual process, as under evolution 
it ought to be, how was it that small birds were, 
through ages, taken in with such a monster egg in 
comparison with their own — the more that even now, 
when the egg is so reduced in size and some at least 
vague effort made to vary colour to imitate other 
eggs, certain birds are apt to detect it, throw it out, 
or build it over so as not to hatch it ? Surely most 
birds have, some conception of size if they have 
not of colour ; besides this, to brood an egg of such 
dimensions would be hurtful and inconvenient for 
very small birds to sit on and to turn over, as they 
must at intervals turn all the eggs over. Such a size 
of egg, moreover, would militate against the hatching 
of certain of the smaller eggs at the proper time by, 
of course, causing the bird to sit too high above them 
to keep them all equally warm. Again, if birds — 
especially small birds — could be thus deceived with 
one egg of a natural size, or nearer to a natural size, 
for the cuckoo through long, long ages, what, then, 
was the necessity for reduction in size and efforts 
after contrasted colouration ? This would then be 
purely a waste of energy, and still is so. 

Or did the cuckoos of the ages far back go on re- 

Mr. Keartons Idea. 153 

ducing the size of their eggs slowly and yet them- 
selves brooding them till they had brought them to 
a certain point, and then began, "through the selec- 
tion of self-originating tricks," their process of para- 
sitism. This would, perhaps, be the most daring 
instance under evolutionary law of a clear and con- 
scious preparation, in view of succeeding at last in a 
practical way, " through the selection of self-originat- 
ing tricks " — the birds of the early time far-feeling 
forward to our later time, like prophets of infinitely 
more than Mosaic forecast. 

It must have been in one of either of these ways 
the change was effected, and we should be obliged to 
Mr. Grant Allen, as the most popular and facile of 
evolutionist expositors and illustrators, to tell us 
which it was. 

Mr. Kearton writes : 

" It is certain that the cuckoo lays more than one 
egg ; but, although naturahsts of good repute have 
mentioned the number as five, and others have been 
of opinion that even a larger number may be laid, 
there is, so far as I know, no reliable evidence to 
support either supposition. 

" I have never noticed that young cuckoos exceeded 
in numbers the old ones, in a given district where I 
was out of doors all day long, every day in the year, 
and many years together in unbroken succession. 
But, of course, the nuinber hatched could never repre- 
sent the munber laid, althoufrh the place to which I 
refer was singularly free from vermin and collectors."-'' 

If so, to what could the great disparity between 
eggs laid and eggs hatched be due ? Special causes 

* British Birds' Nests, p. 42. 

154 Danvi)L and Romanes dealt with. 

of some kind must operate to maintain so great a 
disproportion. In our idea it is the large numbers of 
birds — probably an increasing number — that turn out, 
build over or destroy the cuckoo's eg^^ and refuse 
to hatch it. By this the cuckoos are kept in check, 
otherwise they would soon dominate other birds al- 
together and decimate them. We see the same 
process in operation, in many ways, by which the 
balance of Nature is approachably maintained. This 
is another and a new light on Mr. Romanes' random 
and unfounded assertion that the deposition of a 
cuckoo's &gg must be *' comparatively such an ex- 
ceedingly rare event " that it was not worth while for 
Nature to develop counteracting instincts. 

Unless by one or other agency of this sort, it is 
evident that we should find some more definite relic 
of these eggs that come to nothing.''- 


Another point of vast importance, which certainly 
neither Mr. Darwin nor Mr. Romanes in the least 
faced, is this, that wherever you find a disproportion 

* Gilbert White, in his letters to Daines Barrington, had 
already questioned the statement that the cuckoo lays only one 
egg and proposed to examine the ovarium so as to settle the 

Jenner found precisely what Gilbert White had expected — 
that the ovary of the cuckoo was exactly like a hen's ovary • 
with eggs in all stages, and he concluded, as White said he 
would do, if the fact were so, that the cuckoo laid a great 
number in each year.— Creighton's Jenner and Vaccination, pp. 
12 and 13. 

Disproportion of Sexes. 155 

of the sexes, marked and permanent, involving such 
an excess of males as we find among the cuckoos, 
you have one of the most efficient tendencies to re- 
duction of the species. The species, then, can only 
survive by some extraordinary means resorted to by 
the females — a thing which has exactly happened 
with the cuckoos, as also, we shall yet see, with the 
American cow-birds. This extraordinary thing is, 
in their case, the deposition of eggs in other birds' 
nests, and the instinct in their young to turn out the 
eggs or legitimate young from the nests where they 
may be, to have fullest guarantee they shall be fed 
and tended. In no case of birds which I have kept 
in confinement, and have got to breed, is there on the 
part of the hen any desire for intercourse after one 
half of her eggs are laid. Most carefully she avoids 
this, and is wholly unmoved in this direction by any 
demonstrations of the cock to which he sometimes 
will yield himself, only then to be firmly put aside by 
the hen. This is, in conformity with a great law, that 
after full conception, coition in any form is not bene- 
ficial to the progeny, or may not be, and in nature 
the law in this respect is very obtaining — the instinct 
on the part of the females being absolute in rejecting 
all sexual advances. The hornbill cock, when he 
builds in his mate the moment she begins to brood 
by plastering up the hole of the nest with clay, leav- 
ing just enough space for his bill to introduce food to 
her, erects a real barrier to intercourse, but that is 
only a shadow of a yet more real law. Certain of 
the ducks — more especially the eider ducks and their 
allies — when the females begin to brood, depart and 
take to fresh feeding grounds on the coast or in the 
straits between the islands. 

156 Darw'ui and Roiuajics dealt with. 

Promiscuity, carried beyond a very definite point, 
everywhere is adverse to fertility. So far as practice 
or experiment can be called in to aid us here, it is 
absolutely confirmatory. The rabbit is one of the 
most fertile of creatures ; but is so fertile because it 
is so observant of this rule. Here is a proof of it, 
as far as proofs can be got in such matters as these ; 
when we are concerned with wild creatures more 
especially. One method of exterminating rabbits, 
which is said to be found highly successful, is to trap 
as many as possible, kill off all the does that are 
caught, and let the bucks loose. " The results of 
this mode of operation are that the male rabbits, as 
soon as they begin to predominate in numbers, per- 
secute the females with their attentions, and prevent 
them from breeding. They also kill the young rabbits 
that happen to be born, and even, as Mr. Rodier 
asserts, when they largely predominate in numbers, 
worry the remaining does to death." ■''• 

By the way, notice here in animal life, that excess 
of males, or polyandrous promiscuity, is not only 
adverse to progeny by arrest of conception, but is 
favourable to infanticide. 

Now, in the case of the cuckoo, it really seems as 
though we have an exception to this great law^ of 
Nature. The stimulus to the rejection of the male 
advances by the hen is the attraction to brooding. 
The cuckoo does not brood, therefore it has no pause 
of this kind to the desire for contact with the male. 
If under contact wdth many males it goes on un- 
interruptedly laying eggs, this, having regard to all 

* Nature, vol. xxxix, p. 493, quoted by Coe in " Nature versus 
Natural Selection." 

Destruction of Cuckoos' Eggs. i^y 

the facts, is an argument for a large number of eggs 
in a season ; for, granting this, there is no reason 
why it should not have a dozen or twenty eggs a 
season just as easily as five. Unlike birds that brood, 
it has no temptation at a definite point to reject male 
advances, and a vast body of fact goes to prove that 
it does not : laying eggs soon after it arrives, in the 
very beginning of May, and continuing to lay eggs up 
to close on the 29th July, within a few days of its 
leaving. The risk the eggs have to run is very great 
— many must be lost, many are dropped in places 
where they can't be hatched, no doubt, because the 
hens have not found suitable nests ready for their 
deposition. The young cuckoos, from the very long 
period of their helplessness and inability to feed 
themselves after fledging, must suffer greatly from 
birds of prey and other causes. If Mr. Darwin could 
speak thus of eggs of birds which go through the 
normal process of nesting and brooding, how much 
must it apply to the case of eggs of the cuckoo com-- 
mitted to the care of others or laid carelessly on open 
spaces : 

" The real importance of a large number of eggs 
or seeds is to make up for much destruction at some 
period of life ; and this period, in the great majority 
of cases, is an early one. . . If many eggs or 
young are destroyed, many must be produced, or the 
species will become extinct." " 

Clearly, there is great destruction of cuckoos' eggs, 
and, from Mr. Darwin's argument, there must be 
many produced. Dr. Russel Wallace's idea of the 
immense destruction of birds' eggs and young in 

* Origin of Species, p. 52. 

158 Danc'in and Romanes dealt 7C'itIi. 

normal cases, leads us justifiably to infer that it must 
be yet greater in the cuckoo's case. 

Consideration of these points from this line of fact 
and reasoning removes again the problem of the 
cuckoo entirely from time and pressure of migratory 
instinct, as Darwin and Romanes, following Jenner, 
put it, to the influence of promiscuity or polyandry 
(nearly allied), combined with the non-brooding and 
non-pause, strictly speaking, with regard to sexual 
intercourse. This is the line which further study 
of the cuckoos, to be really fruitful, everywhere must 
take ; and by it the empty notion of Mr. Romanes, 
" that the deposition of a cuckoo's egg is compara- 
tively an exceedingly rare event," will, unless we are 
all mistaken, be found one of the most baseless things 
ever written by a wise and clever man. 

And then, for a moment, glance at one sentence 
from the pen of Dr. Russel Wallace : 

" It is, as we commenced by remarking, a ' struggle 
for existence,' in which the weakest and least per- 
fectly organised must always succumb." '■■' 

Well, now, just look at the small birds and the 
cuckoo. Is there discrimination there — any what- 
ever ? If there is on the part of the adult cuckoos, 
it is for the strong parents, all fitted to be very active 
and to feed their greedy child ; but the proper pro- 
geny of the foster parents all go, and the assump- 
tion from the discrimination would be that they were 
of this bird " fittest to survive." The young cuckoos 
often survive ; are they the " fittest " over these 
strong small birds ? — which, by the way, are not here 

* Contr. to Natiirul Selection, p. i^. 

Shrunk up Males. 159 

the weakest and least perfectly organised in the sense 
Dr. Russel Wallace alone can mean. 

It is very remarkable that Professor Van Beneden 
(see Animal Parasitism, p. 71), so far as we can 
understand him, actually notes the fact that pro- 
miscuous polyandry in certain parasitic worms and 
insects leads to something of the same result : the 
shrinking away of the males to a mere sexual organ, 
which again shrinks away ; the multiplication of 
males taken under special protection of the female, 
which, if they become burdens to her, she only resorts 
to more effective devices to maintain and aid them — 
leading to wonderful development of the females. The 
following passage certainly seems to point this way : 

"The whole family of the Abdominalia, a name 
proposed by Darwin, if I am not mistaken," (but now 
superseded and disused) " have the sexes separate ; 
and the males, comparatively very small, are attached 
to the body of each female. It is a case of poly- 
andria, w^hich we see realised in the Scalpellum. 
Darwin made known the existence of supplementary 
males, so small and so little developed, that they are 
with difficulty discovered ; and so badly are they 
provided with organs, that they have neither those 
of motion, nor a stomach to digest." 

Is this then a case of survival of the fittest, or is it 
not ? The males really reduced to shrunk up organs 
— have they survived as the fittest ? 

i6o Danaiii and Romanes dealt witJi. 


With regard to the second half of the passage from 
Mr. Darwin's Origin of Species, it really, while pro- 
fessing wholly to solve the problem, practically leaves 
it untouched. The difficulty most closely presses on 
this very point which Mr. Darwin slips over in the 
lightest possible manner ; not deigning at all to deal 
with it. And the question is this : whether, result- 
ing from definitely traceable changed external cir- 
cumstances, or from slightly modified function, or 
both acting together or reacting on each other — the 
American cuckoos do now, as Mr. Darwin presumes 
the ancient progenitor of our European cuckoo did, 
occasionally lay an egg in another bird's nest. No 
help is gained by saying that other birds occasionally 
— (as in the case of pheasants laying in partridges' 
nests, etc.) — lay eggs in other birds' nests, because in 
none of these cases do we have any marked or even 
noticeable tendency to any progress whatever in the 
same direction as the European cuckoos have, on his 
theory, taken. The analogy, therefore, completely 
breaks down at the point where it should be strongest, 
and is, in fact, no analogy at all. The most marked 
point about our cuckoos is the smallness of the eggs. 
The non-parasitic American cuckoos, as he somewhat 
maladroitly tells, lay full-sized eggs ; but if they 
have for ages occasionally laid eggs in other birds' 
nests, and are moving on the way to fixed habit in 
this respect, the eggs should already be a trifie less 
than full sized. 

And this point does not receive the attention we 

The Molothrns Family. i6i 

had a right to expect it would receive, either from 
Mr. Darwin or Mr. Romanes, as regards the Molo- 
thrns, an American species aUied to our starhngs, 
which have parasitic habits Hke those of the cuckoo. 
The Molothrns houariensis lays so many eggs in alien 
nests that it is hardly possible many of them can be 
hatched. These birds have the extraordinary habit 
of pecking holes in the eggs of the foster-parents to 
ensure that their own young shall be reared — a habit 
which some observations would lead us to believe our 
cuckoos sometimes practise, if an egg of theirs is laid 
in the nest of a bird whose young is large and might 
be too strong for the young cuckoo to turn out. 
Molothrns precins never lays more than one egg in a 
foster-nest, so that the young bird is securely reared. 
What a satisfaction it would have been to know how, 
as to size, the eggs of the various families of Molo- 
thrns stood to each other ; but men like Mr. Darwin 
and Mr. Romanes, if they satisfy themselves about 
important practical points like these, they certainly 
do not manage to satisfy us very often, indeed. Per- 
haps that is because we have dwelt too long on one 
special and particular subject ; but that should only 
gain for us from their followers something like sym- 
pathy and appreciation. 

"By a continued process of this nature," says Mr. 
Darwin, " I believe that the strange instinct of our 
cuckoo has been formed." Yes, but as, according to 
him, the American cuckoos remain, as regards this 
habit, merely occasional and aberrant depositors of 
eggs in other birds' nests, what is the element that in 
our cuckoos determined their passage from this aber- 
rancy — even if we admit it — to definite, sustained, 

l62 Darw'ui and Ronia)it's dealt witJi. 

and most systematic parasitism in this very excep- 
tional and peculiar form ; or, at what point may it be 
set down that the occasional and aberrant habit has 
become what he all too boldly calls " the stran^^e in- 
stinct." I regard this phrase as in itself very un- 
happy — and, in fact, un-Darwinian. A progress from 
an occasional and aberrant habit of this kind very 
gradually advancing and increasing, because of what 
he really dwells on as observations of, and reflections 
on, the benefit derived from it, mark you, not only to 
the elder cuckoos themselves, but to their young 
ones, are most decidedly separate and conscious acts 
of reason and comparative judgment of the finest 
kind — acts of reason, such as, when we find them 
paralleled by men in trade or commerce, we have no 
hesitation in designating by another name than 
"strange instinct." Instinct in this kind should be 
in a general way unerring ; but this does not by any 
means apply to the conduct of the cuckoo, which, 
looked at from many points, exhibits all the mistakes 
and errors which Dr. Russel Wallace, dealing with 
several points about birds, declares to be really a 
failure of reasoning power, exactly as in the case of 
men. We could give no end of instances of this, 
and will do so if challenged. Nor does Mr. Darwin 
even glance at such cases of clearly exceptional and 
mis-calculated indulgence as we find in those great- 
spotted cuckoos of Spain, where such a number of 
cuckoo's eggs were laid in the nests of the magpies. 
Clearly, there, a whole class overdoes it. If these 
young Spanish great-spotted cuckoos have anything 
in common with the rapacity of all other young 
cuckoos, there is not the slightest chance of, say. 

Mr. Darwin misses the point. 163 

eight cuckoos being fed by one pair of pies ; and, if 
they in this respect so very substantially differ from 
our cuckoos, then another problem arises as to the 
cause or reason of such an essential difference. 

These are but a few suggestions out of a whole 
list of difficulties that arose on us in reading Mr. 
Darwin's rather empty and ambitious passages in the 
eighth chapter of his Orifrin of Species (6th edition). 
We do not here proceed further in our list, but con- 
tent ourselves with repeating that, if Mr. Darwin 
had satisfied himself about the steps of the process 
he sets down as highly probable — a process which, 
mark you, gets wholly rid of one form of strongly 
inherited instmct, and by gradual steps, practise in 
which is, according to him, determined wholly by 
long continued observations and considerations of 
benefit at once to old ones and young, and had thus 
reached a wholly new method of life and propagation 
of the species — then, we hold that he was wholly 
wrong in summing up the result as a " strange in- 
stinct.'' In fact, he could hardly have been less dis- 
cerning, philosophic, and perspicuous than he is in 
this section of his eighth chapter of Origin of Species, 
where this was perhaps demanded more than perhaps 
anywhere else in all his writings. 


Mr. Headley, in a remarkable article in one of the 
quarterlies some years ago, laid it down that, "as a 
rule," it is among polygamous species that we find 
the bird-combatants most desperate, and the antics 
the most elaborate. The courage and ferocity of the 

164 Darwin and Romanes dealt with. 

game-cock is proverbial, he said, by way of short 
iUustration. Now, this points the way to a pecuHar 
physiological fact : polygamy in the lower creatures 
tends to develop the sexual organs of the male, 
whereas polyandry among them tends to arrest the 
development of these organs — to lessen them and to 
cause after long lapse of time, a kind of shrinking 
away. This is most decidedly the case with our 
cuckoos ; it is, so far as I can learn, the case with the 
American and other foreign cuckoos ; it is the case 
with all varieties of the Molothrus species. It is the 
case with certain worms and insects, according to 
Professor Semper and Professor Van Beneden, as we 
have just seen. The polyandrous birds do not, so far 
as I can find out, indulge in the combats that the 
polygamous birds more especially tend to do ; the re- 
duction of the organs allaying passion and making 
them content to share favours ; suggesting the ques- 
tion whether in the case of birds, the males of which 
do now still fight, they had not at one time been poly- 
gamous, and that changes and influence of a special 
kind had not so equahsed the sexes as to make poly- 
gamy longer impossible. We know, for example, 
that ground-sitting females are more exposed to 
danger of various kinds than the males are : and this 
may be an element in it : the change of nest either in 
place or in form is largely due to the risk and danger 
that had arisen on the sitting bird, as in the case 
clearly of some of the weaver-birds and others we 
might refer to. The almost apparently arbitrary 
adoption of domed nests by magpies and jays may 
also have to do with this — the prevention of dispro- 
portion in the sexes. 

Propagation and Longevity. 165 

This matter, as bearing on our subject, may well 
demand a little more attention and illustration. The 
slightest influence affecting the sexual parts speedily 
affects the whole body — more especially those por- 
tions of the body which set forth the signs of sexual 
desire, appetite, or strength. Haeckel says : 

" Every change in the sexual organs powerfully 
reacts on the rest of the body ; so, on the other hand, 
every important change in another part of the body 
must necessarily more or less react on the sexual 
organs. This reaction will, however, only in many 
cases become perceptible in the formation of the off- 
spring which arises out of the changed generative 
parts." '■ 

Haeckel also speaks of " certain influences which 
act upon the male organs of propagation only, and 
affect the structure of the male descendants ; and, in 
like manner, other influences, which act upon the 
female organs of propagation only, and manifest their 
effects only in the change of structure of the female 
descendants. This remarkable phenomenon is still 
very obscure, and has not as yet been properly in- 
vestigated." t 

There can be no doubt, further, that length of life 
is largely dependent on certain restrictions, if one 
may say so, of the sexual indulgence, viewed in 
certain aspects — that, in fact, the rule with regard to 
various lower forms of animals, that the moment of 
reproduction is also the moment of death, in a modi- 
fied way, still largely prevails through nature. Dr. 
Ray Lankester has made a great deal of this principle 

* History of Creation, i, p. 247. 
f History of Creation, i, p. 230. 


l66 Darwin and Romanes dealt witli. 

in his admirable and able book on Lonf^evity. He 
points out that a very large number of organisms die 
at once on reproduction, " by the rapid abstraction 
of the matter of life contained in the eggs and sperm 
— Protozoa, insects and annual plants." Traces of 
the same law are to be found in much higher ranks 
of existence, and among highly differentiated creatures 
— in fact, the higher you go in this, the more illustra- 
tions you find. For example, as Dr. Lankester puts 
it, " Among birds, smaller broods go with a greater 
longevity." He finds the same thing, to a certain 
extent among fishes ; writing : 

" In fishes, which give personal attention to young, 
the bulk and number of young are immensely reduced. 
The pipe-fish (which carries its young in a pouch, and 
the tube-mouth, which does the same — only the 
father in the one case, and the mother in the other) — 
the Hippocampus and Arius of the Amazons. He 
also finds corroboration of the principle in mules and 

I ^ cut animals, which confirm the hypothesis that 

I I generative expenditure antagonises longevity." '•' 

It is the same among certain of the parasitic 
worms. Van Beneden says, in addition to what we 
have already noted : 

" Between the true hermaphrodites and the true 
diaecious worms are found species in which the males 
gradually dwindle and become dependent on the 
female ; this is to be seen in the Sphenilaricc, among 
which the male is only an appendage to the female 
sex. We find here full evidence of the fact that the 
female is inore important than the male ivith regard to 
the preservation of the species. In some species the 

* Longevity, p. 76. 

The Stickleback. 167 

sexes differ but little ; in others the sexual differences 
become greater, and the male is only one-third the 
length of the female, but in some of them the dispro- 
portion is greater still. At the same time, we see 
nematodes where males are attached to the females, 
so as to appear to form only one single individual ; 
m other cases the male seems to disappear to such an 
extent that we find nothing but the male organ in the 
female ; indeed there are instances of male worms 
which, without changing their form, occupy the cavity 
of the matrix, and, like the learnean crustaceans, are 
parasites of their females." ■■'■ 

Reproduction in certain circumstances shortens life. 

" The American aloe reproduces and dies in about 
five years in Mexico ; in England it elaborates leaves 
for a hundred years before flowering. Again, the 
axolotl reproduces in warm Mexico as a branchiferous 
amphibian ; in colder climates its fertility is dimin- 
ished, it becomes salamandroid before reproducing, 
thus lengthening life by delaying genesis.'" t 

Then, for another instance, take the stickleback : 
he is a great fighter, armed and plumed and mailed 
cap a pie, and this because he is a determined poly- 
gamist — he is perhaps the most plucky lighter of all 
fishes — the more he fights the more colour he gets, 
as though into him passed all the hues of all the 
enemies he had conquered, and this because he must 
secure many wives, as many as stock fully his open- 
ended barrel-built nest with eggs. And the moment 
his fighting and breeding are ended he subsides into a 
commonplace little stickleback ; he waxes thin and 

* Parasitic Animals, p. 235. 

f Ray-Lankester's Longevity, p. 85. 

i68 Darivin and Ronia)i€s dealt with. 

limp and practically dies off for a while — only at the 
proper season to renew his brilliancy and, as it were, 
his youth. 

There has been a great deal of discussion about 
the cause or causes of the malformations of horns in 
deer. Mr. Tom Speedy having pointed out that, 
after maturity in the twelfth or thirteenth year, the 
antlers gradually fall off in size and appearance, he 
proceeds to account for the excessive size of the 
antlers in certain breeds or herds by saying that no 
doubt high feeding is the cause, as they are never 
met with so large in the wild state. He also con- 
cludes that the malformation of antlers, single or 
unicorn in some cases, at different angles in others, 
and in yet others, one antler growing normally and 
the other growing downward, may generally be trace- 
able to close breeding or to former wounds. We 
should say that the former is the cause, pointing to 
modification of the sexual organs. It is well known 
that in castrated animals the horns wholly cease to 
appear or are of the most rudimentary character. 

Mr. Parker Gilmore found among the stags of 
Vancouver Island many with malformed antlers, and 
this he accepted as an unquestionable proof that their 
surroundings were not exactly such as nature intended 
them to enjoy."- Questions about deer and bearings 
of points in their life-history here, will be treated 
more fully by me in another volume. We, for our 
part, have no doubt that the unsuitability of the sur- 
roundings directly affected the sexual organs of which 
the malformation of the horns was but a sign. 
Haeckel has noticed a peculiar point about the 

* Speedy, p. 259. 

/;/ favour of Long Life. . 169 

water-salamanders or tritons, which, Hke frogs in 
youth, possess gills. They leave the water, lose their 
gills and develop lungs. If they are prevented from 
leaving the water, they do not lose their gills. The 
gills remain and the water salamander continues 
through life in the same condition as its lower rela- 
tions, the gilled salamanders, which attain their full 
size and sexual development, and reproduce without 
losing their gills. '•' 

The reduction of virile power in the cuckoo males, 
so that they consent to share the favours of the 
female ; and the lessening or shrinking — in one of the 
ovaries (as proved by the production of eggs so much 
smaller than the eggs of other birds and out of all 
proportion to size) would, on this line of argument, be 
in favour of long life in the individual cuckoos ; and 
on this point there is much room for careful observa- 


And on what true scientific ground can Mr. 
Romanes say that the habit of the thrush in taking 
snails to stones to break the shells, and the flying up 
of crows and gulls with shell-fish to drop them on 
rocks or stones so as to smash the shells, " must orig- 
inally have been intelligent actions purposely designed 
to secure the ends attained," f and then deny that 
originally the habit of the young cuckoo to turn out 
the true occupants of the nest was a " truly intelligent 
action purposely designed to secure the ends attained." 

* Haeckel's History of Creation, i, p 241 
"Y Aiiivial Intelligence, p. 283. 

170 Darw'ni and Romanes dealt with. 

Here the action was as direct as any action could be 
to secure the end desired, though it is very evident 
that it was an action right in face of some strong 
antecedent instinct which prevailed when, like certain 
of the young of the American cuckoos, ours were 
brooded, as they now are. The origin of the action of 
the young cuckoo could no more have been merely 
automatic or reflex action than the above actions of 
the thrushes, and crows, and gulls ; seeing that it 
must — since the species flourished — have come into 
use precisely so as nearly to synchronise with actions 
on the part of the old ones — which on no theory 
whatever could you call instinctive, any more than 
the habit of the thrush in carrying snails to stones to 
break the shell, or the flying up of crows and gulls to 
drop shell-fish on rocks or stones to crack the shells. 
If this act in its beginning had not synchronised with 
the precedent acts of the elders, the cuckoos would, 
probably, have been extinct. So that here, not only 
have you a definite act, to all appearance possible only 
to reason and traversing one of the strongest and most 
prevailing of all instincts, but corresponding acts on 
the part of the young birds, without which the ante- 
cedent acts of the adults would have wholly failed and 
could not have been eff"ective for their end. Here is 
a case of effort scarcely ever failing by a whole class 
directed to secure a most definite end — or couple of 
ends — self-preservation first and the perpetuation of 
the species afterwards — which certainly could not 
have originated in the process Mr. Darwin holds by — 
*' through the selection of self-originating tricks.'' 
Mr. Grant Allen at one place italicises these words as 
giving in brief the main origin of instinct in wild 

Instinct — its meaning. 171 

creatures ; and I should be exceedingly glad to know 
from him, if under this he includes the throwing out 
of the proper nestlings by the young cuckoos or 
excepts it, placing it among efforts of intelligence ; 
and, after he has given his answer definite and clear I 
shall, perhaps, have a further question or two to put 
to him, if he will kindly allow me. 

We are, meanwhile, in absolute agreement with 
Professor St. George Mivart, who writes in his essay ^ly^^ 
on instinct : 

"It is plain that actions may be instinctive in one 
animal and not in another, or at one period of lite in 
the same animal and not at another." 

And we agree with him that the pretending to be 
hurt, and fluttering about as though helpless and 
even feigning death on the part of many birds and 
insects, cannot be explained satisfactorily either on 
the ground of instinct or of inherited habit any more 
than certain purposive actions in insect-neuters that 
do not propagate can be fairly so explained. 

Instinct^ as used to cover or to account for certain 
changes and adaptations in the lower creatures, is 
utterly inept and, what is worse, directly misleading. 
Take, for example, the case of the baya bird of India 
which hangs its pendulous dwelling from a projecting 
bough, twisting it with grass into a form somewhat 
resembling a bottle with a prolonged neck, the en- 
trance being inverted so as to baffle the approaches 
of its enemies, the tree-snakes and other reptiles ; 
and, yet more than that, in view of other enemies, 
inserts fire-flies in the clay about it to warn them off. 
Or, further and more striking still, the case of some 
of the South African weaver-birds, the taha, and 

172 Dar-iC'in (Did Rommcs dealt with. 

others, which, having been much persecuted by tree- 
cUmbing snakes taking their eggs from an open nest 
on a tree as with the baya bird, fell to building a 
nest, hung by a kind of long fibres from an aloe leaf 
from a bough overhanging a stream, and within a 
foot of it, and now so constructed the nest that it had 
to be entered from below ; the nest really being at 
the far-end of a short passage, and so balanced that 
the eggs and young would only weigh it enough to 
make it hang really even— that is, before they come, 
the opening or mouth of the nest drooping at a kind 
of slant, and when they do come it hangs even or 
almost even. 

We have nests in so far of the same general char- 
acter in the case of the Sitarya ocularis of Bathurst, of 
which there is a fine specimen presented to the South 
Kensington Museum by Dr. Kendall, and yet another, 
the nest of the weaver-bird of Uganda ; or another 
still, in the very variable suspended bottle-nest of the 
grey warbler of New Zealand, as figured in Sir W. 
L. Buller's handbook. 

A further and most striking instance is that of the 
Leipoa ocellata of AustraHa, which systematically 
places its eggs to be hatched by heat of fermentation 
in the centre of a vast mound of leaves, and mould, 
and dust, yards square— the young ones forcing their 
way out of the mound when hatched, without the 
least help from the parents. Mr. John Gould has 
given full descriptions of this bird and its habits in 
Introduction to Birds of Australia, Ixxiii, where 
drawings of the mound and nest are also presented. 
There is here the same correspondence between the 
nest-building of the parents and the instinct given to 

A Splendid Act of Reason. 173 

the young to force their way out, as in the young 
cuckoos turning out the true young, to carry forward 
the old one's deposition of eggs. Judging from ana- 
logy, in none of these cases was this the first and 
original nest of the bird ; but a nest that was at a 
definite point hit on by these various species, to meet 
enemies and to overcome difficulties that threatened 
the very existence of the species. The truth is, all 
these ingenious and resourceful nests are but proofs 
of a process of high differentiation. 

Now, here you have something in which instinct, 
however strong and however strange, could not, at 
first, at all events, have aided these creatures. Once 
these ingenious hang nests and mound nests were 
made, of course, and had continued to be made for 
generations, the making of them would in so far pass 
into something more of mere hereditary gift, but cer- 
tainly not that solely or absolutely. The species that 
had individuals who could show such power of in- 
vention, resource, and reasoning, in the process of 
adapting structure of nests to needs due to changed 
conditions ; and besides tfiat, in the case of the 
Leipoa, had made veritable heat do the work of sitt- 
ing, so as to defy the powers and resources of enemies 
threatening actually the existence of the species, had 
within them, latent, the same powers, still to be 
educed again in circumstances equally threatening 
the existence of the class. The moment (and it is 
inevitably the thing of one moment) of the passage 
from an ordinary twig or branch -supported nest in a 
tree, to a hang nest over the water, with an object, is 
a moment that celebrates a splendid act of reason. 

The eggs of the Leipoa ocellata, again, are so fine 

174 Dane ill and Roma lies dealt 7vith. 

and brittle, that, very possibly, if they had continued 
to be brooded, the species would have suffered through 
eggs broken and wasted in the. effort of the brooding 
bird to turn them over — as partially, at all events, 
brooded eggs must be, to get any approach to equal 
heat at all parts from the sitting bird's body. In the 
mound the heat is equalised all over, or reaches a 
near approach to this ; so that you have the problem 
either (i) of eggs too brittle for brooding and ex- 
position in an open nest ; or (2), the problem of eggs 
having become so because for ages the birds have 
exposed them to the mound heat, and not sat upon 
them. Which is it ? Mr. Grant Allen does not bring 
us much help, when in his " In Nature's Workshop," 
in The Strand Magazine, 1899, he said, clearly 
believing that mound-birds were found only in Aus- 
tralia, that here we have an early form of bird that 
had " not advanced beyond the crocodilian level " of 
leaving its eggs in the sand to be hatched by heat ! 

But, in our idea, indeed, it is in the study of such 
adaptations and variations that the real attraction of 
natural history lies to the true student, redeeming it 
constantly from anything like a vast and dry know- 
ledge of dead things, of mere stuffed specimens, 
which are of real value simply as they may directly 
or indirectly aid this. 

So precisely it is, in our idea, with the cuckoos — 
no instinct could at first have led the bird to drop its 
egg into another bird's nest — that was contrary to its 
instinct which was to lay its eg\r in a nest that it had 
built in a place that it had selected and prepared ; 
and the birds that had done so would, it is to be in- 
ferred, accomplish as great a change again were they 

Not Instinct — Reasoning Power. 1 75 

threatened from other and very different causes with 
extinction. This is exactly in the Hne of Mr. Dar- 
win's own '* survival of the fittest ; " but the " fittest " 
precisely by the possession of an order of powers 
that at the right moment come into play and lift it 
clean above its own earlier dominating instincts, 
strictly viewed. The same thing might in many 
ways be shown in the case of swallows and house- 
martins, as we have already dwelt upon them. 

Dr. Russel Wallace, after a survey of such facts as 
these, decides, and we are not surprised at the 
decision, that " The mental qualities exhibited by 
birds in the construction of their nests are the same in 
kind as those manifested by mankind in the formation 
of their dwellings." 

Of course, it has been well pointed out by Dr. 
St. George Mivart and others that "survival of the 
fittest " from one point of view means nothing — 
means only "survival of those that survive" — here 
we have something that puts a meaning into the 
phrase, when we find that new or latent powers have 
been called into play to promote the continuance, 
Avell-being and increase of the species. 

Dr. Russel Wallace gave some excellent arguments 
from the wise and skilful adaptations of birds to 
changes in the materials and structure of men's 
houses as, for example, the changes resorted to 
in England at a definite time by the swallows on the 
adoption of brick or stone houses, instead of wood 
that had been held by for centuries, as well as from 
their stupidity and failures ; and here he had to say 
that in these cases it was failure not of instinct but 
of reasoning power. Darwin's disciples are great 

176 Daru'hi and Romanes dealt with. 

guessers — they are full of " probablys," " might he's," 
"may he's," "must he's," and so on, and don't draw 
distinctions they easily might do, were they not pre- 
occupied and prejudiced, in the old fashioned and 
less unworthy sense of it. 

Darwin himself is not guiltless of the same ill ten- 
dency as his imitators have cultivated to so dangerous 
an extent, as when he writes, at p. 210, Origin of 
Species (6th edition): "The act of pointing probably 
is as many have thought, only the exaggerated pause 
of an animal preparing to spring on its prey." The 
" probably is," and the " many have thought," are 
really very characteristic here. The " probably is," 
so naively backed up with the loose " thinking " or 
supposing of the " many," that really from our great 
observer and man of science and evolutionist, it is, 
as Artemus the witty says, a darn site too much in 
the way of supposition — supposition by supposition, 
and put down as if it might blossom into scientific 
fact itself. 


Is then the doctrine of "survival of the fittest" to 
be regarded as illustrated in cuckoos that reduced 
the size of their eggs by one means or another? I, 
for one, can hardly think it. First of all, it is clear — 
clear as noonday — that the process was gradual ; very 
gradual. The cuckoos in these early days, while 
still laying larger eggs, survived ; else we should not 
have such large families of them now. They sur- 
vived, and since a beginning must have been made 
in laying eggs in other birds' nests, and they sue- 

Explanation of Sex-disproportion. 177 

ceded so well, it seems almost a waste of means to 
proceed as far as they have done in reducing the size 
of the eggs. It seems indeed a waste, and worse, 
unless the Darwinians will admit that, by the more 
elaborate process, they have done more tlian survive 
—that is, have gained some additional element of 
enjoyment, ease or leisure. It does not seem that 
this is the case with our cuckoos fcanorusj ; they 
are more pressed and put to it than almost any other 
bird, and have sacrificed wholly that joy of brooding, 
which seems the one taste of heaven for most other 
birds, and also strictly the joys of true courtship and 
mating. Besides, other cuckoos, and some of them 
of larger make, succeed equally well, thoug:h .their 
eggs remain the natural size, or size proportioned to 
that of the bi^d. And what, if in the severe pro- 
cess of nature in modifying the oviduct, and, in- 
deed, the whole system, especially of the female bird 
— robbing her of the joys of true mating, brooding, 
etc. — you ha\e the explanation of the great dispro- 
portion in number of the sexes that we see in our 
common cuckoos now, so very marked and extra- 
ordinary, that, instead of mating, there is promiscuitv; 
instead of sequential seasonal companionship, there is 
polyandry ; and, instead of brooding and rearing 
young, sheer parasitism and imposture. Survival of 
the fittest I ^^'ell, yes, but here it lands you in a 
quandary. The males have more survived than the 
females, who most deserved to survive, as having 
undergone the greatest functional change in order of 
it. At least in the proportion of four to one, on my 
low^est reckoning, from observations made ; of seven 
to one on my highest : so that your " survival of the 

1^8 Davw'ni and Ronimws dealt with. 

fittest," if it is to proceed along the same course as it 
has already done, will at last end, mark you, in no 
survival at all — female cuckoos of our common species 
will have died out. Will that then be claimed by you 
as the final victory of your survival of the fittest, 
when even the fittest, under stress of the application 
of your own principles, have vanished — vanished 
utterly ? If the fittest of one species that alone sur- 
vive are males, then you logically prove your case ; 
biologically, where are you ? You need, surely, very 
much to mend your definitions or your premises 
somehow ! The ragnarok of the cuckoos — the last 
band of the migrating males — come to this country 
for no purpose, or worse than no purpose, unaccom- 
panied with females, and doomed to wander over 
earth without "an object or an aim," >'ill be the final 
proof that, after all, '• survival of the fittest " uni- 
versally obtains, though whole races are without the 
fittest or the fit, despite that they have shown such 
resources, put such a strain on themselves in depart- 
ing from normal principles of nature, that they died — 
died, mark you — by the very efforts which, according 
to you, if you have any basis at all, should have made 
them survive and increase ! Where the " fittest " 
are all males, or gradually tend to be, you have 
surely reached the rcdnctio ad absiirdum of your 
theory, by proving the fittest, after all, the unfit. 

If the males have had no share whatever in the 
efforts that have led to the lessening of the egg, or to 
the colouring of it, and if " the remarkable instincc 
which leads some species of cuckoos and crow black- 
birds-'= to lay their eggs in the nests of other species 

*"Crow" is distinctly printed by Dr. Brooks here, but, of 
course, it should be fow-blackbirds. 

UnintentioJial Suicide. 179 

jiiHst have originated in the females,'"''- as one pro- 
nounced American follower and illustrator of Mr. 
Darwin's doctrines has asserted, have we not in these 
arguments an additional ground for adhering to our 
position indicated above that the fit go down and the 
unfit survive ? 

Nor can aid be got here by any suggestion that 
increase of males over females is due to thickness of 
eggshell, since the same will hold of that — the female 
producing it — and thus the fit, by their very fitness, 
are made contributory to their own decrease or ex- 
tinction, or a kind of involuntary, but not the less a 
real " natural selection," if unintentional, suicide ! ! 

Dr. Brooks in his " Law of Heredity," though in 
some respects a very decided follower of Darwin, 
after no end of experiments with animals in inter- 
breeding, and comparison of his results with those of 
others, reaches the general conclusion " that there is 
beyond and behind the action of ' selection,' some 
more deeply seated law, which determines that the 
males, shall as a rule be more modified than the 
females." t Now, it seems to us that our common 
cuckoo gives something which is not quite consonant 
with this : and we should be much obliged, should 
this writing ever reach the eye of Dr. Brooks, if he 
would give us his views on it. From what is seen 
above, certainly it is the fact that the female cuckoos 
undergo more modification in internal organ, and as a 
result, in functional activity than do the males, if it 
may be true that the males are more modified in mere 
outward aspect in view of certain necessities. It is 

* Brooks's Heredity, p. 241. 
tp. 218. 

l8o Darwin and Roiuaiies dealt luith. 

open to Dr. Brooks to say that this is an exceptional 
case wholly ; but we did not understand his expression 
above to apply to whole species as exceptions, but 
only to individuals or groups of individuals within the 
species ; and certainly as to cuckoos Dr. Brooks has 
himself in more than one point suggested this as 
regards the species ; yet, certainly in this case, the 
species as regards females show more of real and 
inward modification than the males. Can this possibly 
be a reason why the females decrease at such a rate 
or the males increase so rapidly ; and how does it 
stand in relation to Dr. Brooks' generalization given 
above ? 


Mr. Romanes writes : " From the first Darwin 
invited criticism to adduce a single instance, either 
in the vegetable or animal kingdom, of a structure or 
an instinct which should unquestionably be proved to 
be of exclusive use (or benefit) to any species other 
than the one presenting it. He even went so far as to 
say that if any one instance conld be shown he wonld 

surrender his whole theory on the strength of it 

" Now, as this invitation has been before the world 
for so many years, and has not yet been answered by 
any naturalist, we may by this time be pretty confi- 
dent that it never will be answered. How tremendous, 
then, is the significance of this fact in its testimony to 
Darwin's theory. . . . Therefore, I say, that this 
immensely large and general fact speaks with literally 
immeasureable force in favour of natural selection, as 

Singing Birds Sacrificed. l8i 

at all events one of the main causes of organic evolu- 
tion." ■■ 

Now, with the fact clear in our minds of the 
quandary in which Mr. Romanes found himself when 
he proposed the question, why Nature had not armed 
the small birds with counter-instincts as against that 
" strange and cruel instinct " of the cuckoo ; and was, 
poor man, compelled to the flimsy, and ill-founded 
consolation that nature had not done so, because 
" comparatively, the deposition of a cuckoo's egg was 
so exceedingly rare an event " that she had not 
deemed it worth her while to call in there a counter- 
acting instinct. Mr. Romanes certainly could not 
have had that fact in mind when he wrote as above in 
" Darwin and after Darwin." The case of the gullible 
and gulled little birds by the cuckoo is absolutely a 
case where an instinct — Mr. Darwin would call it " a 
misleading instinct " — actually makes for the absolute 
benefit of another species and not only that, but to 
the absolute destruction of the bird's own progeny 
and risk of extinction of the species. " Nature had 
not called in there," says Mr. Romanes, " a counter 
instinct ; " that is, had left the poor little birds with 
no instinct other than to serve the purposes of the 
cuckoo — an instinct not counter to that of the cuckoo, 
as Mr. Romanes put it, not nearly so adroitly as he 
might. From first to last, here is a case, where the 
instinct of the little birds not only benefits and is of 
use to the cuckoo, and is systematically used by it, 
but in the process their own progeny are ruthlessly 
sacrificed ; as Goethe says, forcibly, from half-a-dozen 
to a dozen singing birds sacrificed for one cuckoo ; for 

* Darwin and after Darwin, pp. 286-7. 

i82 Darw'ni and RoiJiaiies dealt with. 

the feeding of the aliens prevents a second brood. 
The instinct in these httle birds unquestionably proves 
to be of exclusive use and benefit for another species 
— the cuckoos. 

Mr. John Hancock tells that, in the course of his 
watching the young cuckoo turn out eggs and young 
of the foster-parents, the hen hedge-sparrow actually 
sat on the edge of the nest and uncoiiceniedly saw one of 
its own young sent over the side — a thing so counter 
to the common instinct that we can only assume a yet 
stronger instinct there brought into play — an instinct 
of which we can give no explanation — only clearly it 
is there. Air. John Craig remarks precisely to the 
same effect. We should indeed be glad if Dr. Russel 
Wallace could give such an explanation as we desire 

Mr. Tom Speedy tells {Craigniillar, p. 197) of a 
young cuckoo which was found by a gentleman, and 
taken home to form a pet. It was so voracious that 
he would have needed to give his whole time to hunt 
for insects, etc., for it. It was never satisfied. To 
get rid of it, he gave it to Mr. Dewar, naturalist, 
Edinburgh, who kept it on make-shift diet for a fort- 
night, when an enthusiastic lady naturalist, Mrs. 
Hoyes, of Skelmorlie, asked for it. She put the 
cuckoo into a large aviary, as she tells, where " a- 
mong many other birds, were American blue robins." 
She was surprised, when feeding it with meal worms, 
and accidentally dropping one, to see a little blue 
robin pick it up, and at once pop it into the cuckoo's 
mouth. She subsequently observed that the same 
bird fed it regularly, and showed fight to any other 
bird that dared to come near it. •' Instances have 

Mrs. Hoves' Blue Robin. 


occasionally been recorded," Mr. Speedy goes on, 
" of foster-mothers of cuckoos, in their wild state, 
starving themselves to death in their devotion to supply 
their gluttonous charge with food, when immediately 
a bird, sometimes of another species, would commence 
to provide for the young bird.'' These statements 
have naturally been accepted with reserve, but the 
case in point affords some corroboration of their 


Mrs. Hoyes wrote : 

" I don't know when I felt the loss of a pet more 
than I do the dear devoted blue nurse, which we 
found dead this morning. I do most thoroughly 
believe that the poor wee bird starved itself to death 
in trying to keep the cuckoo satisfied with food. I 
have seen it pick up three meal worms at once, when 
I threw it about a dozen, in the hope it might take 

184 Darwin and Roninius dealt witJi. 

one for itself; but no, e\ery one he scrambled for, 
went down the cuckoo's throat, never apparently 
swallowing one himself. Strange to say, one of the 
Cardinals (Pope, South America) has taken charge of 
the cuckoo, and is feeding it well." " Eventually," 
added Mr. Speedy, " it picked up its food for itself, 
and up till the end of October seemed to thrive, but 
on the night of the 30th of that month several de- 
grees of frost were encountered, and the following 
morning the lady wrote, ' I saw at once he was 
doomed, but his end was so gentle that he really 
seemed to sleep away.' " 

Dr. Russel Wallace's doctrine, that arguments from 
creatures under artificial conditions are not absolute 
as regards the same creatures in wild nature, may 
here apply, but assuredly this present case has the 
strictest analogy in " wild nature." I had oppor- 
tunity of watching a wren engaged in the hard 
task of feeding a young cuckoo. The cock bird not 
putting in an appearance, I supposed it had met with 
a mishap and been killed. The wren was actually 
starved by the efforts to satisfy the young cuckoo, 
and one morning, when happily I was observing, fell 
off the branch of a maple tree, dead — the stomach 
quite empty. Before very long (within three-quarters 
of an hour), the cries of the young cuckoo, which 
were incessant, very loud, and pitiful, brought a 
couple of meadow-pipits, who took on themselves 
the hard and ungrateful business of feeding the 

More than this, the above instance, given by INIr. 
Tom Speedy, supplemented by observations of my 
own, suffice to show that birds of various species 

At Headcorn. 185 

sacrifice themselves, even to death itself, for the 
young cuckoo, in such a manner as they are not 
required to do for their own offspring. And even 
when they survive the demands made upon them in 
feeding such a monster, late broods are made im- 
possible, and this must have, on all analogy, a detri- 
mental influence on the sexual organs. The instinct 
of these birds in this direction is therefore unmis- 
takeably one that is from first to last only injurious 
to themselves ; consequently destructive to them as 
a species, whilst to the cuckoo it is absolutely and 
entirely beneficial. Cases on cases might be cited 
here to prove that, not only do the small birds sacri- 
fice themselves for the cuckoos, but actually compete 
with each other for the " privilege." As we correct 
this proof we read in The Daily TeUf^raph the letter 
of a correspondent : 

" By the side of a farmhouse at Headcorn (Kent) a 
strange sight may be seen. Some time ago a young 
cuckoo was found in a lark's nest, and placed in a 
rabbit hutch. It was carefully fed by hand until a 
little wren was seen to pay periodical visits to the 
place, and feed the big cuckoo through the wire. 
The tiny bird still nourishes its big adopted child, and 
a more comical sight it would be hard to imagine 
than the large cuckoo flapping its wings with joy and 
opening its extensive beak to receive the food its 
' little mother ' drops into it." 

Really, were it not for their great names, such rea- 
soning as that of Mr. Darwin and Mr. Romanes on 
this matter — such ignorance, or ignoring of patent 
facts, and the going on, going on with fine words, as 
Mr. Romanes does above, in favour of a mere theory. 

l86 Darwin and Romanes dealt witli. 

would not be worth a moment's attention — not to say 
analysis and counter-argument. We said at the out- 
set of this section that Mr. Darwin found the cuckoo 
one of the most difficult creatures he had to tackle ; 
and we think we have proved it, and deserve the 
prize Mr. Darwin and Mr. Romanes were prepared 
to give to the man that would present a case where 
the instinct of one species is unquestionably proved 
to be of exclusive use to a species other than the one 
presenting it. But sometimes people are not grateful 
for having their demands supplied. We look for no 
reward, beyond the gratification of having done the 
work. Most assuredly this instinct is not in favour 
of the hedge-sparrow, wagtail, meadow-pipit, etc., 
etc., while it is as certainly in favour of the cuckoo. 
Mr. Romanes refers to cases " w^here a structure or 
an instinct is of primary benefit to its possessor, and 
then becomes of secondary benefit to some other 
species, on account of the latter being able in some 
way or other to utilise its action." But this most 
certainly cannot apply to the cuckoo and her victims 
— the primary and secondary benefit as well is all the 
cuckoo's, and benefit is ;/// for the victimised little 
birds, in the sense of use or benefit Mr. Darwin and 
Mr. Romanes can intend or imply ; and I shall look 
most eagerly for the explanations and glosses their 
friends, followers, apologists, and defenders will be 
able to put on this fact. I do trust they will be more 
scientific than poor Mr. Romanes' effort — wonderful 
effort of ingenuity — to account for no counter-instinct 
being implanted by Nature in the little birds, as 
against the cuckoo, because the deposition of a 
cuckoo's egg was " comparatively so exceedingly rare 

'' Struck Blind:' 187 

an event " that Nature had not thought it worth while 
to do anything ! After that, the friends and followers 
of Mr. Romanes may not find it so very difficult to 
follow him. 

Were I here to go into other cases, I might cite 
the instinct of curiosity about ant-lion holes on the 
part of certain ants, which seems to me to be all in 
favour of the ant-hons, and not at all in favour of the 

In fact, the whole realm of parasitism, alike in 
flowers and plants, in insects and in birds, presents an 
almost unexampled unexceptional argument against 
Darwinism, and a complete answer to Mr. Romanes' 
challenge. We read : 

"The social Hymenoptera — ants, bees, wasps — 
well provided with weapons as they are, neither have 
the sense to exterminate their enemies, nor do they 
seem even to recognise them. In the presence of 
their habitual parasites, these insects, in other re- 
spects so sagacious, seem to be struck blind." ''' 

Surely here we have an instinct which actually 
becomes protective, passively if not actively, and 
which is in favour absolutely of the protected species, 
and has no benefit or compensation from the pro- 
tected for those which protect. 

Then there is the sacculina and the crab, which, 
by the presence of sacculina, is rendered sterile — 
utterly sterile, whether male or female. In the 
female where the tail is segmented and flexible, that 
tail, which had hitherto protected its own eggs, now 
protects only the sacculina, while in the male the tail 
(which is normally segmented without being really 

* M assart, p. 71. 

l88 Darwin and Romanes (halt with. 

flexible) becomes exactly like that of the female. No 
man will surely deny that here is a case where an 
accommodating instinct, passive if not active, in the 
preyed upon becomes absolutely of benefit to the 
parasitic species, and of loss and injury only both to 
the individual and to the species protecting. Here 
are structures which become essentially modified in 
favour of an alien parasitic species — just as the 
parental instinct in victims of cuckoo become modi- 
fied — and one effect of that change of structure is 
steriHty in both male and female, where instinct of 
protection has been assenting and is a cause. The 
delicacy and susceptibility of the generative organs 
to which Darwin at last awakened are testified by 
such vast changes as this as well as by those he 
noticed and dwelt on. 

In other cases, as well in plants as in animals, 
there are nothing short of voluntary (we can use no 
other w^ord) self-adaptations to the entertainment of 
the parasite. 

There are certain blindbeetles (StaphylinidcB) found 
in anthills living at the expense of the ant commun- 
ity, and, so far as can be ascertained, yield no service 
or benefit whatever to the ants in return. The in- 
stinct of the ants, which tolerates and leads them 
even to protect the beetles, is surely an instinct en- 
tirely in favour of the beetles, and of no service to 
the ants. 

■ " Although the fact is not yet proved," says Van 
Beneden, " it is at any rate very likely that at an 
earlier period there had subsisted between these 
species and the ants some kind of mutualist relation 
analogous to that which still exists between ants and 

Dr. RogeVs Positioti. 189 

aphides. Little by little this relation has ceased, 
until the animals found in anthills to-day have be- 
come traditional parasites, tolerated through the iner- 
tia of custom on account of the services formerly 
rendered by their ancestors." =■' 

This is a very good speculative guess instead of a 
satisfactory explanation ; and if it is not well-found, 
it is, at all events, suggestive of how close, according 
to Professor Van Beneden, is insect parasitism to the 
inert outstanding cases of filthy human parasitism — 
such, for instance, as the "bearers of the king's 
stools " in pre-revolutionary France, and the exis- 
tence, up to a certain day when it was commuted for 
nigh /*20,ooo, of a master of the falcons in England 
and to-day of a master of the buckhounds. How 
near human nature runs to insect and other nature ! 
Here the perverted instinct of Englishmen leads 
them not only to tolerate parasites, but to bow down 
before them as the Egyptians of old before the dung- 
beetle ! 

In the case of the little birds and cuckoos we have 
had brought before us in the actions of the former 
what is decisively in the teeth of pre-Darwinian 
theory as of the Darwinian. Thus Dr. Roget put it 
that " the individual and the species were preserved 
not by slow and uncertain calculations of prudence, 
but by innate faculties, prompted by an unerring im- 
pulse to the performance of the actions required for 
those ends."t It is something to find an instance and 
argument that equally runs directly counter to both ! 
But, on this reasoning, the inevitable act of the small 

'"' AtitJiial Parasitism, p. 117. 

f Bridgwater Treatise, ii, p. 514. 

igo Darwift and Roniaiics dealt with. 

bird, should invariably be to turn out, build over, or 
puncture the cuckoo's egg to prevent hatching, and 
one or other of the victimised little birds could unfail- 
ingly do so, as some among them now do. 

And finally, we ask, and ask seriously, how this 
bears on what is called the " survival of the fittest " 
— the little birds that will most successfully bear the 
heavy tax of feeding the big, gutsy cuckoo for so long 
a period, are, speaking reasonably, those that would 
most successfully have reared their own young : and, 
being healthy, strong and enduring, have had strong, 
healthy progeny — the " fittest " in view of the general 
qualities of their own species. A clear and explicit 
answer to this argument will oblige. But, indeed, 
Mr. Darwin himself anticipated the ground on which 
we here stand. " Many instincts," he says, " are so 
wonderful that this development will probably appear 
to the reader a difficulty sufficient to overcome my 
whole theory.'"'' 

These extraordinary powers in the young monster, 
the alien intruded cuckoo, on which we dwelt in the 
earlier part, seem to work on the victimised adult 
birds, many of them, with something like fascination. 
They actually lose all sense of protective duty towards 
their own- young in an admiring wonder of this over- 
grown, greedy glutton, and, when all the legitimate 
progeny have gone, they devote themselves to feeding 
and attending to him with what seems a sense of pro- 
found pride and joy. 

Here we refer once again (for it demands reiteration 

* Origin of Species, p. 205. 

Not only one Instinct defeated. 191 

for its vast importance), to the utter indifference with 
which the hen hedge-sparrow, as Mr. John Hancock 
so circumstantially tells, sat and saw one of her own 
progeny edged over the side of the nest by the young 
cuckoo. Mr. John Craig notes precisely the same 
thing. This shows such an extraordinary departure 
from all that we have hitherto regarded as parental 
instinct in birds and highly developed mammals alike, 
that it is not hard for us to believe that in some cases 
the passive procedure under such an outrage may 
become active, and that as Jenner said long ago, the 
foster-parents may " themselves sometimes turn out 
unhatched eggs from the nest after the young cuckoo 
is hatched." 

One extraordinary element in the matter is, that 
this big and unwieldly nestling, which had shown 
such unexampled powers in throwing out eggs and 
young from the nest when but a few days old, be- 
comes, in a sense, the more dependent and helpless 
as he outgrows the nest, and when he has found 
strength to leave it, keeps up an endless demand on 
the victimised birds for weeks : so that they are hin- 
dered from breeding again, when they otherwise 
would certainly do so. Thus you have not only one 
ordinary instinct or two overborne and superseded by 
what seem unnatural and extraordinary instincts, but 
here is another. If in the victimised birds this latter 
instinct was not overcome, the young cuckoo would 
even then fall a victim to hunger : if the parent 
victimised birds returned on their true instinct, the 
real end of all the cuckoo's endeavours would be 
defeated — the young would not survive. But that 
through such a long period you should find birds of 

192 Darwin and RoDianes dealt with. 

many kinds voluntarily acting thus ri<;ht in the teeth 
of all we should call ordinary or primary instincts in 
them is really surpassing strange : and no explanation 
I have as yet read exactly supplies at every point what 
is demanded. Certainly, as we have seen, the expla- 
nations of Mr. Darwin and Mr. Romanes are not 


only unsatisfactory, but most inefficient, feeble, in- 
ept, and even ignorant and misleading, since even a 
faithful purview of the facts was not attained by 

Since in one end of the room in which I wrote I 
had my aviary, I was able to notice some things 
which may not be generally noticed. Among half-a- 
dozen or more canaries I had a hen linnet, a cock 
goldfinch, and a cock mule. These, even when 

^^ Out of Nature.'" 193 

breeding was going on with the canaries, had their 
free fly about all day, and agreed well with the 
canaries — the hen linnet, unpaired, especially taking 
a vast deal of interest in the sitting and in the young 
ones when they came. But the point on which I 
mean to dwell is this, that these young birds, the 
very day after their eyes were open, knew unhesi- 
tatingly whenever either of these three birds went 
near the nest where they were, that they were not 
their father or mother, and drew down their heads 
with surprising celerity ; whereas, when father or 
mother came, they set up their heads to be fed. 
Now, as the goldfinch mule was not so strikingly un- 
like the spangled or lizard canary cock, this decision 
in recognition surprised me, and that from the very 
first, and the thing never altered so long as the birds 
were in the nest ; though, after flight, they showed 
no particular aversion to either of the three birds, 
and were indeed very friendly with the hen linnet — 
the unlikest to them of all. If observation should 
prove that this is generally the case, then the ap- 
parent inability of certain wild birds to detect the 
difl'erence between their own progeny and the young 
cuckoo is all the more wonderful, and, in fact, " out 
of nature." 


Since Mr. Darwin, indeed naturalists have become 
all too fond of " may he's " — which as we Scotch school 
boys were wont to say are not good honey bees. The 
determination, for example, of these parrots in New 
Zealand, called keas, to sheep — killing and blood- 

194 Dnrivin and Romanes dealt icifli. 

suckinj:^, is a little hard to justify from certain points 
of view of theory ; but certain good folks must find 
ways to explain it by " may be's." Thus Dr. H. 
Woodward, quoted by Prof. St. George Mivart, sug- 
gests that these keas in former days tnay have fed 
upon a species of dinoniis, perching on their backs as 
they do now on the backs of the sheep '"'= — a sugges- 
tion for which, so far as we are aware, there is not 
the least ground in any known fact whatever. Dr. H. 
Woodward only boldly imagines it. So far as we 
know there is not, as said above, a single fact in 
favour of this presumption. We have facts that 
justify us in tracing a certain process in the transfer- 
ence of frugivorous parrots into sheep destroyers. 

1. The Darwinians say that the keas found offal 
and entrails of sheep thrown about and skins hung 
out, and pecking these over hit on what they came 
to regard as tit-bits. This is not the case, and is 
denied by Mr. Taylor White, Mr. Huddlestone, and 

2. The keas do not eat flesh of sheep at all, and 
certainly not dead flesh, but suck the blood of the 
hving sheep, leaving torn carcases behind them. 

3. The next step clearly was by conference to 
decide what was the most effective means of securing 
these tit-bits from the living sheep, and the agreement 
vv^as that united effort by bands was the most likely 
process, which the said practical experience of New 
Zealand farmers shows it was. 

4. Has Dr. Woodward anything to favour the idea 
that the dinornis was specially fed up, and fattened ? 

* St. George Mivarfs Birds: Elements of Ornithology. Keas 
ad loco. 

This Confirmed Habit, 195 

If not, the analogy fails, and fails wholly on the most 
important point. 

This confirmed habit of "probably it was," "it 
may be," " it might be," " it iiiust be," and so on, 
with Darwin and his followers — the reading is always 
of the subjective notion into the fact — is precisely 
what gives Professor St. George Mivart his strong 
points against the Darwinians, especially in his very 
bold and original " Origin of Human Reason." 






From the facts already given it will be seen that 
verified observations in different countries show that 
there can be no manner of doubt cuckoo's eggs do 
vary within a certain range ; and there are facts con- 
nected with varieties of the cuckoo family which are 
strangers to our island, or very rarely seen there, 
such as add new force to this position. 

Take first the great spotted cuckoo {Coccystes glan- 
dariiis), only two of which have, in 1849 and 1870, 
been found brooding in this country. Its eggs so 
clearly resemble those of the pies {Pica inauritanica 
and Cyanopica cooki), in the nests of which they are 
found, that even expert zoologists have been deceived 
by them, only to discover the truth when the cuckoo's 
embryo has been extracted from the supposed pie's 

The great spotted cuckoo in Spain was so far very 
carefully observed by I -ord Lilford. He tells us that 
he more than once found three eggs of the cuckoo in 
one nest, with four or five of those of the magpie, 
and that once he actually met with eight cuckoo's 
eggs to five of the magpie. He also makes the very 
significant statement that the eggs of the cuckoo in 
all these cases were more advanced towards hatching 
than those of the magpie. He only once, he says, 
found there a cuckoo's egg in a raven's nest.''= Now, 

* Lord Lilford 's actual words are : 

" The greatest number of cuckoo's eggs found by us in any 
one nest was eight, with five of the magpie." It is almost in- 

200 The World-Evidence. 

what a pity it was that Lord Lilford failed to watch 
the later results there. 

That the cuckoo's eggs, /.£•., in these cases, were 
invariably more advanced towards hatching than the 
magpie's shows wonderful adaptation in one respect ; 
for the young cuckoos, which grow very fast, coming 
first, would have an easy business of throwing out 
the young magpies as they were hatched. But this 
repeated finding of three eggs in one nest, and in one 
case as many as eight to five of the magpie, sug- 
gests a question that has often been asked. Do the 
young cuckoos distinguish in favour of their own 
kind, and abstain the one from trying to turn the other 
out ? Do they combine in action against the right- 
ful occupants of the nest, or do they not ? and, if so, 
how does the matter end ? Do the young cuckoos 
fight it out, one against another, till the strongest 
only is left, or are they armed with a special instinct 
against warring upon each other ? The rare cases in 
which two cuckoo's eggs have been found in the same 
nest in England has suggested the question. Lord 
Lilford's report emphasizes it. We wish some natu- 
ralist in Spain would carefully investigate the matter, 
and let us know ; for we are all the more curious that 
Lord Lilford has, to our grief, passed beyond our 
asking of him for further light on this special point — 
on which light is, indeed, very much wanted, as on 
so many others connected with the cuckoo. If all the 

credible that the pies should bear this wholesale victimization, 
unless, indeed, the cuckoos took out eggs for those they put in. 
Manuel de la Torre, the royal keeper at Madrid, knew of in- 
stances where as many as four eggs of the cuckoo had been 
found in one magpie's nest. 

New Zealand Cuckoos. 201 

eight cuckoos were hatched, how could the pies pos- 
sibly have fed so many ravenous young ones — the 
young cuckoos being almost insatiable in their de- 
mands for food — even one causing a heavy tax on 
hedge-sparrows, and wagtails, and pipits ? 



The evidence from other places, and more especially 
from New Zealand, over large spaces of which we 
have a temperature and climate not so very different 
from our own, may help to throw a little light on 
some points. There are two cuckoos in New Zealand 
which are distinctly parasitic, but in very different 
degrees and by different methods. We may accept 
the fullest and most trustworthy account of these : 

Sir W. L. BuUer, in his able and beautiful book on 
the Birds of New Zealand, tells of the long-tailed 
cuckoo there — how it comes from the warm islands 
of the South Pacific, stays the sumimer, and breeds 
in New Zealand ; how it is parasitic chiefly, if not ex- 
clusively, on the grey warbler [G cry gone jiaviventris) ; 
how the young are fed and nourished by these small 
birds. It has been found by him at Otaho (in the 
north island) as late as the first week in April — 
coming in the end of September or beginning of 
October. It is a confirmed egg-eater — more especially 
of the eggs of the tui, or parson-bird, and these birds, 
whenever they see this cuckoo, mob it, and follow 
and persecute it. Sir W. Buller, from various cir- 

202 The World-Evidence. 

cumstances, believes that the bird incubates its egg 
or eggs, but leaves its young to be fed by other birds, 
who take care of and feed the youngsters, moved by 
their piteous cries. He does not believe that the 
cuckoo could possibly deposit the egg in certain 
nests, which, by the way, he holds, could not support 
the weight of the young cuckoo if they did the egg, 
which is large and heavy, and certainly his idea is 
that these small birds could never hatch it : it is 
about 1-25 by 1-15. One peculiar point is that young 
birds are frequently met with in the end of March or 
later, but it seems probable that these are only soli- 
tary individuals hatched too late to permit of their 
joining in the return migration. 

The shining cuckoo, he tells, acts somewhat differ- 
ently from the long-tailed cuckoo as to breeding, etc., 
and it is a very much smaller bird — the victim in its 
case also being generally the grey warbler ; but its 
egg is much smaller than the other, only '8 of an 
inch in length by -5 in breadth, and, in this case as 
with ours, the true progeny are ejected by the young 

The Rev. R. Taylor tells that he discovered the 
nest of a grey warbler in his garden shrubbery, con- 
taining several eggs, and among them a large white 
one, which he correctly assigned to the shining cuckoo. 

" In due time all the eggs were hatched ; but after 
the lapse of a day or two, the young cuckoo was the 
sole tenant of the nest, and the dead bodies of the 
others were found lying on the ground below. At 
length the usurper left the nest, and for many days 
after both of the foster-parents were incessantly on 
the wing from morning till night, catering for their 

Sir W. BuUer's Views. 203 

charge, whose constant piping cry served only to 
stimulate their activity." 

Sir W. Buller adds (p. 29) that an egg of this 
cuckoo, taken years ago from a grey warbler's nest 
by himself in the Maruka scrub, was of a pale creamy 
colour, and " another, which was laid by a captive 
bird in my possession, is pure white." 

Now, here the question arises, how has the shining 
cuckoo come to be so much smaller, and to have an 
egg so much smaller than its relative, the long-tailed 
cuckoo ? Is the latter only on the way, by a small 
instalment, to the point which the shining cuckoo has 
secured, or what ? Has the shining cuckoo out- 
stripped its congeners in the race because of more 
cleverness, adaptability, or what ? Or has the long 
tailed cuckoo, more astute than he seems, discovered 
a short cut, and finding that by it he can fully secure 
his object, does not need nor want to go any further. 
If certain little birds can be found — as indeed we have 
some grounds for thinking is the case with certain of 
them in this country — ready to nurse and feed the 
young cuckoo, though they have not brooded him, 
then does it not seem rather a waste of energy and 
knowledge that our cuckoos have not taken more 
advantage of it, and caused themselves all the effort 
and pain which cannot but have been associated with 
the process, gradual and long continued, by which 
the egg was reduced from normal size to the size we 
now find it ? 

The egg-eating on the part of the long-tailed cuckoo 
and his being mobbed by little birds as the cuckoos 
are in this country, anew and from another point, 
emphasizes the question whether at a certain stage in 

204 The World-Evidence. 

this country the cuckoos may not have been egg- 
eating on a large scale, as they are now on a more 
limited one ; the mobbing by small birds in return for 
that injury remaining a witness of it. 

In New Zealand, too, there are instances of what 
are called belated young birds not being able, for one 
reason or another, to join in the migration. 

Here then, in the long-tailed New Zealand cuckoos, 
we have an exact connecting link between the 
American cuckoos and ours — a species which broods 
its own eggs, but having done so, casts the young on 
the care of others to be fed and tended. By this, the 
perpetuation of the species seems to be just as fully 
secured as by the more thoroughgoing tactics of Cuculus 
canorus. But if so, Cuculus canorus takes on himself, 
and has for long ages taken on himself, more labour 
and effort, outside what we may call the line of instinc- 
tive action, than is really necessary to secure his end. 
Or is it, then, that those cuckoos which have stopped 
short of the complete parasitism of canorus, are but 
yet on the way towards the point of perfection and 
completeness to which he has attained ? Either this, 
or it must be confessed that, in his perfection and 
completeness, evolution is not justified of its children, 
because we have here a machinery, so to say, most 
complicated and involved — a machinery, which 
through its very fineness, sometimes breaks down, 
whereas, so far as we can learn, a less complicated 
machinery — less affecting habit and function— has 
been found to secure fully the end desired. If in 
canorus you have the survival of the fit, on account 
of distinctive and complete organisation and modifica- 
tion of function, then in the New Zealand long-tails 

A Monster Cuckoo's Egg. 205 

you have the " survival of the fittest," inasmuch as 
they survive, and have not undergone some (or many) 
of the modifications manifested in the others. 



Mr. John Gould, in his Birds of Australia, gives 
about a dozen different varieties of the cuckoo as 
existing there — all of them parasitic. He says : 

"All the Australian species, with the exception of 
the members of the genus Centropus, are parasitic ; 
the huge Scythrops, and the diminutive Chrysococcyx 
alike depositing their eggs in the nests, and entrusting 
their young to the fostering care of other birds. The 
Scythrops is said sometimes to lay its egg in the nest 
of the piping crow {Gymnorhina tibicen), and I have 
known many instances of the eggs of Chalcites being 
deposited in the domed-shaped nest of Maluri." 

Cacomantis pallidtis is apparently nearest to our 
Cuculns canorus ; and its eggs, about seven-eighths of 
an inch long by five-eighths broad, is of cream colour, 
and speckled all over with markings of brown. The 
egg of the monster Scythrops Novce-HollandcB is one 
inch and eleven-sixteenths long by one inch and a 
quarter broad, of a light stone colour, with irregular 
blotches of reddish brown, many of which were of a 
darker hue, and appeared as if beneath the surface of 
the shell. Unfortunately, Mr. Gould was not able 
closely to discriminate the eggs, and expressed the 
hope that the rising ornithologists of Australia would 
do it. 

2o6 The World-Evidence. 

Has this, in more recent years, been systematically 
done ? And is it now an absolutely settled point 
that the big, most magnificent, large-billed Scythrops 
Novce-Hollandce is parasitic with its monster eggs ; 
and, if so, which are the birds on whom it manages 
to impose such an egg ? Mr. Gould speaks of it, as 
we have seen, positively, at one place as parasitic ; 
but in another he is doubtful. It is clearly ascer- 
tained, however, that this bird, though it migrates, 
does not migrate very far, as it had not, when Mr. 
Gould wrote, been seen out of Australia, nor even 
on the north coast of that country. '■= So far as mi- 
gration is concerned, the same thing, according to 
Mr. Gould, applies to the ash-coloured cuckoo {Cu- 
culus cineracens). The shining cuckoo is the smallest 
of the Australian cuckoos, and mostly deposits its 
eggs in domed nests, with a very small hole for an 
entrance. The egg of this species is eleven-sixteenths 
of an inch long by half an inch in breadth. The 
brush cuckoos of Australia (Cucidus insperatus) are 
important, because, more clearly than any other 
variety, they unite the genus Cucidus with the Chal- 

Now, one of the most important questions that 
arises is the fact of Scythrops being parasitic. If it 
is, with such an egg, what is its process, and what 
are the birds victimised by it ? Clearly it has not yet, 
through any long process, reduced its egg below the 

* Captain G. E. Shelley, in his exhaustive and most valuable 
section of the British Museum Catalogue of Birds (iSgi), gives 
as the area of the giant Scythrops Novce-Hollanda — " Australia, 
New Guinea, Duke of York Island, New Britain, Ke Islands, 
Bouru, Obi, Batchian, Ternate, Ceram, Celebes, and Flores." 

Mr. Broinowski's Observations. 207 

proportionate size ; and if in spite of that, it is para- 
sitic, and so survives, have we not here another 
ground for saying that the reduction in size in egg of 
Canorus is less necessary than might at first sight 
appear ? 

In so far we have the results of later research and 
observations in the Coiupanion to Gould's Birds, by 
]\Ir. Sylvester Diggles. He says that the channel 
bell cuckoo (Scythrops Novce-Hollaiidce) lays its eggs 
in nests of other birds, and principally those of birds 
much smaller than itself. It is migratory, appearing 
in October and departing in June — eight months ; so 
that pressure of time could have nothing to do with 
its parasitism. 

Mr. G. J. Broinowski does not say decidedly if it 
is migratory and, if it is, to what extent it is so. We 
can but infer from his words that it is not, but resi- 
dent there. He gives as its habitats — " inland portion 
of Australia generally," which looks to us as though 
it were practically resident. Certainly, it does not 
migrate over sea. Its note, Mr. Broinowski adds, is 
quite different from that of our common cuckoo. 

Mr. Broinowski tells of Cacoinantis Jiabelliforiiiis, 
or fantailed cuckoo, that it lays but one egg in a nest 
of what is almost always a smaller variety of bird. 
It is migratory, spending the summer in Tasmania, 
and returning to Australia in January and February. 
But it is evident that if it lays but one egg, it has 
abundant time to brood and hatch it and attend to 
the young bird ; so that pressure of time for migra- 
tion can have nothing to do with its parasitism either. 

Thus one most important thing learned from certain 
of the Australian cuckoos, which are as pronouncedly 

2o8 The World-Evidence. 

parasitic as ours are, is this, that pressure as to time 
allowed, owing to long migration, does not exist. 
Certain of these birds are in the " breeding places " 
from the middle of September till the very end of 
February or the middle of March, and in some 
seasons they have been found in numbers there in 
the beginning of April, while others are there from 
October to June, so that, by no stretch of imagina- 
tion, could Jenner's reasoning be applied to them. 
They are from five to six months, up even to eight 
months, in these " breeding places " in Australia — 
sometimes are resident, and again v/hen they migrate 
do not migrate very far — only to some degrees north- 
ward in many cases, because insect life is then more 
abundant there. And just in the measure that mi- 
grating distance is reduced you have the instinct 
weakened as seen in what are called our own resident 
birds, which always tend to move with a certain con- 
stancy. Thus we have, in Australian cuckoos of 
parasitic habit, as presented to us by Mr. John Gould 
and his successors, a set of phenomena which utterly 
knocks on the head all Mr. Darwin's reasonings de- 
rived from Jenner, proving absolutely that a certain 
shortness of time can have really nothing to do with 
the original strong and determined instinct to para- 
sitism in the cuckoo. The New Zealand evidence 
confirms it. Sir W. L. Buller tells us that both the 
parasitic cuckoos of New Zealand are often to be 
found there in the end of September or beginning of 
October, and are to be seen in the end of March, 
sometimes so late as the first week in April. 

Sir W. L. Buller has conclusively identified the 
bronze and the shining cuckoos. They are migratory. 

Force of Hereditary Instinct. 209 

but are in the breeding places for six months or so. 
Mr. Broinowski has this very suggestive passage in 
one of his volumes : 

" The force of hereditary instinct is never more 
strongly evidenced than when we find it asserting 
itself in some immaterial trait that has no effect upon 
the present, except as a mark of evolution, but clearly 
points back to the discarded habits of earlier races. 
Among the Centropi we found the parasitic custom 
unknown ; each pair made their own dome-shaped 
nest, and performed the task of rearing their young 
like any other virtuous birds. The Eudynamis cut it- 
self free from all domestic obligations, and left its 
young to be tended by kindly crows ; thus proving 
that there is a wide racial gap between the two 
genera. The gap we may consider bridged over in 
the chain of evolution by the Chrisococcyx ; for the 
shining cuckoo, though a true parasite, is usually 
found to deposit its egg in a dome-shaped nest having 
a very small entrance. In New South Wales, the 
Malurns cyaneus and the Geohasileus chrysorrJious are 
forced to be foster-parents. Mr. Bennett, in writing 
of the Lucidus, states that he has found the egg in the 
nest oi Acanthea chrysorJiicea, and that he has seen a 
nest of this bird with five eggs, that of the cuckoo 
being deposited in the centre of the group, so as to 
ensure its receiving the warmth imparted by the 
sitting bird, and thus less likely to be addled. He 
also narrates the following incident : A white shafted 
flycatcher (Rhipidura albiscapa) was shot at Ryde, 
near Sydney, in the act of feeding a solitary young 
bird in its nest, which, when examined, was found to 
be the chick of the bronze cuckoo of the colonists." 

2IO The World -Evidence. 

" The young cuckoo," he adds, " invariably kills 
and throws out the rightful nestlings. It is strictly 
migratory, reaching New Zealand between the yth 
and 2 1 St of September, and remaining as late as 
April, abundant time in which to hatch and rear a 



We have grounds yet more relative, if such are 
wanted, in view of our point against Mr. Darwin and 
Mr. Romanes and their followers. The great spotted 
cuckoo of Egypt is there resident, and yet it is purely 
parasitic, laying its eggs in the nest of the hooded 
crow, which there lays about the same time. Here 
it is clear, absolutely clear, that pressure due to dates 
of migration can have no place — can have no bearing 
as predisposing to the parasitic habit— the cause of 
which must in this case be sought elsewhere, as we 
believe it must be in the case of our own canorus. 
Captain Shelley is our authority, and he thus writes 
in his Birds of Egypt : 

" The great spotted cuckoos (Coccystes glandarius) 
are resident in Egypt and Nubia. They are by no 
means shy, and will often sit motionless on a bough 
while one walks beneath the tree. In Egypt they 
breed at the same time as the hooded crow, and in- 
variably select a nest of that species in which to 
deposit their eggs."" Von Heuglin {Ornith. N.O. 
Africa J p. 287) is of opinion that they first lay their 

* pp. 162-3. Edition, 1872. 

Canon Tristrarn s Facts. .211 

eggs on the ground, and then carry them in their 
beaks to the nest they have selected, in exactly the 
same manner as the common cuckoo does. 



Canon Tristram, in his most valuable book, The 
Birds of Palestine, writes as follows about the cuckoos 
there : 

"The cuckoo (canorus) returns to Palestine at the 
end of March or beginning of April, when it is par- 
ticularly obnoxious to the bush babbler (Crateropus 
chalybens), which clamorously pursues it in the Jordan 
Valley. It is spread generally over the whole 
country. In Algeria the cuckoos {Coccystes glan- 
darius) deposit their eggs in the nest of the Mauri- 
tanian magpie, the eggs of which they very closely 
resemble. In the Holy Land I have found them 
only in the nest of the hooded crow {Corvus comix), 
and that very frequently. No doubt they will also 
be found in the nest of the Syrian jay, which is com- 
mon in districts like Carmel, where there are no 
crows, and where the spotted cuckoo abounds." 

In a letter with which Canon Tristram has kindly 
favoured me, in reply to my queries about the date of 
cuckoos' leaving the Holy Land, he writes : 

" I cannot state the exact date of departure of the 
cuckoo from the Holy Land, because September is 
the only month which I have not spent in natural 
history work in the country. I have noticed the 

212 The World-Evidence. 

cuckoo in the beginning of August, but have never 
seen it in October. 

*' I have taken many eggs of Coccystes glaudar'nis 
in Algeria, and a few in Palestine, but I have always 
found the eggs of the foster-parent sound and good. 
I have found four cuckoo's eggs, and only two of the 
African magpie in the nest, and all fresh. In Pales- 
tine there are no magpies, and we only found the 
cuckoo's eggs in carrion crows' or jackdaws' nests — 
not in jays', though these are very common. (This 
does not prove that they do not use the jay's.) I 
have myself taken a blue cuckoo's egg from a night- 
ingale's nest, at home. 

" On referring to an old note, I see I had a cuckoo 
of the year brought me in October. This was in 

If, therefore, we say that in Palestine the common 
cuckoo is found there from the ist of April to, say, 
the end of August, this gives five clear months — 
abundant time to rear a brood. 

As a proof of how well certain of the Glandariiis 
species can match their eggs with those of the birds 
in whose nests they lay them, the following may be 
cited from Professor Alfred Newton : 

" In the autumn of 1857, I had received from Mr. 
Tristram all the eggs collected by him in Algeria 
during the preceding season. When they were un- 
packed, it appeared that there were two more speci- 
mens of the egg of a large North-x\frican cuckoo 
(Oxylophus glandarius) than I had been led by him 
to expect. On examination I found that the first two 
eggs of this species which had been obtained by him 
so much resembled eggs of the magpie of the country 

Mr. H. Bowker's Observations. 213 

(Pica niauritanica ), in the nests of which they had 
been found, that, skilful oologist as he was, they had 
passed, even to his practised, unsuspecting eye, as 
those of the latter bird." '•'- 



South Africa certainly boasts its full compliment 
of cuckoos ; but it is to be regretted that in Layard's 
Birds of South Africa, though edited by Dr. Bowdler 
Sharpe, information is not systematically given as to 
habits of parasitism, etc. — points which it would 
have been so important for comparative ornithologists 
to be advised about. Only about two, indeed, out of 
more than a dozen have we distinct and clear infor- 
mation on these heads. 

The black-crested cuckoo is stated to deposit eggs 
in nests of the geelgat (Pycnoiiotus capensis) and 
Sigelus silens. 

Mr. H. Bowker observes about the black-and- 
white cuckoo (Coccystes jacobimis) : 

" This cuckoo lays in the nest of the black-forked 
spreo (Dicrnriis mnsicus) and also in that of the 
woodpecker. It looks after its young to see that the 
foster-parents are attentive to them. I once watched 
a woodpecker's nest, and when the nurses brought 
food to the nest, they were always followed by one of 
these birds, who, after the woodpeckers left, invari- 
ably looked into the nest to see if all was right, and 

* Zoologist, 1873, p. 3508. 

214 ^^'^ World-Evidence. 

then sat near until the return of the woodpeckers, 
when the same thing was repeated. On examining 
the nest I found four fine young cuckoos in it." "^^ 

Mr. Layard quotes Le Vaillant about the golden 
cuckoo that it lays a white egg, and states that he 
gives an account of the manner in which it is carried 
in the mouth, to be placed in the nests of these birds 
which are selected as foster-parents for its neglected 
offspring, t 

The black-and-white cuckoo of South Africa, para- 
sitic mainly on the woodpeckers, thus, like the great 
spotted cuckoo, does not limit the number of its eggs 
intruded into one nest even to two, but puts the lot 
into one nest, where clearly the young do not contest 
with each other the right to it, making thus the 
watching for the parents easy. 



The Indian evidence for one thing proves, that in 
the case of certain parasitic cuckoos there, the eggs 
are so like to those of the birds in whose nests they 
are dropped, that they are very apt to be overlooked : 
and, secondly, that eggs of cuckoos, deposited at 
such times as the eggs of victimised birds are not 
ready, are not uncommon either ; which just shows 
that if the cuckoos, there as well as here, cannot find 
the exact nest ready, they are compelled to take just 
what they can get. 

* Layard, p. 159. 
\ Layard, p. 154. 

Miss Cockburns Evidence. 215 

And, thirdly, that in India — as there are, indeed, 
some grounds for beheving was once the case with 
our common cuckoos — certain of the cuckoos there 
pierce the eggs in nests which do not suit them, and 
suck out their contents ; all which has an illustrative 
bearing, more or less direct, on our own cuckoos and 
their habits in certain ways. Fourthly, that in India, 
Ciiculiis canorus — which remains there for full six 
months — affords yet further proof that pressure of 
time, due to migration, cannot be, as Mr. Darwin and 
Mr. Romanes have said, the one sufficing motive to the 
parasitism it practises ; and, fifthly, that some para- 
sitic Indian cuckoos do not throw out the young of 
foster-parents, and others have at least two broods a 
year — the second eggs being laid before all the first 
brood are fiown. 

Here are some cases under the first head : 

I. Miss Cockburn, for long, finding no eggs that 
she could identify as those of the Indian plain cuckoo 
{Caconiantis passevinus), thought that it did not breed 
in the Nilghri Hills. But, at last, she had the fullest 
and most satisfactory evidence that it did, — its Qgg, 
however, being such an exact imitation of the com- 
mon wren warbler, that it was not at all recognised. 
Miss Cockburn's statement causes Mr. Adams to say : 

" Miss Cockburn's interesting note on the breeding 
of this species fully explains what I thought at the 
time to be a case of fraud on the part of some of our 
native fellow-subjects. Towards the end of Sep- 
tember, 1866, when in Lucknow, I had small boys 
collecting nests for me, and on two occasions nests of 
Prinia inornata were brought to me, containing an 
Qgg like that of Prinia inornata, but slightly larger ; 

2i6 The World-Evidence. 

in fact, exactly like that described and sent by Miss 
Cockburn. I accused the boys of having taken the 
eggs from some other nest, but they maintained they 
had not done so. I did not believe them then, but I 
do now." '■'• 

So like are the eggs of the crested pied cuckoo of 
India to those of the babblers (Argya and Crateropiis), 
usually chosen, that they are hardly distinguishable. 
In colour they are a spotless blue, darker or lighter in 
different specimens, but all are highly glossy, and 
closely resemble the eggs of Argya candafa, in whose 
nest the cuckoos' eggs are laid. Col. W. Vincent 
Legge says : 

" Even from the eggs of Crateropiis malcolnii, in 
whose nests they are, in Upper India, most commonly 
found, it is only by their somewhat diminutive size 
and very round oval shape that they can be distin- 
guished. This babbler itself, however, sometimes, I 
believe, lays abnormally small eggs of this shape, so 
that the only specimens I fully rely on are those that 
have been taken out of the oviduct of the female. 
These are very round ovals, recalling in shape the 
eggs of the bee-eaters.'' t 

II and III. Colonel Butler, who paid particular 
attention to the crested pied cuckoo of India {Coc- 
cystes jacobiiiHs), says: 

" They seem to deposit their eggs in the babblers' 
nests at any time, quite regardless of the condition 
of the eggs of the nest in which they are laid. I 
have often noticed, also, that when they discover a 
nest which does not suit them to lay in, they almost 

* Hume, ii, p. 387. 
"^ Hume, ii, p. 391. 

The Indian Koel, 217 

invariably destroy the eggs of the babbler by driving 
a hole into them with their beaks, and sucking a por- 
tion or the whole of their contents.'"" 

The female koel (from ku-il, its cry), as has long 
been known in India, deposits her eggs almost ex- 
clusively in the nest of the common crow [Corviis 
splendens) ; more rarely in that of the carrion crow 
[Corvus cnlmi7iatns). " She only, in general, lays one 
egg in each crow's nest, and mostly, but not always, 
destroys the egg or eggs of the crow at the time of 
depositing her own. It is a popular belief that the 
crow discovers the imposture when the young koel is 
nearly full-grown, and ejects it from the nest ; but 
this I do not think is usually the case, for I have 
frequently seen the crow feeding the young koel 
after it had left the nest. Some observers declare 
that the old female koel often watches the nest in 
which she has deposited her eggs, and when the birds 
are full-grown, entices them away, or, if expelled, 
looks after them and feeds them for a few days ; but 
I doubt if this be the general practice. . . The crows 
seem to know full well that they are cuckolded by 
the koel, for at times you see them pursuing these 
cuckoos with the utmost energy, and Mr. Frith, as 
quoted by Blyth, states that one dashed itself against 
a window and was killed, when pursued by a 

The koel (Eiidynamys honorata) is common in the 
Andamans and Nicobars, having been observed by 
Colonel Tytler, besides being frequently heard by 

* Hume, ii, p. 389. 
■fyerdon, i, p. 344. 

2i8 The World-Evidence. 

him calling in the woods, and its behaviour is exactly 
like that of those of the mainland. ''•'- 

Mr. Blyth himself may be quoted here — the more 
that he can support his statement by the very weighty 
opinion of Mr. Frith : 

" The koel's egg bears a very remarkable resem- 
blance to that of the crow — only smaller. The speci- 
men measures an inch-and-a-half in length, and its 
colour is slightly bluish olive green, rather pale than 
otherwise, with numerous reddish brown spots (much 
as in some blackbirds' eggs), and an indistinct zone 
of these near the large end." Mr. Frith has never 
found more than one koel's egg in a nest, and has 
only met with it in those of the two Indian crows." \ 

Mr. R. Thompson says of the Indian ciuiorus : 

" Lays in May and June. I found one or two birds 
in the nests of pipits at iVlmorah some years ago. . . 
In July the birds are well on the wing and betake 
themselves to lofty trees." % 

And let it be noticed that the old cuckoos are still 
there, and for weeks afterwards are there. 

IV. Nor can we disguise the fact that India pre- 
sents evidence confirmatory on this head relating to 
the Cuadus cauoriis in India. We are told that in 
certain parts of India it breeds and remains there six 
months. Dr. Scully says : 

"The common cuckoo is found in great numbers 
in the Valley of Nepaul daring six months of the 
year — from April to October. It frequents the cen- 
tral wooded forests on the hillsides up to 6,000 feet, 

* Hume's Stray Feathers, i, p. 63. 

\ Asiatic Soc. Journal., vol , 1843, p. 295. 

X Hume's Nests and Eggs, ii, p. 3S0. 

Indian Cucidus Canorus. 219 

rarely ascending to 7,000 feet. It lays in May and 
June, generally selecting the nests of Pratincola 
wuura and occasionally that of Pomatorhinus cry- 
thro genys.'' ''•'- 

Jerdon, indeed, does not thirfk that any of the 
Indian cuckoos really migrate from India. 

" I believe that none of the Indian species migrate 
entirely from India; but they wander about a good 
deal at different times, all the true cuckoos breeding 
in the hills, some of them perhaps also in the plains. 
After the breeding is over, they appear to scatter 
themselves about a good deal over the whole country, 
one or two only restricting their range to the limits 
of the Himalayan forest."! 

Clearly, therefore, these common cuckoos in India, 
staying there till October, and laying in May and 
June, have abundant leisure, even on the extended 
time-table of Jenner, to do their own brooding, ten- 
dence, and feeding of the young. And when we put 
this alongside the fact that, at least one of the Indian 
cuckoos is actually resident, and yet that these resi- 
dent cuckoos are as persistently parasitic as the 
migrants, it does seem as though Mr. Darwin had 
absolutely failed to do the needful investigation and 
reading here ; and in not doing so, he is all the more 
blameworthy, and his conduct the more to be repro- 
bated, that one of the finest observers and scientific 
ornithologists had provided him with full warning not 
implicitly to follow Jenner, as he so foolishly did. 
This was Mr. Jerdon, who, in Birds of India, pub- 
lisded in 1862, wrote as follows : 

* Hume's Birds of India, ii, p. 380. 
ti, p. 321- 

220 The World-Evidence. 

" That their migratory habits, as suggested by 
Jenner, have anything whatever to do with it, is con- 
tradicted by the fact of the instance of many non- 
migratory cuckoos (the common Indian koel, for 
example), being equally parasitic."'' 

TJie Origin of Species, it is true, was first published 
in 1859; but in any of the editions after the third, 
Mr. Jerdon's words might have been noticed, and 
they certainly are not in the sixth edition, published 
in 1872. 

But Mr. Darwin cannot be let off so easily for 
failing to read, or with purposes ignoring if he had 
read, the remarkable reports of Mr. Blyth, in the 
Asiatic Soc. yonnial, for the years from 1842 — 1848 
more especially. Some most exceptional cases are 
there set down, and facts, which go directly in the 
teeth of what Jenner had said — in fact, a body of 
observation and experiment which, of itself, amply 
suffices to prove that migration has and can have 
nothing really to do with the parasitism of the cuckoo, 
whilst Mr. Darwin, with his perverse ingenuity, would 
fain have made it have every tiling to do w4th it. And 
the facts— plain facts — are all dead against him. 

V. Some other points find confirmation and illus- 
tration. Captain Hutton makes the following note 
about Cnculus intermedins (the Asiatic cuckoo), 
writing from Mussoorie : 

*' The natives have an idea that this bird builds its 
own nest and rears its young itself. This is erron- 
eous ; but it evidently arises from the curious fact 
that when the young bird is old enough to leave the 
nest, the foster-birds feed it no longer, and it is then 

* Birds of India, i, p. 321. 

Captain Hutton's Facts. 221 

supplied by the old cuckoo, or, at all events, by one 
of the same species. This I have myself repeatedly 
witnessed, and I think it not improbable that others 
of the cuckoo tribe may do the same thing ; for it 
seems almost incredible that Trochalopterum linea- 
tuin, in whose nest the egg of C. intermedius is often 
dropped could supply so voracious a bird after it had 
left the nest, neither could the little hedge-sparrows 
of England do so for young Cuculus canorus. At 
jeripanee, below Mussoorie, I have seen the young 
cuckoo sitting for hours together on a branch, waiting 
for the return of the adult bird, which continued 
every now and then to bring supplies of caterpillars 
wherewith to satisfy the apparently insatiable appetite 
of the nestling, until at last both would fly off to 
another spot. To satisfy myself that it was really 
this cuckoo that fed the young, I shot one in the very 
act, and found it to be no other than our summer 
visitant, Cuculiis intermedius.'' ■■'- 

The large hawk - cuckoo of India ( Hierococcyx 
sparveroides), from Miss Cockburn's evidence, broods 
its own eggs, taking for that purpose disused nests of 
the common crow. 

Jerdon tells us that, in the case of the common 
hawk-cuckoo of India (Hierococcyx variusj^ he has 
on several occasions seen the old birds of Malacocerus 
malabaricus and M. griseus feeding a young cuckoo, 
which was following them about screaming. On one 
occasion, at least, there were two or three young 
Malacocerei in company, so that the young of this 
species of cuckoo does not always eject the eggs or 
young of its foster-parents from the nest. 

* Hume's Birds of India, ii, p. 383. 

222 The World-Evidence. 

Some of the Indian cuckoos that are not parasitic, 
on the other hand, rear successive broods, a fresh 
egg and full-grown young one being found in the 
same nest/'' 

Ceylon has almost the whole complement of Indian 
cuckoos — the common cuckoo being there either resi- 
dent or migrating to India. 



The remarkable resemblance of our common cuckoo 
to certain hawks is proved to be in no way accidental 
since resemblances even more close and striking to 
hawks are found among foreign species. For ex- 
ample, take Ciiculus sparverioides of the Himalayas, 
which in appearance, says Gould, much resembles 
our canonis, though slightly larger, only that the tail 
and wings are varied with several broad bars of 
brown, and the breast blotched with patches of the 
same tint, which gives it a great resemblance to 
some of the Falconidce, particularly to the Falco 
sparveriuSy whence it derives its specific name : 
whether it is parasitic or not, Gould did not know 
at the date of publication of Birds of tlie Himalayas. 
The naming of various owls and hawks bears testi- 
mony to the resemblance. Thus the little owl of the 
Himalayas, named Noctua cuculoides, exhibits exactly 
the style of colouring of the immature cuckoo. The 
cuckoo- falcon of West Africa, named A viced a cucu- 

* Jerdon, i, p. 31S. 

The American Cuckoos. 223 

hides, is marked exactly after the cuckoo ; hence its 

This is, no doubt, connected with the mobbing by 
Httle birds, which has been observed in nearly all 
countries. In this resemblance to the owls and 
hawks, it finds not only escape from some enemies, 
but also what, as Dr. Bowdler Sharpe says, must 
materially aid it in some of its processes connected 
with deposition of eggs — only that, in our opinion, 
the purpose of such mimicry must be at once more 
direct and of wider scope for use than he quite sets 

Gould, in his Birds 0/ Britain, says " the Spanish 
sparrows pursued the great spotted cuckoo in flocks 
till even a cuckoo's life ought to have been a burden 
to him," 

Audubon says of the American cuckoo that " its 
nest is simple, flat, composed of a few dry sticks and 
grass, formed much like that of the common dove, 
and the eggs are four or five in number, of rather an 
elongated, oval form and bright green colour. It 
sometimes robs smaller birds of their eggs, and its own 
egg, which cannot be mistaken from its singular colour, 
is occasionally found in another bird's nest.'" 

Now, we want much more careful and exhaustive 
observation of American cuckoos even now — obser- 
vation by different competent persons at diff"erent 
points constant and thorough, and then checked and 
compared, before we set down that these cuckoos are 
practically innocent of parasitism or fa-U into it only 
occasionally. They build a rough nest and lay four 
or five eggs ; but these eggs are found in other birds' 
nests, in some places frequently. 

224 ^^'^ World-Evidence, 

Now, my belief is that beyond a certain number of 
eggs the American bird, too, is parasitic, recognising 
the fact that it would be too much for it to have 
more than four or five young ones to feed — and, 
query, does it, like certain of its relatives, turn some 
of these, on being fledged, over to the care of other 
birds ? 

The words I have put in italics above are very 
significant — the robbing of other birds' nests being 
probably in some way connected with the mobbing, 
and the egg of the American cuckoo, which is some- 
times set before us as non-parasitic absolutely, in 
other birds' nests is richly suggestive in several ways 
— which Mr. Darwin did not note. 

Jerdon emphasises the same fact about the Ameri- 
can cuckoo. He says : 

" The American cuckoo, though it ordinarily incu- 
bates its own eggs and feeds its progeny, does some- 
times adopt the procedure of the Old World Cucii- 
lincc.'" ''•'' 

Evidence accumulates year by year to prove that 
the character of the American cuckoo, if once as 
good as painted, is deteriorating from the high stan- 
dard ornithologists of old were fond to give it ; and 
this testimony is from all parts — north and south, 
east and west. They are no longer the " unquaH- 
fiedly well-behaved parents " of Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, 
nor do they " faithfully incubate " all "their delicate 
sea-green eggs," as Professor A. Newton has it. 

Mr. Macllwraith, in his Birds of Ontario, writes : 

*' The two kinds of cuckoo we have in Canada are 
not so totally depraved as the British cuckoo. They 

* Birds of India, i, p. 321. 

Mr. Macllwraith's Facts. 225 

usually build a nest and bring up a family, but even 
to them the duty does not seem to be a congenial 
one, and they are sometimes known to slip an egg 
into each other's nests, or into that of a different 
species. The nest they build is of the most tem- 
porary character, and the eggs are deposited in such 
a desultory manner that it is no uncommon thing to 
find fresh eggs and young birds in it at the same 
time."'" . . . Last summer a pair had their nest and 
reared their young within fifty feet of my residence. 
They were very seldom seen near the nest except 
when sitting on it. The nest was very flimsy, placed 
near the end of a horizontal branch of a maple about 
eight feet from the ground." 

Mr. Macllwraith notes that the eggs vary from 
four to eight or nine, f 

This is a very large margin in the laying. My 
theory of it is that the bird usually produces as many 
eggs, but, beyond four, places them always, lulieii it 
can, in the nests of other birds. Sometimes, however, 
it will happen that it cannot find such nests ready for 
it, then it puts them into its own nest, but only then, 
thus laying on themselves the burden of having young 
throughout a very long season — young ones and fresh- 
laid eggs being in the nest together. 

Mr. Macllwraith has also this significant passage : 

" In the report of the Ornithological subsection of 

* " The nest of the yellow-billed cuckoo is a very flimsy 
structure of about twenty straws crossed, and so poorly put 
together that after a high wind eggs of both this bird and the 
mourning dove are frequently found on the ground in pieces : 
that of the black-billed cuckoo is only one shade better." — 
William Lloyd on " Birds of Texas " in the Auk, 1887, p. igo. 

f p. 240 (edition, 1894). 


226 Tlie World-Evidence. 

the Canadian Institute for 1890, Dr. C. K. Clarke, of 
Kingston, Ontario, brings forward three cases of para- 
sitism in the black-billed cuckoo, observed by himself, 
of the correctness of which there can be no doubt. 
The first birds Dr. Clarke observed being imposed 
upon were a pair of chipping sparrows, who raised the 
young cuckoo at the expense of the family. 

" Next came a pair of yellow warblers, whose 
protege soon crowded out the legitimate occupants of 
the nest. They were raised from the ground and 
placed within reach, but the big boy required all the 
attention of the foster-parents and the others died. 
During the whole period the old cuckoo was always 
to be found flitting about in a restless manner, as if 
she had some doubt in regard to the ability of the 
warblers to take care of her child. 

" The third case was another pair of chipping 
sparrows, in whose nest the cuckoo was observed 
sitting, and from which she did not move till the 
observers almost touched her. The result was the 
same as in the other cases. The young cuckoo threw 
the sparrows out as soon as he had the strength to do 

* Pa^e 241. Birds of Ontario. 1894. This took place in 
1890, Dr. Bowdler Sharpe's handbook was not issued till 1896. 
There he speaks of the black-billed cuckoo and yellow-billed 
cuckoos rearing their own young, and as being both " most affec- 
tionate parents " (!) How close the analogies between men and 
animals— even birds ! In opposition to the views of earlier 
anthropologists, it is now found — inevitably found — that, with 
savage races, the practices of infanticide and exposure, only inten- 
sify the aftection of the parents for those that are kept alive, so it 
may be, that the American cuckoos are the more "affectionate 
parents" to those they rear in the ratio of the numbers they 
have exposed — in other birds' nests. 

Mr. J. L. Davidson's Report. 227 

Now, if three cases like these have been observed 
by one man, is it not possible that many might be 
observed if people generally were as observant. The 
more recent the books, or magazines, or journals we 
have consulted, the more definite are they on this 
head, with new instances many. 

Mr. J. L. Davidson, of Lockport, N.G., writes 
this to the Aiik, 1887, pp. 263-4 • 

" I have the eggs of Coccyzus Americanus and C. 
erythrophthaUnus, taken from nests of the wood 
thrush — two of the former and one of the latter. 1 
also found a nest of Merula migratoria (American 
robin) taken possession of by Coccyzus Americanus 
before it was finished, which was filled nearly full of 
rootlets ; and in this condition the robin laid one 
egg and the cuckoo laid two, and commenced incuba- 
tion, when a mourning dove (Zenaidiira macroura) 
also occupied it, and laid two eggs, and commenced 
incubation with the cuckoo. I found both birds on 
the nest at the same time, when I secured nest and 
eggs. The eggs of the robin and cuckoo were slightly 
incubated ; those of the mourning dove were fresh." 
The above was published in The Forest and Stream, 
August 24th, 1882, p. 65. 

" I have also a nest of Sayornis phcebe, in which a 
robin's egg is nearly embedded, and another of this 
same species with a cowbird's egg quite covered over. 
The latter is found in the nests of small birds, but I 
have found them covered up, except in this instance, 
only by the goldfinch and summer warbler." 

We have an instance or two of black-billed cuckoos 
laying in disused crows' nests, which shows the dis- 
like to nest building, and this dislike itself might 

228 The World-Evidence. 

well be viewed as a stepping stone on the way to 

^Ir. C. J. Alaynard, in a book issued as late as 1882, 
has the following : 

" Two or three instances have come under my 
notice, where either the black-billed cuckoo has de- 
posted its eggs in the nest of the yellow-billed cuckoo, 
or vice versa, and, furthermore, I have been informed 
by such good authority that I see no reason for 
doubting it, that sometimes the eggs of the black- 
billed cuckoo are to be found in the nests of other 
birds, and have been taken from the nests of chipping 
sparrows. It is, of course, possible that this habit, 
instead of being only an occasional outbreaking of 
one that is nearly always latent, is progressive ; or, 
again, under favourable circumstances, it may be- 
come more general ; in fact, as fully established as 
that of the cow-bunting, but this is a matter for 
ornithologists of future generations to prove." " 

We may say, however, that the yellow-billed cuckoo 
is the great offender m destroying eggs of other birds. 

Here then we have an area of fresh facts in our 
favour, and also an able American ornithologist, who 
directly suggests the position we are fain to take — to 
establish, that is, a marked and increasing tendency 
to parasitism among the American cuckoos — all going 
to support the plea of a much closer relation between 
them and our canorus than has been yet at all realised, 
and certainly in no way going to support Professor 
Alfred Newton's Encyclopcedia Britainiica deliverance 

*Birds of Eastern North America, p. 217, ed. 1SS2. The chip- 
ping sparrow, as Mr. Nehrling tells us, is everywhere a bird of 
the orchard and garden. 

Professor A. Newton s Dilemma. 229 

with regard to these two American cuckoos as 
follows : 

" There are two species very well known in parts of 
the United States and some of the West India islands 
(Coccyzus Americanus and C. erythrophtJialmusJ, and 
each of them has occasionally visited Europe. They 
both build nests — remarkably small structures when 
compared with those of other birds of the same size " 
(he should have added that they were most flimsy as 
well as small) — " and faithfully incubate their delicate 
sea-green eggs.'' .... Respecting these cuckoos of 
America, the evidence is certainly enough (italics here 
and just above are mine) "to clear them 'from the 
calumny which attaches to so many of their brethren 
of the Old World." 

The evidence is certainly nothing of the sort ; and 
it was in existence partly (see Mr. Nuttall's recorded 
observations) before Professor Newton ventured on 
this very bold and unqualified statement in the Ency- 
clopcedia Britannica . But this might have been passed 
over had Professor Newton not been of a mind to 
persist too far in his old opinion at quite a late date, 
after the evidence had become too strong not to be 
recognised as evidence even by him. His article in 
Dictionajy of Birds, in 1893, tells that he had heard 
of it ; but all he can afford to do there is to re-write 
and very slightly alter the Eucyclopcedia Britannica 
article, ad loc. to the following effect : 

" Respecting the cuckoos of America, the evidence, 
though it has been impugned, is nearly enough " 
(nearly enough now, mark) " to clear them from the 
calumny which attaches to so many of their brethren 
of the Old W^orld — they faithfully incubate their deli- 

230 The World-Evidence. 

cate sea-green eggs " — which, mark you, the " nearly 
enough " above by imphcation told that they did not 
— not quite all like the auctioneer's going— going — 
gone — not quite all ! 

The good character of these species is undoubtedly 
going year by year, and various instances, most dis- 
tinctly indicating this, were published prior even to 
the date of Professor Newton's Encyclopcedia Brit- 
nnnica article ; and they had increased to a large 
volume before he issued his Dictionary of Birds in 
1893. So notorious is this now that, under the head- 
ing " Canada" — Canada very significantly not being 
mentioned in the above passage, though it is like to 
become more and more important in this respect — in 
section, Distribiction of Birds in Encyclopaedia Brit- 
annica, Professor Newton, in next edition, will need 
to add that these two species of American cuckoos, to 
which he has referred, have there, as in a middle 
connecting land between this country and the United 
States, shown most markedly the process of passage 
of cuckoos in America towards affinity with our own 
common cuckoos in their parasitic habits, and not 
" faithfully incubating (allj their delicate sea-green 
eggs." Since 1882, as the evidence of JMr.^lacllwraith 
and others efficiently shows, instances have increased 
in a remarkable ratio — all to the same effect. 

Mr. Darwin's own statement about the " occasional 
habit " of depositing eggs in other birds' nests as 
suggesting but a step in the progress towards can- 
onists " wicked waze," might have given pause to 
Professor Newton's pen on this point, or given im- 
petus to it ; and ought even now to make him pull up 
(his attention having thus been emphatically directed 

Mr. NuttalVs View. 231 

to it) and to recognise and acknowledge that he had 
for once been too slow, and moved all too like that 
wonderful young podicipes flitviatilis, which he so 
aptly celebrated in Zoologist, 1889, p. 577. Mr. Dar- 
win and Professor Newton are here, at all events, at 
loggerheads ; they diametrically oppose each other, 
and, once again, to quote Artemus, " you pays your 
money and you takes your choice." The Professor's 
difference is not with me, but with Darwin : let the 
two sides fight it out. 

Had Professor Newton, when he revised the article, 
cuckoo, for the Dictionary of Birds, come across 
none of the late facts on which Mr. G. T. Gentry 
— • one of the latest and most reliable writers on 
American ornithology — based, when he made this 
record : 

" Mr. Nuttall," he writes, " has recorded the find- 
ing of the cuckoo's egg in the nest of a cat-bird, 
and another as late as the 13th of July in a robin's 
nest. These were considered at first as rare, if not 
incredible, instances ; but, latterly, we have had 
several well-authenticated cases of such parasitism. 
These observations, coupled with others equally im- 
portant, which have been recorded, tend to show a 
close relationship between our American cuckoos and 
their not very distant European brother.'" ■'- 

Professor Alfred Newton well observes the motto : 
Festina lente. In 1877 the utterance was pardonable ; 
but here we have, in 1893, close alongside each other, 
the two statements that the evidence is only nearly 
enough to clear the two American cuckoos, and that 

* Italics are mine. Nests and Eggs of American Birds, p. 270, 
ed. 18S2. 

232 The World-Evidence. 

they still "faithfully incubate their delicate sea-green 
eggs." That is scientific exactitude with a ven- 
geance. Caution run mad nearly enougJi, and leading 
nearly enougJi to logical contradiction. The evidence 
of Mr. Macllwraith, or Mr. Nuttall, of Mr. G. T. 
Gentry, of Mr. J. L. Davidson, and not a few others, 
was before Professor Newton in 1893, and that is all 
the modification he will make. Surely it is not too 
much to say that Professor Alfred Newton is more 
concerned for his amour propre than for evidence ; 
and we are to bow down grovelling before his " au- 
thority " in a case where facts — observed facts — must 
alone decide it. 

Mr. Gentry, in his Birds of Pennsylvania, ii, p. 115, 
remarks concerning the American cuckoo : 

" As the eggs are deposited at irregular intervals, 
it happens that the same nest contains both eggs and 
young birds, which seems to be a wise provision of 
nature in strengthening that degree of warmth which 
is denied by the shallowmess and looseness of the 

Mr. Gentry has never known more than a single 
brood in one season — a most important point in view 
of the disposal by the majority of these cuckoos of 
one half of their eggs. 

These facts are certainly not \vithout their own 
significance in view^ of our proposition. These birds, 
in the \vords of Mr. Maclhvraith, exhibit no love 
for the brooding and rearing process as do most other 
birds ; they are fain to limit the period of it — also the 
number of young raised by themselves. They build 
but a sorry make-shift of a nest, without sufficiency 
of warmth. They, at least, have a strong tendency 

The Yellow -hilled Cuckoo. 233 

to parasitism ; and, what is more natural in such cir- 
cumstances and with such a predisposition, that amid 
favourable surroundings they should become more 
and more parasitic. We should regard that as a 
most natural and logical inference from the facts we 
have before us ; and if Professor Alfred Newton 
maintains the opposite, we have simply to say that 
we out and out disagree with him, and that his bold 
ignoring of the facts will in the end not benefit him 
any more than it would anyone else. 

And it is unquestionable that, under civilization 
and man's improvements, the numbers of cuckoos in 
America are extending as their range is increasing. 

The yellow - billed cuckoo has a very extensive 
range in summer ; breeding from the Gulf coast 
north to the Dominion of Canada, New Brunswick, 
and Minnesota, and from the West Indies, where it 
is known as the " Maybird," and through Eastern 
Mexico to Costa Rica. Some even winter in Southern 
Florida. ... Of late years it has made its appear- 
ance even in the City of Milwaukee, where apple 
orchards occur. Though timid and shy, it becomes 
very confident and conspicuous in gardens and in 
hedgerows, where it feels safe and is convinced that 
man is its friend and not its enemy. The number of 
the eggs vary from three to six, but sets of three are 
most common. It now and then at least practises 
the vice, which disgraces so many of its relatives, and 
lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. The egg 
has been found in the nests of the wood-thrush, 
robin, catbird, cedarbird, cardinal, mourning dove, 
etc., etc. -'' 

* Henry Nehrling's Our Native Birds (Milwaukee). 1896. 

234 ^^'^ World-Evidence. 

There are no doubt some good points about the 
American cuckoos, though most assuredly they do 
not He in the direction Professor Alfred Newton and 
Dr. Bovvdler Sharpe would point us, especially after 
what Darwin himself had said in the eighth chapter 
of his Origin of Species ! 

Let us do them all the justice that we can. They 
are first of all very devoted to each other in the 
period of brooding. 

Mr. O. Widmann thus makes record of an observa- 
tion on 1 2th May, 1894, to this effect regarding the 
yellow-billed cuckoo \\ hilst brooding : 

" The female, at this particular period of her life 
and love, seems to care little for other food than that 
which her courteous and attentive mate provides for 
her. She keeps quietly sitting in all her loneliness, 
as if lost in pleasant reverie, patiently awaiting his 
return. In the exuberance of his affection, instead of 
taking a seat at her side, as other birds would do, he 
gracefully alights on her shoulders, slightly spreads 
his wings as if in embrace, bends forward over her 
head and puts into her open bill the tender willow-fly, 
an ephemera of larger size." ■■'• 

And, secondly, they seem to have more possibilities 
of being tamed and trained than our cuckoos, if we 
may judge by a record published by Mr. Koumly, of 
Seneca, Kansas, communicated to the American Or- 
nithologists' Union jfournal, 1893, P- 3^^? where he 
told of these birds frequenting houses and buildings. 
" A female yellow-billed cuckoo herself frequently 
visited the college chapel of St. Benedict's, Atcheson, 
Kansas. She was not flying about when I saw her, 

*Auk, 1895, P- 114- 

Mr. Beddard's Paper. 235 

but stood on the floor, on which she had laid an egg, 
and to all appearance was standing guard over it." 

This, which is most evident from these facts now 
recited, bears vast significance in favour of evolution, 
in such a marked manner, indeed, that Professor 
Alfred Newton, determinedly closing his eyes to it, is 
a most peculiar spectacle in these, the closing years 
of the 19th century. We have certain clear results 
in our country — results that would seem to lie far 
back, due to original instinct, were it not for unchal- 
lengeable proofs of return on an earlier habit now 
and then. Behold, in America, certain clear steps in 
the process, coinciding with remarkable progress in 
occupation and improvement in land, and the cutting 
down of forest, and planting of fruit and thin-leaved 
trees. And yet Professor Alfred Newton will not see 
in these facts any significance at all. None are so 
blind as those who w^ill not see ! 

Mr. Beddard, in his careful and almost exhaustive 
paper on the anatomical structure of the cuckoo {P. 
Z. Soc, 1885, pp. 168 — 179), decides that no true 
mark of classification can be found in the gall- 
bladder ; and he finds a broad line of separation 
between the genera of the old world and the new in 
the ventral tract — in the CpxhIus, Clirysococcyx, Caco- 
ma7ttis, and Coccystes (?) of the old world it is a 
single tract at its commencement, whereas in the 
genera Saurothea, Diplopterus (?), Piaya, and Coccy- 
zus of the new world it is double ; but, certainly, 
general tendency and habit are not much modified by 

The two common cuckoos of the Bahamas and the 
West India Islands — the American cuckoo and the 

236 The World-Evidoice. 

mangrove cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) — both brood their 
own young;" but surely Professor Newton, in view 
of the clear evidence that the American cuckoos are 
found, under certain conditions, laying eggs in other 
birds' nests, goes too far in absolutely ignoring or 
quietly setting aside all this evidence. 

The peculiar fact, that in certain latitudes we have 
varieties of the cuckoo, some of which, at all events 
up to a certain point, brood their own young and 
nurse and feed some of their progeny, and yet in 
structure do not differ substantially from our cuckoos ; 
and that, outside this, you have generally a full ten- 
dency to parasitism, or more or less a clear tendency 
to it, has not, in our idea, had the attention that it 
deserves. Either climate or food must have some- 
thing to do with this, or else points in the structure 
and economy of these birds have not yet been ob- 
served, studied, and fully illustrated. Can the fact 
of comparatively recent settlement by white men, 
carrying with them the work of civilization, have 
anything to do with it ? In latitudes throughout 
which the work of civilization has for ages gone on, 
there you will find the cuckoos, or certain of the 
cuckoos, pronounced parasites, whereas in latitudes 
more recently opened up to civilization and the intro- 
duction of the changes that inevitably come in its 
train, you have cuckoos that are clearly only more or 
less on the way to full parasitism. 

*Cory, pp. 116 — 117. 

Coiv -Birds. 




We have already referred to one point in which 
a striking commentary on certain actions of the 
common cuckoo is found in the molotlirus or cow- 
bird — an American species alUed to the starhngs. 
They are called cow-birds because they are often 
seen on the backs of these animals or among the 
cattle on the ground picking off insects that are 


there. . . .* We may here indicate some other 
points which will be suggestive and illustrative of 
certain traits to be found probably more or less in 
all parasitic birds. 

I. The cow-bird's eggs not only vary greatly in 

* H. Nehrling, ii, p, 31. 

238 The World-Evidence. 

colour, but also in size. They show a pearly white, 
often a pure white, or greyish white, or pale bluish 
ground colour, and are often spotted, more or less 
densely, with chocolate-brown, lavender and cinna- 
mon-brown spots. "• We have as yet, though we 
have very diligently sought for it, met with no record 
as regards the weight of these eggs as compared with 
the eggs of other birds of the same size ; but, from 
analogy, we should expect it to be comparatively 
heavy, as is the case with our cuckoo's eggs. Dr. 
Elliot Coues, one of the best authorities regarding 
this bird, writes : 

" No a priori reason appears to me why the egg 
should not have been of ordinary dimensions and a 
different series of birds been called upon to incubate 
it ; while, as the facts stand, it is clear that the 
bigness of the egg in comparison with those among 
which it is usually deposited, and not its smallness 
relative to the cow-bird's bulk is the favouring ele- 
ment ; for the larger egg must mechanically obstruct 
the incubation of the smaller eggs, and so receive 
the greater share of warmth from the bird's body. . . 
It is unusually small that it may be committed to the 
charge of birds able to hatch it, yet too weak to eject 

Mr. Hudson notes the great variety of eggs, but, 
from observations, thinks that the eggs of the same 
individual show a family likeness. 

The cowbird's eggs, like our cuckoo's, are thus 
very small compared with the size of the bird. 

Major Bendire, in his most interesting monograph 

* Nehrling, ii, p. 245. 

f Birds of the North-West, p. 152. 

Major Bendire on Cow-Birds' Eggs. 239 

on the cow-birds in Smithsonian Report, 1893, gives 
more detail than we find elsewhere on the extraor- 
dinary diversity in eggs of Molotlirus bonariensis. 

" 1 doubt," he says, " whether any other species 
exists laying eggs so varied. About half the eggs 
one finds, or nearly half, are pure unspotted white, 
like the eggs of birds that breed in dark holes. Others 
are sparsely sprinkled with such exceedingly small 
specks of pale pink or grey as to appear quite spotless 
until closely examined. After the pure white, the 
most common variety is an egg with a white ground, 
densely or uniformly spotted or blotched with red. 
Another not uncommon has a very pale, flesh-coloured 
ground, uniformly marked with fine characters, that 
look as though inscribed on the shell with a pen. 
Rarer is a variety pure white with variously sized 
chocolate spots : rarest of all is one entirely of fine 
deep red, and between this and the white one w^ith 
almost imperceptible specks are varieties without 
number, for there is no such thing as fixed character- 
istic markings." 

And the cowbirds' eggs vary as much in size and 
shape as in colour, markings, etc., they range from 
ovate to short, rounded and elongate-ovate, the first 
predominating. The shell is strong, and no doubt, 
as with the egg of the cuckoo, comparatively heavy. 

This leads to no end of points of comparison with 
the eggs of our common cuckoo. Are they thus 
variegated for the same reason as is generally assumed 
in regard to variety of colour and markings in eggs of 
our cuckoo, or what ? Does each slightly different 
variety belong to one bird, which does not vary from 
type or tint, or mark in any respect, or by one iota, 

240 The World-Evidence. 

or is there a range of difference, slight yet perceptible, 
even in the eggs laid by one bird ? Fain would we 
learn something of these things, as well as satisfaction 
on the question of weight, and whether in weight the 
eggs of different tint or colour vary from each other, 
and within what range, if any, among themselves. 
For that we must wait yet, we fear, a long while : 
and mention the point merely in the hope of bringing 
these elements for comparative purposes a little time 

II. We have found record so frequently that the 
eggs of our common cuckoo found in nests are more 
advanced towards hatching than those amongst which 
they are placed, as to be almost forced to the con- 
clusion that they hatch in a shorter space of time 
than do the eggs of the victimised birds. The eggs 
of the cow-bird hatch in eleven days, as against four- 
teen to sixteen days in the case of the birds into 
whose nests they are intruded. Nehrling tells us that 
when the cow-bird drops an egg into the nest of a 
smaller bird it is first hatched ; getting all, or nearly 
all, the heat of the sitting bird's body. 

III. The molothrus manages, somehow, to dis- 
pose of the other young birds in the nest ; for soon 
after exclusion from the shell they disappear. 

Mr. Nehrling writes: 

" In Texas I found two parasitic eggs in the nest 
of the painted bunting, and of three in the nest of the 
orchard oriol, only one was hatched, while the other 
disappeared in a mysterious way with the foster- 
parent's own eggs. In the nest of a yellow-breasted 
chat, in South-Western Missouri, three cow-bird's 
eggs were found, together with one of the rightful 

Enhancing Chances. 241 

owner. One disappeared before hatching, and so did 
the owner's eggs, while two cow-bird's eggs were 
hatched. At the age of three days one of the young 
parasites disappeared, and only one left the nest of its 
foster-parents. . . It is not unusual to find one or 
more eggs of the rightful owner thrown out of the 
nest, and it is supposed that the female cow-bird is 
responsible for it. This is doubtless done to enhance 
the chances of her own offspring. In other cases 
there are minute punctures in the shells of the re- 
maining eggs, and this is probably done on purpose 
by the cow-bird, to keep them from hatching.''' 
Major Bendire thus supplements Nehrling : 
" There is no doubt that the cow-bird sometimes 
throws the rightful owner's eggs out of the nest pur- 
posely to enhance the chances of its offspring coming 
to maturity. I have yet to see a punctured cow- 
bird's egg. . . . One would naturally suppose that 
birds breeding in holes in trees or under rocks would 
be exempt from this infliction, but this it not the 
case. Mr. G. W. Smith, formerly of Loveland, 
Colo., writes me that he found a cow-bird's egg in a 
rock-wren's nest which was placed under a ledge of 
rock fully two feet from the entrance, and which was 
barely large enough for the wren to squeeze through. 
The dwarf cow-bird," adds Major Bendire, " which 
usually selects nests of small birds for its eggs, is a 
more persistent puncturer of foster-birds' eggs than 
even the others." 

Mr. W. A. White, of Mathews, Va., especially 
watched a nest in which he had dropped a cow-bird's 

* Nehrling, ii, pp. 244-5. 

242 The World-Evidence. 

" The daily increase in the dimensions of the 
young cow-bird was something immense, while his 
younger companion seemed rather to diminish than 
enlarge, and at the end of three days he died evi- 
dently from want of food. 

Mr. Nuttall has seen the parent birds removing 
the dead young to a distance from the nest and there 
dropping them/'' The inference is, of course, that 
the intruders of their own eggs have killed the true 
young of the nest, and left them for the parents to 
remove from the nest. 

IV. In the case of Molothrus honariensis the 
males are much more numerous than the females. 
" Azara says that nine birds out of ten are males. 
The reason, perhaps, is that the male eggs of the 
cow-bird are harder-shelled than the female eggs and 
escape destruction oftener when the parent bird exer- 
cises its disorderly and destructive habit of pecking 
holes in all the eggs it finds in the nests to which it 
intrudes. ... In Buenos Ayres, where they are 
most numerous, they have a migration, which is only 
partial, however. It is noticeable chiefly in the 
autumn, and varies greatly in difl'erent years. In 
some seasons it is very marked, when for many days 
in February and March the birds are seen travelling 
northwards, flock succeeding flock all day long, pass- 
ing on with a swift, low and undulating flight, their 
wings producing a sort of low, musical sound." f 

Major Bendire tells us in his excellent treatise on 
the cow-birds in Smithsonian Report for 1893, that of 
the twelve species, three are found in the United 

♦ Baird's N. American Birds, ii, p. 155. 
-^ Birds of the Argentine, p. 73. 

The Cow-Birds never mate. 243 

States; Molothriis ater, molothrus ater obscurus, and 
Callothrus rohistiis, and a fourth, Callothrus ceneiis, is 
a resident of Western Mexico and portions of Central 
America. The remaining species are confined to 
Central America. " It is probable," he writes, " that 
nearly all these species are parasitic to a greater or 
less degree, laying their eggs in the nests of other 
birds, and letting them perform the duties of incuba- 
tion and rearing the young, with the exception of 
Molothrus badiiis, the bay- winged cow-bird (of the 
Argentine, Paraguay and Bolivia), which occasionally 
builds a nest of its own or appropriates nests of other 
species, but incubates its own eggs or cares for its 
young like other respectable members of the Avian 
family." Our cow-birds are among the few, if they 
are not the only, birds which practise polyandry, 
which is probably caused for the reason that the males 
generally outnumber the females by about 3 to i. 
(Major Bendire in view of our Canorus, etc., should 
have deleted the clause, "if they are not the only 

Dr. Elliott Coues tells us " The cow-birds never 
mate ; their most intimate relations are no sooner 
effected than forgotten ; not even the decent restric- 
tions of a seraglio are observed : it is a perfect com- 
munity of free-lovers, who do as the original cynics 
did. The necessary courtship becomes in consequence 
a curiously mixed affair. During the period corres- 
ponding to the mating season of orderly birds, the 
patriarchs of the sorry crew mount the trees and 
fences, and posture and turn about and ruffle their 
feathers to look bigger than nature made them .... 

* Pp. 589-590. 

244 ^^'^ World-Evidence. 

while the females perched near by, without seeming 
enthusiastic, take it much as a matter of course, 
listening at times it may be, but as likely preening 
their plumage with other thoughts and an ulterior 
purpose. The performance over, a very little while 
afterward the whole band goes trooping after food to 
the nearest cattle-yard or pasture." 

In how far, as suggested already, may the same 
causes account for the great disproportion in numbers 
of the sexes of our common cuckoo ? Has hardness 
and weight of the shell here, as there, a great deal to 
do with it ? ^Vere Mr. Bidwell's highest weight eggs 
those of males, and the lowest weight eggs those of 
females ? 

, V. Mr. Hudson, speaking of the Molothrus bonar- 
iensis, says : 

" It continues in better condition than other spe- 
cies, not having been engaged in the exhausting 
process of rearing its own young, and, moreover, 
being gregarious and practising promiscuous sexual 
intercourse, must lay a much greater number of eggs 
than other species.''' Hens that never become broody 
lay a great deal more than others. In ivild districts, 
where the parasitic instinct was formed, and where 
birds building accessible nests are proportionately fewer, 
the instinct seems different from what it does i)i cul- 
tivated districts. Parasitical eggs are not common in 
the desert, and even the most exposed nests are prob- 
ably never over-burdened with them. But in cul- 
tivated places, where their food abounds, the birds 
congregate in the orchards and plantations in great 
numbers, and avail themselves of all the nests — ill- 

* P. 277. 

Mr. Bavtlett quoted. 245 

concealed as they must always be in the clear, open- 
foliaged trees planted by man." " A point this which 
certainly deserves more special and exact working out 
than it has yet got ; leading us, as it does, to a vast 
problem ; to the part — the unconscious part — which 
civilized man plays, wherever he settles or advances, 
in gradually modifying the life and habits of all 
creatures, and, so far as we know, more especially of 
birds. He clears forests, and plants new kinds of 
trees : he lays out parks, and makes ornamental what 
before was wild : he decreases the volume of streams 
and rivers, by turning them to account for irrigation 
or for driving machinery, or other purposes, or to 
supply the needs of towns, in succession to, or in 
supplement to previous reduction, by timber cut down 
over wide areas, and on slopes, on hill tops, thus lim- 
iting substantially the rain-fall. The trees he plants 
are less thick-leaved than those he has rooted out. 
And as the face of the country changes — its whole 
physical geography being gradually modified — so do 
the various species of creatures change ; their habits 
gradually modified, in obedience to the law of self- 
preservation and increase of the species, if not to the 
law of " Natural Selection " and " Survival of the 

Mr. Bartlett, in Wild Animals in Captivity, re- 
marks : 

" The introduction and cultivation of a particular 
kind of grain or fruit into a country will tend to 
attract some of the wild animals from the surround- 
ing forest to the cultivated ground, and to increase 
their numbers by the food so readily obtained." 

* Pp. 77< 78. 

246 Tlic World-Evidence. 

And he proceeded to give an illustration in the 
case of the frugivorous bats (Pteropus poliocephalus) 
of Australia, which, when grape-growing had been 
started, came to form so keen a taste for the grapes 
that, for a time, wine-growing in Australia seemed 
impossible. But not only will wild animals be at- 
tracted to the forest by the new grain or fruit — the 
whole insect life of the district will be changed ; 
and, following on that change, the bird life and the 
relation of whole families of birds to other families 
of birds be conspicuously modified. 

Mr. Hudson's suggestion in that last passage we 
have quoted would indeed carry us very far — carry 
us so far that a volume might well be written on it. 
If other birds profit in certain ways by these vast 
changes, however gradually carried forward, certain 
it is, too, that in some ways they lose — for a large 
body of facts we have had before us connected with 
the cuckoo and other parasitical birds lead to the 
conviction that parasitism tends to have its fuller 
play under the changes introduced by man, and 
man's advances, in what he calls, and, from his point 
of view, rightly calls, " improving the country " — 
which means the improving off the face of the earth 
necessarily of whole races of innocent creatures, or 
of the transformation of those that remain into some- 
thing wholly different from what they were — alike in 
habit, function, and tendency — it is by such changes 
and modifications indeed that they survive. Else- 
where we have entered more fully into this subject. 

In how far may these same operating causes, 
working to the same or similar results as are sug- 
gested here, be found in our common cuckoo (i) in 

Cow-Birds Destructive. 247 

respect of immense superiority of males in numbers ; 
and (2) as regards changed conditions on the country 
in the way of cultivation influencing these to the 
formation of certain habits, etc. ? And what about 
the reason here advanced for large numbers of eggs, 
and how far does it apply to our cuckoo ? 

VI. The fact that an egg put into a nest of any 
species alone before the true bird has laid any will 
almost infallibly cause that nest to be deserted proves 
that the victimised birds are then sharp enough to 
recognise an egg not their own, the nest being so 
invariably deserted. Abundant authority there is to 
this efl'ect. 

Mr. Nuttall states that if a cow-blackbird's egg 
is deposited in a nest alone, the nest is uniformly 

This fact makes it the more likely that here, as in 
the case of our common cuckoos, the intruding birds 
try to remove the true egg or eggs, thus cunningly 
aiding the duping by preservation of the numbers. 

We read : 

" Probably three-fourths of the lost nests of the 
scissor-tail (Milvulns tyraniius), are abandoned in 
consequence of the confusion caused in them by the 
cow-birds. . . I have seen the female cow-bird strike 
her beak into an egg and fly away with it ; and 
watched the male bird, when she quitted it, drop 
down and begin pecking holes in the eggs." 

In how far are we justified in saying that Canorus 
does the same ? 

The cow-bird, like certain of our Canorus^ watches 

*P. 157- 

248 The World-Evidence. 

the nest in which an egg has been deposited — at any 
rate, for some time. 

*' In all cases where I have found this egg, I have 
observed both male and female cow-bird lingering 

Major Bendire says positively that : 

" When the young cow-bird is able to shift for him- 
self, he leaves his foster-parents and joins his own 

VII. The common cat-bird, we are told, rejects 
and ejects the Molothriiss Qgg. f And so do several 
other birds ; building it over in some cases, when 
they cannot succeed in ejecting it. 

VIII. Among all the varieties of Molot lines there 
is only one which preserves any semblance of true 
pairing. All the rest are like our cuckoos, and, as 
Professor Baird decisively says : 

" The screaming cow-bird [Molothriis rufonxillaris), 
is the only parasitical species in which there is con- 
jugal fidelity ; " a point on which Major Bendire 
speaks to exactly the same effect. I 

More and more, therefore, with these facts before 
us, we are compelled to regard Mr. Darwin's dictum, 
that migration is the cause of parasitism in the cuckoo 
as a most salient instance of the vice of generalising 
from too narrow a basis of particulars. 

IX. Major Bendire holds that Molot Jims bon- 
arieiisis once possessed the nest-making instinct, 
and he tells that twice he has seen birds of this 
species attempting to build nests, but leaving them 

* John Burroughs, Wake Robin, 
f Birds of N. America, ii, p. 155. 
1 P. 88. 

Young Cuckoo's Habits. 249 

unfinished — a recurrence too weak to be efficient to 
the ancestral habit. How could such an instinct 
have been lost ? " To say that the cow-bird occa- 
sionally dropped an egg in another bird's nest, and 
that the young hatched from these occasional eggs 
possessed some (hypothetical) advantage over those 
hatched in the usual way, and that the parasitic habit 
so became hereditary, supplanting the original one, 
is an assertion without anything to support it, and 
seems to exclude the agency of external conditions. 
. . Again, the want of correspondence in the habits 
of the young parasite and its foster-parents would, in 
reality, be a disadvantage to the former. The un- 
fitness would be as great in the eggs, and other 
circumstances : for all the advantages the parasite 
actually possesses in the comparative hardness of the 
eggshell, rapid evolution of the young, etc., already 
mentioned, must have been acquired, little by little, 
through the slowly accumulating process of natural 
selection, but subsequently to the formation of the 
original parasitical inclination and habit." 

This precise argument lies, and is quite as efficient 
as regards our own cuckoo. The young cuckoo shows 
instincts wonderfully correspondent and answering to 
the instinct or intention or plan of its real parents, 
but little to that of its foster-parents : the young 
cuckoo will hiss and dart at anyone coming near to 
the nest, while the true young would have acted 
quite differently. This is one illustration ; and, oddly 
enough, it would seem that the conduct of the young 
cuckoo is much the same whatever the nest he may 
be in — the true young in which nests would behave 
very differently. It would seem that the behaviour 

250 TJie World-Evidence^ 

of the young Molothrus is very different, yet quite as 
illustrative, from this point of definite unlikeness to 
the habits of the legitimate young of the nest in 
which it finds itself. Major Bendire has these very 
pregnant remarks on this subject : 

" Consider the different behaviour of three species 
that seldom or never warn their offspring of danger : 
the young of Synallaxis spixi, though in a deep 
domed nest, will throw itself to the ground, attempt- 
ing thus to make its escape ; the young of Mini us 
patagoniciis sits close and motionless, with closed 
eyes, mimicking death ; the young of our common 
Zenaida, even before it is fledged, will swell itself up 
and strike angrily at the intruder with beak and 
wings, and, by making so brave a show of its ineffi- 
cient weapons, it probably often saves itself from 
destruction. But anything approaching the young 
Molothrus is welcomed with fluttering wings and 
clamorous cries, as if all creatures were expected to 
minister to its necessities. . . . The young Molotlirus 
never understands the language of its foster-parents 
as other young birds understand the language of 
their real parents." 

Up to a certain point it is clear that the same is 
true of the young cuckoo in many nests in which he 
finds himself. 

We see thus, from a comparison of the various 
American cow-birds, a series, so to speak, of living 
links in the process of development. First of all, we 
have in Molothrus hadius the lower level. As Mr. 
Hudson says, they sometimes live promiscuously 
together in flocks, and sometimes pair. They either 
build a nest of their own or seize on one belonging 

Harm the Cow-Birds cause. 251 

to some other bird, occasionally throwing out the 
nestlings of the strangers. They either lay their 
eggs in the nest thus appropriated, or, oddly enough, 
build one for themselves on the top of it. Here the 
nest-building habit is assertive and almost invariable. 
Then in Molothi^us honariensis we have parasitic 
habits much more highly developed, with a very 
much - weakened tendency to nest-building — trials 
made and a beginning accomplished ; but nothing 
further, and, finally, the indiscriminate dropping of 
eggs into the nests of other birds, but in such num- 
bers that slight chance is left of many or any being 
hatched — since the whole habit of the victimized 
birds would be overturned by numbers were incuba- 
tion persisted in, whereas most of the nests are de- 
serted ; while again, the M. pecoris of North America 
has acquired instincts as perfect as those of the 
cuckoo, for it never lays more than one egg in a 
foster-nest, so that the young bird is securely reared. 

The vast harm caused by these cow-birds can be 
but guessed at. Here are the words of a close ob- 
server and good authority : 

" It can readily be seen what an amount of harm 
the cow-bird causes in the economy of Nature, grant- 
ing that only a single one of its eggs is hatched in a 
season. To accomplish this, a brood of insectivorous 
and useful birds is almost invariably sacrificed for 
every cow-bird ; and certainly they are not diminish- 
ing in numbers." "'' 

And Major Bendire tells that he follows practically 
the same good habit as Mr. John Burroughs : when 

* Bendire, Life History of Birds. 

252 TJic World-Evidence. 

he finds a young cow-bird in a nest, he kills or drowns 
it ; or, when he finds an egg, he destroys it. 

One point on which we would fain have more defi- 
nite and reliable information about the cow-birds — 
results of exact observation and comparison — is, as 
to the disparity of the sexes in numbers. There is a 
great difference between three to one, and ten or nine 
to one. This is, to our mind, an essential element in 
the study of parasitic birds. We believe, as surely 
as we now write, that the source and origin of para- 
sitism is to be found here in polyandrous promiscuity ; 
and the degree to which that has advanced, owing to 
permanent disproportion of the sexes, is the measure 
in which parasitism among birds has proceeded. The 
two are related to each other, as cause and effect ; 
though, indeed, conditions of culture, and changes 
effected by man, may be a second or collateral cause, 
operating to aid the other. 





Cuckoo Calls. 255 


Another point respecting Mr. Cuckoo Canorus and 
his family which is wrapped in doubt. Do the young 
birds when they are fledged learn the call-note of the 
foster-parents or of their real parents, deserting abso- 
lutely the former at this stage, after having got their 
earlier up-bringing out of them ? This query is sug- 
gested by the fact that, on a certain early morning 
walk, I heard no fewer than four distinctly different 
cuckoo-calls : (i) the ordinary cuckoo-call ; (2) this 
call in a hurried, startled, sharpened tone, as if of 
fear or warning ; (3) a distinct and prolonged second 
cuck, and cuck-cuck-koo-00 ; and (4) a low tentative 
cuck-a-cuck-koo, the koo being faint and indefinite, 
and more of the broader " a " sound. In addition to 
the calls being different, the notes sounded varied. I 
had never personally observed this before, and speak- 
ing to a yeoman friend who has spent all his life in 
the country, and has been out at all hours, and as a 
sportsman has observed a good deal, he did not re- 
ceive these statements of mine with surprise or as 
suggesting anything novel, but gave it as his theory 
that the young early broods of the cuckoo in June 
are fledged and join older cuckoos, whether their true 
parents or not he could not say : that the low hesitat- 
ing cuck-a-cuck-koo, with the koo very indistinct, is 
the note of the younger birds, and that the prolonged 
second koo is the note of the old birds, as trainers, 
now emphasizing that note to develop it fully in the 
young. This is, at all events, ingenious ; it could be 
verified only by evidence as to whether this prolonged 

256 Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

second koo is definitely heard at periods so early as 
to make it impossible that it could be due to the cir- 
cumstances to which he attributes it. He quoted the 
old saw, which lingers in some parts of the country 
and is common in our district : 

" April, cuckoo come, 
May, he sounds his drum, 
^iinc, he changes tunc, 
July, he may fly, 
August, he must." 

This rhyme has variations in different parts of the 
country. Here is one : 

"In March he leaves his search, 
In April come he will. 
In May he sings all day. 
In June he changes his tune, 
In July he's ready to fly ; 
Come August, he must. 
In September you'll him remember. 
But October he'll never get over." 

And surely Mr. Witchell is wrong when he says 
that the " cuckoo " is uttered by both sexes (p. 59, 
Bird Songs and Calls). I have always regarded this 
as specifically the male song or call, while " the 
whittling or water-burbling note," as Dr. Bowdler 
Sharpe well calls it, is that of the female ; and this 
note, on being heard, draws all the males within 
hearing to the point from which it issued. Mr. 
Witchell himself, in the next paragraph, speaks of 
this as the female note or call. 

My friend averred that, so far as his broad observa- 

Lord Lilfovd's Young Cuckoo. 257 

tion went, these old saws generally had a basis in 

With regard to this very important question of the 
note, we must make a small citation from a great 
authority : 

Lord Lilford says of a young cuckoo taken from 
the nest and kept in confinement, which survived for 
nearly two years, that he would sit stolidly on the 
perch (except at migration time, when he dashed 
about and injured his plumage), continually chirping. 

" We once only heard him attempt to say ' cuckoo,' 
but the attempt was a grievous failure."^ 

Now, Lord Lilford, we fancy, wrote the above as a 
record of a fact observed, without any thought of 
the inference — the important inference— that may be 
drawn from it. Is contact with the old birds essen- 
tial to the development of the proper cuckoo-note ? 
From what we have said above about what is evi- 
dently their careful efforts to induce it in the young 
ones, it is so. In Lord Lilford's young cuckoo, this 
call or note, clearly enough, was not developed ; and 
a most interesting question, to be solved only by 
comparison of observations of those who may here- 
after find nesthngs, and, like Lord Lilford, succeed 
in keeping them in confinement, is, whether the 
chirping is like to that of any other bird ; and like or 
not particularly to the bird out of whose nest the 
unfledged bird has been taken, and of this a very 
careful note should be made and preserved. 

This little instance, at all events, seems to raise a 
difficulty — -(presenting, so far as cautious inference 
may be drawn from it), in view of a somewhat over- 

* Birds of Northampton, i, 254. 

258 Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

decisive statement, to the effect that " careful experi- 
ments have proved beyond a doubt that each bird's 
song is really inherited, and that he will sing like his 
parents, even though he may never have heard their 
song ; " or, at all events, it furnishes presumably one 
exception of a very striking kind, that demands very 
close attention and special experiment. 

Up to this point I was incHned to agree with the 
following writer in summarising the results reached 
by Mr. C. Dixon : 

" There is no direct evidence to support the popular 
belief that young birds, without tuition or experience, 
warble off the song characteristic of their species ; 
and every bird-fancier is aware how readily, under 
suitable conditions, young birds will acquire a song 
totally unlike what would be expected of it if the 
inherited ability ruled. Mr. Dixon holds that the 
songs of birds are acquired by imitation, and that if 
young birds never heard the song of their species, 
they would be totally unable to produce it." 

But just then I was brought into correspondence 
with Mr. C. Campbell about the remarkable cuckoo 
kept by Mr. Cochrane, of Edinburgh, through read- 
ing the following paragraph in a London daily in 
May, 1898 : 

" At the last meeting of the Edinburgh Field 
Naturalists and Microscopical Society a live cuckoo 
was exhibited by Mr. Charles Campbell, who stated 
that it was taken from a meadow-pipit's nest in Wig- 
townshire in 1896, and was hand-reared. It soon 
became very tame, and was now a household pet. 
It was probably the only one of its kind that had 
survived two winters in this country. Although the 

Mi\ Charles CampbelVs Letter. 259 

cuckoo had not yet arrived in the Edinburgh district, 
the one in question commenced its well-known call 
on April gth. Mr. Campbell said he was not aware 
of any previous instance where the cuckoo had been 
known to call in captivity." 

I at once wrote to Mr. Campbell and was favoured 
by him with the following letter and notes : 

Dalmeny Park, 

by Edinburgh, 

23rd May, 1898. 
Dear Sir, 

I duly received your letter of nth inst. regarding the 
cuckoo, and am sorry I have not been able to reply to you 
sooner. I have received quite a number of communications 
regarding this bird, and when I exhibited it before our society 
meeting, I was hardly prepared to see it so extensively noticed. 
To save me writing, I enclose for your perusal some notes 
about the cuckoo and other birds I had intended to send to a 
local paper, but have not done so as yet. 

I had not consulted Lord Lilford's book to which you refer, 
but there is no doubt that this bird gives the true cuckoo-call ; 
there is no chirping about it. 

I had a letter from the editor of the Sketch asking for a photo 
of this bird. I had one taken, and it should appear in that 
journal shortly, but, as the bird was in very poor p:umage, it 
does not make a very pretty picture. 

If there is anything further you would like to know about the 
bird, I will be very happy to give you any information I can, 
and you might kindly return my notes with any criticism re- 
garding it, which I will value as coming from an experienced 

I am. 

Yours very truly, 

Chas. Campbell. 
Alex. H. Japp, Esq., F.R.S.E., 

26o Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

The following are Mr. Campbell's notes : 


" One day last summer, while in Mr. Cochrane's 
bird shop in Market Street, Edinburgh, I was sur- 
prised to see a cuckoo disporting itself in a cage 
quite at home. As it has always been a debated 
question whether a bird with so strong a migratory 
instinct as a cuckoo would long survive captivity, I 
was much interested in the specimen and naturally 
desirous of knowing something more of its history. 
There is, of course, always a feeling against keeping 
any wild bird in confinement, but, given proper treat- 
ment, there is much that may be said in favour of 
making pets of our own wild birds that does not 
apply in equal measure to birds imported from abroad. 

" In August, 1894, there was some correspondence 
in the Scotsman as to the late occurrence of the 
cuckoo in Scotland, and I then stated that I had 
every reason to believe that a belated specimen of 
the cuckoo was seen in the woods of Moredun, in 
Argyllshire, as late as December, the weather being 
that year exceptionally mild. Another correspondent 
wrote saying he did not believe this, and quoted from 
Mr. Speedy's book, Craigmillar and its Environs, as 
proving that our climate is incom.patible with the 
existence of the cuckoo in winter, and the bird Mr. 
Speedy describes in that interesting book did not 
survive beyond October ; but Mr. Cochrane's pet 
had already survived two winters. In the cold 
weather it is taken from the shop to Mr. Cochrane's 
house, where I went to see it a few nights ago. 
When I entered the house, the cuckoo was perched 

Continued to call till yuly. 261 

near the fireplace at liberty. It readily picked a 
mealworm given to it, and exhibited no fear at the 
presence of a stranger. After a look round at some 
other pets, I enquired more minutely into the history 
of the cuckoo. It was taken from a titlark's nest in 
Wigtonshire when very young, and hand - reared. 
One of the great secrets of success in bird-rearing is, 
of course, to know the proper food. A small piece 
of raw meat it regards as a delicacy ; in the season 
it has a little chopped lettuce, or some grated carrot 
mixed up with some kind of meal in which there 
may be also a sultana raisin or two. 

" Last year the cuckoo moulted in February, and it 
is in the same condition at present. After it was 
through the moult last year, much to the surprise of 
its custodian, the cuckoo commenced its well-known 
call, and continued crying till July. This is a very 
rare occurrence, and I am not aware of any previous 
instance of the cuckoo giving voice in captivity. 

" About the end of July it began to exhibit a rest- 
lessness it had not previously shown. That it felt 
warning of its migratory instinct impelling it to fly 
to a more congenial climate was very evident. After 
a time it quieted down again, and began to moult its 
feathers a second time. The cuckoo this year com- 
menced to cry on the 7th of April, exactly a week 
earlier than last year. The note last year was 
clearer and firmer than it is this." -'' 

At the risk of seeming to repeat a little on a point 
or two, I am tempted here to give a portion of a 
letter written to me by Mr. Cochrane, in answer to 

* Mr. Campbell's article appeared in The Scotsman and 
Edinburgh Evening Despatch of April 28th, 1898. 

262 Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

one of enquiry from me, about the death of this re- 
markable bird — the more especially as it utters so 
simply and so well the feelings of a true bird-student 
and bird-lover. The date of Mr. Cochrane's letter is 
December 12th, 1898. 

" I regret to say that poor cuckoo is dead. He 
died about two months ago. He seemed to become 
gradually paralysed on one side, and was found dead 

{By permission of Mr. Balmair, Edinburgh.) 

Brittle Feathers. 263 

one morning. I may say that his eye was bright, 
and his voracious appetite unimpaired up till the last. 
I believe The Sketch had an article on him, and also 
reproduced his photo, though I did not see it — the 
Sketch paragraph, I mean ; I have a copy of the 
photo taken for the Sketch. I regret very much that 
I did not have his photo taken when he was in good 
condition and feather. At the time his photo was 
taken (sitting on my hand) he was in wretched feather. 
His plumage was perfect up to his first moult, and 
until the migrating season came round, when he 
became, for a week or two, very restless, and kept 
continually jumping on to the wires of his cage, 
thereby breaking all his flight and tail feathers. I 
may here say that I never came across such brittle 
feathers in any bird. There was no pliability in them 
— they snapped like dry twigs. 

" During this summer I had a bird which had been 
shot brought to me to identify. It was a young 
cuckoo, and its feathers were not nearly so brittle as 
my own's were ; possibly the feeding of my one in 
captivity had something to do with it. 

" He was taken from the nest of a meadow-pipit, 
in June, 1896, and commenced his well-known call in 
May, 1897. Some days he would call incessantly 
from daylight till dark. He ceased calling in July, 
I think, and remained mute till the evening of April 
9th, 1896. I remember the occasion well; it was 
about 9 p.m., and he was sitting on the fender, 
enjoying the heat of the fire. (He had the run of 
the house at this time.) During 1897 tiis call was an 
ideal one ; just the same as if he had been at liberty 
in the woods; while in 1898 his call was entirely 

264 Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

different and disappointing, and not at all pleasant to 
hear, neither did he call so often. 

" His food consisted of meal worms, principally, 
of which he ate seventy-three, one after the other, on 
one occasion. He took them all from the hand, too. 
He also had made up for him daily, minced hard- 
boiled egg, minced lettuce, grated carrot, grated 
boiled liver, and ants' eggs, all mixed together. He 
was also very fond of small pieces of raw meat. He 
had also on one occasion a feed of very small live 
frogs, v/hich he seemed to appreciate very much. I 
have heard people say that cuckoos ate other birds' 
eggs. Well, I put small birds' eggs into his cage 
repeatedly, and he would never touch them. He was 
a very intelligent bird, and made friends w^th every- 
body. He would fight playfully with your finger ; 
putting out his wangs and pecking vigorously, and 
uttering all the while a sort of guttural sound from 
the back of his throat. He would never take a bath. 
Once or twice I gave him a shower-bath, but he just 
sulked in a corner till he was dry again — ne\'er offer- 
ing to dress or preen his wet feathers, as any other 
bird would. 

" It has never been in a position to hear the note of 
its wild companions, but has been reared among the 
shrieks of parrots, the piping of bullfinches, and 
the trilling of German canaries. On one occasion, 
when the parrots were screaming in chorus, the 
cuckoo commenced calling vigorously, and, to the 
astonishment of its owner, it soon had the field to 
itself, for the parrots, by common consent, seemed to 
stop and listen." 

This experience, though it is opposed by that of 

Mr. Cochrmie's Case reverses Lord Lilford's. 265 

Lord Lilford, seems to confirm this sentence of 
Father Gerard : 

" One argument to the contrary nature has ex- 
hibited in the cuckoo, which, reared in the society of 
strangers and with their notes in its ear, yet sticks 
unfalteringly to the tune, which only by instinct can 
he recognise for his own." '•' 

For later eggs deposited, as many eggs are in the 
nests of birds in later June, even in later July, it is 
impossible that the parent notes could ever have 
been heard by those young birds, for they would not 
be hatched till after the old birds had become silent, 
if they had not departed. 

In Mr. Cochrane's case, then, we have a complete 
reversal of Lord Lilford' s experience all along the 
line, as we may say, and must hold our decision in 
reserve till we have more evidence. 

And we may therefore meantime find some ground 
for agreeing with Mr. Hudson : 

" It is possible to believe that, while many singing 
birds do learn their songs and acquire a greater pro- 
ficiency in them from hearing the adults, in other 
species the song comes instinctively and is, like other 
instincts and habits, purely an ' inherited memory.' "t 

We have record from another good authority of a 
third cuckoo kept in confinement, which lived over 
one year, and in this case, though there were decided 
efforts to make the cry "cuckoo," it never really got 
beyond the first syllable "cue," and sometimes even 
failed to render that with any degree of distinctness. 

The matter can only be settled by careful experi- 

* Science and Romance, p. 23. 
f Naturalist in La Plata, p. 257. 

266 Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

ment and observation. At present we have but case 
against case, and we can only safely generalise from 
a larger body of particulars. There seems to be no 
doubt about Mr. Cochrane's bird, and the case is all 
the stronger inasmuch as he is so well assured that it 
could never have heard the note of the free birds of 
its own kind. We must wait for more light on the 
subject and meanwhile reserve our opinions. 

These two cases and one other show advance made 
in treatment and success with confined cuckoos, since 
Mr. Stevenson tells us, as though it were remarkable, 
that ^Ir. Dew, a hairdresser in Norwich, kept one in 
perfect health from June, 1863, till some time in 
October, 1864 — that is sixteen months — through one 

Mr. W. H. Jack tells of a tame cuckoo which 
haunted the bushes about his house, clearing them of 
the larvae of Orgyia ajitiqua, the common vapourer 
moth. It took up its abode in the front garden, was 
regularly fed, and grew quite fat. A pole was put up 
for it, which it took to, and was often seen, when the 
ground was wet, to dig up worms, like a thrush. 
ZooL, 1890, p. 457. 

A most important further point with a bearing on 
this matter is made clear in the following note from 
Mr. C. A. Witchell, pubhshed in Knowledge, who 
has made a very close study of the de\elopment of 
bird-song, and written most effectively on the subject, 
both in a well known volume and elsewhere. 

" It seems to me that the missel thrushes near 
Eltham sing longer strains than are heard from those 
of Gloucestershire, and that the latter birds more 
frequently utter a few high broken notes after the 

Rev. Vere Audry's Story. 267 

strain, in the manner of a blackbird. It would be 
interesting to learn whether anyone has heard the 
missel thrush sing a long strain, such as one hears 
from the blackbird. This point appears to me im- 
portant in connection with the fact that the young 
blackbird, when commencing his full-toned song, 
utters short strains, like a missel thrush." 

Mr. Witchell's closing words there raise the whole 
question we have been asking about the young 
cuckoos. Do the young birds instinctively sing the 
song exactly after the type of that sung by the parent 
bird, or do they catch up wiiat they may most hear, 
and begin with that ; or do they in their song, as in 
other things, sometimes show back-strokes — fallings 
back on the habits of relations long differentiated, and 
ranked now in a distinct, though related family ; or 
is it possible that intimacies of a peculiar kind are 
possible and more general than is ordinarily believed 
between members of those related families ? These 
are matters on which there is still much to be learned, 
and which can only be learned by the observations of 
close observers in different parts being systemati- 
cally reported and compared. Here, for example, is 
a letter written by the Rev. Vere Audry, and pub- 
lished in The Spectator of April 25th, 1898 : 


" Is this conduct usual, and can any of your 
readers throw light upon it ? In this garden a thrush 
is sitting on a nest of blackbird's eggs, now just 
hatched. The nest is a blackbird's, the eggs were a 
blackbird's, but a thrush sits upon them ; a cock 

268 Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

blackbird sits in a branch just above and sings to the 
sitting bird. What can this mean ? One might 
have supposed that somebody had changed the eggs 
were it not for the cock blackbird sitting above. 
There is no mistake about the facts ; the nest is close 
to the path, and we watch the performance every 
day. There is no nest that we can find in the neigh- 
bouring bushes. 

" Two years ago a child then staying in the house 
reported exactly the same facts as having happened 
in a bush on the other side of tlie path ; but no atten- 
tion was paid to what he said, as he was a mere 

Now, if this is possible between the common thrush 
and the blackbird, who, though relatives, are not 
always very aifectionate towards each other, miglit 
this not happen now and then with the missel thrush 
and the blackbird. I had an experience of my own 
precisely in the direction of that of Mr. Audry, but 
should not desire to base upon it. Has Mr. Witchell 
extended his observations widely enough to be certain 
that the short strains like those of the missel thrush 
are invariable with the young blackbird ? That point 
settled, generahzation there would be easier. But so 
much goes to modify these things — locality, as Mr. 
Witchell tells. Eltham missel thrushes sing longer 
strains than those of Gloucestershire, etc., etc. 

Mr. Robert Read and other practical ornithologists 
have frequently found two hen birds laying in one 
nest. Mr. Read, for example, once found eight 
thrush's eggs in a nest in a wood near Durham, 
which from their colour he judged to be the product 
of two females, as there were two sets of four each. 

Imitators of Nightingale. 269 

He has found four spotless eggs and one normal one 
in the same nest. The occurrence of the eight eggs 
together, apparently laid by two hen birds, is inter- 
esting, as it is known that occasionally the birds 
build two nests in conjunction." Everyone knows 
that pheasants will often lay eggs in partridges' nests 
and in effect sometimes share the brooding with 

It is a notorious fact that building in the same tree 
or near to each other disarms egg - suckers ; thus 
pigeons have been found building on the same trees 
as magpies and jays, and in most of these cases it 
was found that the pigeons' eggs escaped the natural 
marauder so near to them. So, with birds, not dis- 
tantly related, building close to each other might well 
lead in time to the sharing of one nest. 

All, however, bears more or less directly on the 
central question of birds' song, whether instinctive, 
hereditary or imitative and learned by listening to 
other birds' notes : a whole lot of birds imitate the 
songs of other birds, and by it very materially modify 
their own — thus thrushes and yet more blackbirds and 
starlings imitate the song of the nightingale, and 
sometimes so perfectly up to a certain point that their 
song might well be mistaken for the nightingale's. 
Light is much needed on this point, and it can only 
be secured by ornithologists in one part taking up 
special lines of enquiry and observation, and corres- 
ponding with those in other parts ; so that, from a 
wide range of observations, general laws may be 

One experiment I propose to myself on the first 

* Dr. Bowdler Sharpe's British Birds, p. 266. 

270 Calls 0)1(1 Yoiuii^ Cuckoo Birch. 

chance offering. This is to put a cuckoo's egg, taken 
from the nest of meadow-pipit or hedge - sparrow 
under a canary hen or other caged bird along with 
hers, modifying her food as far as may be in favour of 
the cuckoo, then to watch how the cuckoo conducts 
himself towards the young, as also how he developes 
notes and song. I should be pleased if others would 
try similar experiments, and put themselves into com- 
munication with me that we may compare notes. 

A correspondent of the Auti-jfacobin, who there 
recorded some very nice natural history observations, 
made these remarks about a variation in the cuckoo- 
note heard by him : 

" Twice only and that in the same part of Lanca- 
shire have I heard the cuckoo pause on his first note 
— cuck-oo Click, and so abruptly terminate. Probably 
some insect came within clutch of his beak and 
stopped his song, with the hope, as Horace says, of 
plus dapis. Apropos of cuckoos, a lively little boy, 
bred among Mayfair chimney pots, w^as taken to a 
country haunt for the first time of conscious observa- 
tion, and hearing the fond bird calling its own name, 
with which sound he was previously familiar only 
through a cuckoo clock on the stairs of his home, 
turned a face of childish surprise to his nurse and ex- 
claimed among the hedgerows, " But where's the 
clock ? " 

Mr. G. D. Leslie to Mario, under date 27th June, 
1889, writes : 

" The cuckoo, which has been singing for the last 
eight weeks, has begun that absurd alteration in his 
notes which is a peculiarity of the bird ; he no longer 
says cuckoo, but cuck-cuckoo and cuckoo-cuck. 

Cuckoo calls on wing when mating. 271 

There has been a good deal of debate about whether 
the cuckoo ever calls when on the wing. I am con- 
fident that it does so when mating, and in pursuit of 
the hen, as many other birds do that sing not on the 
wing at any other time ; canaries being among them. 
I have seen and heard it thus many times : and then, 
I can assure the reader, there is no mistake about its 
note. And since writing the above I am glad to have 
this confirmed by the observation of a good authority, 
who, in the Zoologist for 1894, PP- 306-8, says : 

" When mating the cuckoo most decidedly calls 
when flying after the hen." 

Mr. A. Holte Macpherson, in writing of the note 
of the cuckoo, however, tells, that while other birds 
in their courtship actually lose their senses, and their 
heads, the cuckoo always seems intelligent, and to 
hear all neighbouring sounds." =•' 

Yarrell thinks that the notion of cuckoos sucking 
eggs, — their own, or those of other birds, — arises 
from their undoubtedly carrying their eggs in their 
mouth ; a fact which has been so fully observed and 
verified that there can be no doubt whatever about it. 
But from various facts and suggestions we have given 
— it is clear that the piercing and sucking of eggs is 
now common to certain species of cuckoos, and phe- 
nomena observed in the case of others would almost 
justify one in saying that it is in no way so absolutely 
proved that even Cuculus canoriis never condescends 
to prick and to suck eggs ; though, in our idea, it is 
more than possible that modification of food in his 
case, ov>^ing to changes in land culture, etc., etc., and 
his reliance more and more on a sort of food, which, 

* Zoologist, 1896, p. 337. 

272 Calls and Young Cuckoo Birds. 

inside him, does not accord with the ^^g substances, 
has led to his generally abandoning the practice — 
abandoning it, save in the exceptional circumstances 
connected with deposition of his own eggs, etc. But 
where he pricks eggs, it is more than possible that 
he tastes them. 


Abbott, Dr. W. L. Contributions to American Journals on 

Allen, J. A. The Birds of Massachusetts. Salem. 1878. 
American Museum of Natural History. New York. 1875-80. 
American Naturalist, The. (Last vols.) Salem. 
American Ornithologists' Union journal. Boston. 
Andersson, C. J. Notes on Birds of Damaraland. London. 

Asiatic Society, Journal of the, especially Mr. Blyth's articles on 

Cuckoos. 1842-1848. 
Atkinson, Canon J. C. Sketches in Natural History. London. 


British Birds' Nests. London. 1898. 
Auk, The. American Ornithologists' Union Journal. Boston. 
Baird, Professor S. F. Review of Birds in Smithsonian Institute. 

Washington, 1862. 

Birds of North America. Philadelphia. 

Barrett, Charles. Lepidoptera of British Islands. 
Baldamus, Dr. Essays in " Naumannia." London. 1892. 
Bechstein, John. Cage and Chamber Birds. London. 1849. 
Beddard, F. On the Structure of the Cuckoo. 
Bendire, Major. Life History of American Birds. 
Bidwell, E. Contributions to Zoologist and Bulletin of British 

Ornithologists' Club. 
Blackburn's, Mrs. The Pipits, &c. Birds. 

274 Books Read or Consulted. 

Bonaparte, C. I. L. L. Geographical and Comparative List of 
American and English Birds. London, 1838. 
,, ,, American Ornithology. Philadelphia, 

Broinowski, G. L Birds of Australia. Melbourne. 1892. 
Bulletin of Natural History. New York. 1891. 
Bulletin of American Ornithological Union. (Protection of Birds 

Society (?) Boston. 
Blyth, Edward Cuvier's Animal Kingdom. London. 1840. 

Articles in Asiatic Society's Journal. 1842- 
Brewer, Thomas M. History of North American Birds. Boston. 

North American Oulogy. Boston. 1848. 
Brooks, W. T. Law of Heredity. New York. 1890. 
Buller, Sir W. Lawry. History of Birds of New Zealand 
London. 1872-3. 

Manual of Birds of New Zealand. 
London. 1882. 
Buckler, William. Larvae of British Butterflies and Moths. 

London. 1886. 
Burbidge, F. W. Garden of the Sun : Travels in Borneo. 

London 1880. 
Canadian Institute. Reports of Ornithological Subsection. 
Chamberlain, M. Catalogue of Canadian Birds. S.John. 1887. 
Christy, R. Miller. Birds of Essex. London. 1S85 
Cooper, J. G. Survey of California. New York. 1S59. 
Cory, C. B. The Curious and Beautiful Birds of the World. 
Boston. 1883. 

Birds of the Bahamas. Boston. 18S0 
,, Birds of Hayti. Boston. 1884. 

Coues, Dr. Elliott. Birds of the North West. New York. 1873. 

Colorado Valley. New York. 

Darwin, Charles R. On Domestication of Plants and Animals. 

Books Read or Consulted. 275 

Darwin, Charles R. The Origin of Species (sixth edition). 

London. 1872. 
Dewar, G. A. B. Wild Life in Hampshire Highlands. London. 

Diggles, Sylvester. Companion to Gould's Birds of Australia. 

Brisbane, 1897. 
Dresser, H. E. List of European Birds London. 1881. 

(with Dr. Bowdler Sharpe). Birds of Europe. 
London. 1871. 
Embleton, Dr. Article on Eggs in Natural History Society of 

Northumberland and Durham Trans. 1873. 
Emerson, P. H. Birds of the Norfolk Broadland. London. 

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Birds and Cuckoo. 
Forbes, Professor H. O. A Naturalist's Wanderings in the 

Eastern Archipelago. London. 1885. 
Gentry, G. T. Nests and Eggs of Birds of United States. 
Philadelphia. 1880. 

Life Histories of Birds of Pennsylvania. Phila- 
delphia. 1876-7. 
Gosse, Philip H. The Birds of Jamaica. London. 1847. 
Gould, James H. My Canary Book. London. 
Gould, John. Century of Bii'ds from the Himalayas. London. 

Synopsis of Birds of Australia. London. 1837. 
The Birds of Australia. London. 1848-69. 
Handbook to Birds of Australia. London. 1865. 
The Birds of x\sia. London. 1850-83. 
The Birds of New Guinea. London. 1S75. 
Gurney, J. H. (the elder). Andersson's Notes on Birds of Dama- 

raland. 1872. 
Gurney, J H. The Economy of the Cuckoo. 1897. 

The Ornithology of Algeria (7^/5). 1875. 
„ Rambles of a Naturahst in Egypt. London. 

Hancock, John. Birds of Northumberland and Durham. 

276 Books Read or Consulted. 

Harting, J. E. Our Summer Migrants. 
Hudson, W. H. Birds of the Argentine. London. 1888. 
Hume, A. O. Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds. London. 1889. 
,, Catalogue of Indian Birds. London. 1879. 

Stray Feathers. Calcutta. 1872. 
Ibis, The. Last 12 volumes especially. London. 
Irby, L. H. L. British Birds. London. 1892. 

Ornithology of Straits of Gibraltar. London. 
Jerdon, Thomas C. The Birds of India. Calcutta. 1862-64. 

(later edition), 
with added notes. 1S77. 
Illustrations of Indian Ornithology. Madras. 
Kearton, J. British Birds and Nests. London. 1S96. 

With Nature and a Camera. 1897 
Kent, Saville. Naturalist in Australia. 
Kirby. Butterflies and Moths. 

Layard, E. L. Birds of South Africa. Edited by Dr. 
Bowdler Sharpe. London. 1875. 

Catalogue of Specimens in South African Mu- 
seum. London. 1861. 
Lee, Oswin A. J. Works on Birds (allj. 
Legge, Captain W. V. History of Birds of Ceylon. Colombo. 

Lewin, J. W. Birds of New South Wales. London. 1892. 
Macllwraith, Thomas. The Birds of Ontario. London. 1894. 
Maynard, C. J. The Birds of Florida. Salem. 1872. 

Birds of Eastern America. Newtonville. 1881. 
Merriam, C. Hart. On Birds. 

Geographical Distribution of Life in North 
America. 1893. 
Miller, W. J. C. Essays and Nature Studies. London. 1898. 
Mivart, St. George. A Monograph of the Lorries. London. 

Books Read or Consulted. 277 

Mivart, St. George. Birds : Elements of Ornithology. Lon- 
don. 1892. 
,, ,, Nature and Thought (second edition). 

London. 18S5. 

Contemporary Evolution. London. 1876. 

,, „ Origin of Human Reason. ,, 1889. 

,, Essays and Criticisms. ,, 1892. 

Morris, F. O. British Birds. London. 1885. 

Morgan, C. Lloyd. Animal Life and Intelligence. London. 

1 890- 1. 

Animal Sketches. London. 1891. 
" Naumannia " for various years. 
Newton, Professor Alfred. A Dictionary of Birds. London. 

Norfolk and Norwich Natural History Society Transactions. 

Northumberland and Durham Natural History Society Trans- 
actions. Newcastle. 1885-7. 
Oates, E. W. Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds. London. 1889. 

Indian Ornithology. London. 1889. 
Oates, F. Ornithology of Matabeleland. London. 1889. 
Ramsay, E. R. List of Australian Birds. Sydney. 1888. 

Catalogue of Australian Birds. Sydney. 1890. 
Rey, Dr. Altes und Neues aus den Haushalte des Kuckucks. 
Ridgway, Robert. Studies of Ornithology. Washington. 1876. 
Romanes, G. J. Animal Intelligence. 

Darwin and after Darwin. 
Ruskin, John. Love's Meinie. Orpington. 1897. 
St. John, Sir Spencer. Life in the Forests of the Far East. 

London. 1862. 
Salvadori, Count. Prodromus ornithologiae Papuasia. Geneva. 

Ornithologia della Papuasia. Torino. 1880. 
Salvin, O. (and Sclater). Exotic Ornithology. London. 1869. 
Samuels, E. A. Ornithology and Oology of New England. 
Boston. 1867. 

278 Books Read or Consulted. 

Samuels, E. A. Our Northern and Eastern Birds. New York 

Saunders, Howard. Birds of Lancashire, etc. London. 1892 
,, ,, Birds of Spain, etc. 

A Manual of British Birds. ,. 1889. 

Sclater, P. H. Articles in Zoologist and elsewhere. 
Seebohm, Henry. British Birds. London. 1879. 

Monograph of Turdidae. London. 1874. 
Coloured Figures of Eggs of British Birds. 
Sheffield. 1896. 
Sharpe, Dr. R. Bowdler. Catalogue of African Birds. London. 
,, ,, Contributions to Ornithology of Africa. 

London. 1870-3. 

Handbook of British Birds (Allen's). 


Catalogue of Birds in British Museum. 
Shelley, Captain G. E. Birds of Egypt. London. 1872. 

Catalogue of Picaricie (British Mu- 
seum Catalogue). London. 1891. 
Smith, Cecil. Birds of Guernsey. London. 1879. 

Birds of Somersetshire. London, 18G9. 
Smithsonian Institute, Reports of — especially with Articles on 

Birds, by Mr. Lucas. 
Speedy, Tom. Craigmillar. Selkirk. 1887. 

Sport in the Highlands and Lowlands. Edin- 
Stevenson, Henry. Birds of Norfolk. i865— i8go. 
Swainson, W. Birds of Brazil, with drawings. London. 


,, Birds of West Africa. London. 1843. 

Swinhoe, R. Notes on Ornithology of Hong Kong. London. 


„ Notes on Ornithology of Japan. London. 1863. 

,, Catalogue of Birds of China. 

,, Ornithology of Formosa. ,, 

Books Read or Consulted. 279 

Swinhoe, R. List of Birds Collected by Mr. Collingwood. 

London. 1870. 
Tristram, Canon H. B. Catalogue of Collection of Birds. Dur- 
ham. 1889. 
,, ,, Land of Israel (third edition). London. 

,, ,, Natural History of the Bible. London. 

Wallace, Dr. A. Russel. On the Amazon, etc. London. 1853. 
The Malay Archipelago, r, 1872. 

,, ,, Australasia (third edition). 

,, ,, ,, (fifth edition). London. 

Wallace, Robert L. British Cage Birds. London. 1886. 
Waterton, Charles. Essays in Natural History (first series). 
London. 1838. 
,, ,, ,, .1 .. (second series). 

London. 1844. 

Wanderings in South America, etc. 
London. 1828. 
„ ,, Ornithological letter to R. Swinton. 

London. 1837. 
Wilson, A. American Ornithology. Washington. 1848. 
Wolley, John. Catalogue of Birds' Eggs. London. 1864. 
Yarrell. British Birds. Edited by Professor Alfred Newton 
and Howard Saunders, London. 


Abbs, Miss, at Oatlands 

Ahdominalia, Arguments from 

African Evidence, The, 213 ; Parasitic Birds there 

Algeria, Glandarius in . 

Allen, Mr. Grant, 153, 170 ; In Strand Magazine, 174 

" Crocodile level ! " . 
American Cuckoos, Dr. Bowdler Sharpe on 
American Cuckoos' Nests, 223 ; these birds, beyond ; 

certain number of eggs, are parasitic 
America, Insect-eating Birds in 
Andamans, The Keel in the 
Animal Intelligence, quoted 

Anti-yacohin, A Correspondent of, on Cuckoo-calls 
Audry's, Rev. Vere, case of thrush sitting on blackbird' 

eggs .... 

Audubon, 128 ; Audubon on American Cuckoos' Nests 
Atik, The .... 

Azara on Cow-birds 

Baldamus, Dr. .... 
Barrington, Daines, and Gilbert White 
Bartlett, Mr., on changes by man affecting animals 
Bechstein .... 

Beddard, Mr., and Anatomy of Hoatzin, 35 (and note) 

on Anatomy of Cuckoo 
Bendire, Major, 109 ; on Simultaneity of Hatching, no 

on Cow-birds, 239, 248, 251 ; on Cow-birds' Eggs 









241, 242 



Bennet, Mr., on Lucidiis 

Blackwall. Mr. . 

Blackwall, Mr., and Cuckoo Brooding 



Bidwell, E., 31, 50 (note), 51 ; his exhibition, 58, 69, 141, 142, 244 

Blackburn, Mrs., 11; her drawing, 15; description, 14, 
17, 18, 21, 22, 24, 92. 

Blackcap Berry-eaters .... 6 

Blue Egg, Coccystesjacubinus lays . -53 

Blue Egg in Hedge-sparrow's Nest at British Museum, 
64, 65 ; Blue Egg question set at rest by Seebohm 
and Elwes, 67 ; Blue Egg found in Nightingale's 
Nest .... 

Blyth's, Mr., Monograph, 86 ; his experiments 

Blyth, Mr., account of Mr. Rhett's nest 

Blyth, Mr., on the Koel 

Braune* Herr .... 

Brehm, Dr. A. E. ... 

Briggs, Mr., and Cuckoo ejecting Pipit, 22 ; on Removal 
of Eggs .... 

Brine's, Mr., Letter on Blue Cuckoos' Eggs 

Broinowski, G. J., quoted, 207 ; Australian Cuckoos 
mostly resident, or emigrate no great distances 

" Broken Eggs " [shells ?] 

Bronze Cuckoo of Australia 

Brooding, Attraction to, void in Hen Cuckoo . 

Brooks, Dr., and Law of Heredity 

Bruce, Michael, on Cuckoo 

Buffon, 106; gives reason why eggs should not be all 
hatched at once 

Buller, Sir W. L., on New Zealand Cuckoos, 201 ; Long- 
tailed Cuckoo, 201 ; on Varied Eggs, 203 ; Mobbed 
by Little Birds, 203 ; connecting link between ours 
and American Cuckoos . 204, 208 



129, 130 

218, 220 

12, 143 



179. 180 

1 06 




Burroughs, Mr. John, and Molothriis Eggs and Young . 

Butler, Colonel, on Removal of Eggs 

Butler's, Colonel, Early Egg, 125 ; his Collection, 142 
(and note) ; his query about woodpeckers seeing in 
dark .... 

Butler, Colonel, on Crested Pied Cuckoo 

Campbell, Mr. C, about Mr. Cochrane's Tame Cuckoo 

Canaries will eat insects 

" Cannock Brand " in Longman' s 

Ccntropi, not parasitic 

Ceylon Cuckoos .... 

Chambers's Journal and " Cuckoo Mimicry " 

Changes man effects, affect birds, of which he does not 
think .... 

Chrisococcyx bridges a gulf . 

Clarke, Dr. C K., quoted by Macllwraith 

Coccystes jacobinus lays blue egg 

Coccystes lay normally-sized eggs 

Cochrane's, Mr., Tame Cuckoo . . 258, 

Cockburn's, Miss, facts about Indian Plain Cuckoo, 215 
on large Hawk-Cuckoo 

Collett, Mr. R., and Bird Life 

" Colour-blind," Some Birds 

Corbin, Mr. G B. . , .94, 95 (note) 

Cornhill Magazine on Cuckoos, 49; Cuckoo not "poly- 
gamous," but polyandrous 

Coues, Dr. Elliot, 138; quoted on Cow-birds, 238; on 
Cow-birds' Courtship 

Courting with the Cuckoos . . . .88 

Cow-birds, American, 178, 237 ; eggs vary much in colour 
and form, 238 ; likenesses to our Cuckoo, 240 ; harm 
done by Cow-birds . .251 











265, 266 






Craig, Mr. John, 27, 28, 29, 30, 45 ; two young Cuckoos 

in Meadow-pipit's nest . 45, 46, 47, 126, 1S2, 191. 

Creighton, Dr. Charles, 16 ; his arguments against Jenner, 
16; Cuckoo dissections, 17, 27, 42, 113 (note); a 
point for Dr. Charles Creighton . . .127 

Cross-bills eat small insects . . .6 

Cuckoo-calls, Several different . 255 

"Cuckoo-clock? Where is the " . . ( 270 

Cuckoo-hens Destroying Eggs . . 83 

Cuckoo, Great Spotted, 199 ; do their young recognise 

each other, and not turn each other out ? . . 200 

Cuckoo, Nests victimized by . . .10 

Cuckoo, Modification of Oviduct in . . .177 

Cuckoo, Young, restless in nest . .13 

Cuvier quoted . .115 

Dabchick, Exceptional Powers in . . -37 

Z)^zi/>' Tf/^^ra/)/* quoted [" At Headcorn "] . . 185 

Darwin, Charles, 37, 49, loi, 104, 109, no, in, 112, 113, 

114, 118, 119, 154, 185, 186, 192, 210, 220, 230, 234 
Darwin, Dr. Erasmus . .41,62 

Davidson, Mr. J. L., on Parasitism of American Cuckoos 227, 232 
Deer's Antlers, Mr. Tom Speedy and .168 

Dew's, Mr., Tame Cuckoo .... 266 
Dissections, Dr. C. Creighton and Cuckoo . . 17 

Dixon, Mr. C, on Bird-song as imitative . . 258 

Dresser, Mr., and Pralle's collection . . -53 

Dybowski, Dr., opposes the notion of young Cuckoo 

throwing out other young . S9-92 

Eckermann and Cuckoo . . .4,9, 10, 116 

Egyptian Evidence, 210 ; pressure of time can have no 

bearing here . .210 

Ellis, Luke, and Blue Cuckoos' Eggs . . 52, 141 




Elwes and Seebohm set at rest question about Cuckoos' 

Blue Eggs . . . .67, 143, 144 

Emerson, Mr., and the Norfolk Broads, 86 ; photo of 

Reed-warbler's Nest in currant bush 
Encyclopcedia Britannica 
Eudynamis not domestic 
" Everlasting Layers " 
Extraordinary Powers in Young Cuckoo 
Fan-tailed Cuckoo of Australia 
Feathered World, TJie 
Feeding young one prevents second brood 
Female Cuckoos most modified 
Field, The, and Professor Newton's note, 58; quoted, 96 

Editor makes a note 
Fittest, all males .... 
Forester, Mr. Freer's old 

Freer, Rev. Selwyn C, 73-5 : his old Forester 
Frohlichen-wiederkunft, At 
Garden-warblers, berry-eaters 
Gentry, G. T., on American Cuckoos 
Gilmore, Mr. Parker, and mal-formed Antlers . 
Glandarius in Palestine lays in nest of Hooded Crow 
Goethe on Cuckoo . . . 4, g, 

Gould, James S., quoted 

Gould, John . . 23, 24, 25, 172, 206, 208, 

Grassfinch and Insects 

Gray, Dr. J. B., and Cuckoos looking after young 
Gray, Mr. J. E. . 

Great Spotted Cuckoo of Egypt, resident yet parasitic 
Greenfinch and Insects 

Grey Warbler, Long-tailed Cuckoo parasitic on 
Grunack, Herr .... 
Guernsey and Mr. Cecil Smith 

132, 133 
12, 38,39, 229 






231, 232 

116, 181 

222, 223 




13. 143 


hid ex. 


Gxinn.R.i:., in Zoologist . . .43 

Gurney, J. H., 14, 43, 51 ; on Blue Cuckoos' Eggs, 53; 
quotes Mr. Norgate, 83 ; on Removal of Eggs, 84, 
85 ; quotes Mr. H. L. Wilson, 86, 87, 124, 126, 133, 134, 136 
Hadfield, Mr. H., to Professor Newton . 59, 60 

Haeckel . .165 

Hancock, John 17, 18, 26, 92, 94, 112, 126, 141, 1S2, 191 

Hang-nests, Very Ingenious 
Harper, Mr. R. P. 
Hartert, Mr. 
Harting, Mr. J. E. 
Hartmann, Von, on Instinct 
Hawks, Resemblances of Cuckoo to 
Headcorn, At 

Headley's, Mr., Quarterly Article on Birds 
" Hereditary Faculty " in Egg-laying 
Hereditary Instinct, Mr. Broinowski on 
Heredity, Dr. Brooks and Law of 
Herissant quoted 

Heughlin, Von, on Egyptian Cuckoos 
Hoatzin, The, and its Hooked Fingers 
Holioake, Mrs., and Cuckoo Brooding 
Hooded Crow, Glandnrius lays in nest of 
Hook, Mr. Bryan, quoted 
Hoyes. Mrs., of Skelmorlie, and young Cuckoo, 181 ; 

Blue Robins feed it, 182; "poor wee bird starved 

itself for Cuckoo " . 

Hudson, Mr. W. H., on Cow-birds' Eggs, 238, 244, 245, 

250 ; on Birds' Songs and Calls . 
Hutton, Captain, on Cucuhis intermedins 
Hymenoptera, Social, struck blind 
Incubation, Peculiar form of Cuckoo which prevents 
Indian Canorus, The, 218 ; Dr. Scully on rt . 



39, 40 (note) 














34 (note) 











124, 125 

Indian Evidence, The, 214 ; Miss Cockburn's Facts 

" Inherited Instinct," 

" Insect-eating Birds" often try seeds, 5-7 ; in America 

Instinct used to cover too much 

Instinct or Misleading Instinct ? 

Irby, Colonel .... 

Jack's, Mr. W. H., Tame Cuckoo 

Jenner, Canorus in India not limited to time-table of 

Jenner, 16, 21, 22, 25 ; his Dissection of Hen Cuckoos, 42 ; 

two young Cuckoos fight 44, 57, 114, 115, 117 

Jerdon does not believe any of the Indian Cuckoos 

migrate from it, 219 ; Jenner' s notion tabooed, 220 

Large Hawk-cuckoo, 221 ; on American Cuckoo 
Kearton, R. . . . .17 

Keas of New Zealand 
Kiessel, Herr, and his observations . 
Koel, The Indian, 217 ; Colonel Tytler's remarks on it in 

the Andamans and Nicobars 
Koumly, Mr., on Taming of Yellow-billed Cuckoos 
Lankester, Professor E. Ray, use of his arguments in 

Longivity .... 
Large Hawk-cuckoo of India 
Layard, Mr., and Golden Cuckoo 
Layings of Eggs, Intervals between . 
Lee, Oswin A. J., and Cuckoos Ejecting Young 
Legge, Colonel W. Vincent, and Crested Pied Cuckoos 

Eggs .... 

Leipoa ocelhita .... 
Le Vaillant quoted by Layard 
Leslie, Mr. G. D., on Cuckoo-calls 
Lilford, Lord, 11; on Great Spotted Cuckoo, 87; his 

collection .... 142, igg, 200 

Lilford's, Lord, young Cuckoo never called . 257, 265 


. 23. 153 


62, 63 


22, 23 


172, 173 



288 Index. 


Linnets, insect-eaters . . 6, 7 

Lloyd, Wm., on Yellow-billed Cuckoo . 225 (note) 

Logan, Rev. John, and " The Cuckoo " . 4 

Loncrevity, Use of Professor Ray Lankester's arguments in 166 
Long-tailed Cuckoo. 201 ; parasitic on Tui or Parson-bird 201 
Lucas', Mr., Study of wing of Hoatzin . 35, 36 

Macll wraith, Mr., on Canadian Cuckoos, 224; eggs vary 

from four to eight, 225 ; quotes Dr. C K. Clarke, 226, 230, 232 
Macpherson, Mr. A. Holte . . .271 

Magpies leaving Pigeons' Eggs alone . 269 

Males over Females, Excess of . . 72, 73 

Males have more survived than Female Cuckoos 177 

Massey's, Air., Collection . .142 

" May he's " not good honey bees 193 

Maynard, C. J., on Parasitism of American Cuckoos 228 

Merrell, Dr., of Ohio, quoted by Darwin in 

Migration, Insect-eating and . . .8 

Millar, Mr. J. Peat . 27,28,30 

Miller's, Mr. W. J. C, Robins desert nest with Cuckoo's 

egg • • • • • ■ ^^5 

Mivart, Professor St. George . 171, 175, 195 

Modification of Oviduct in Cuckoo . . .177 

Molothrus Family, The, and Eggs . .161 

Montagu . 17, 21, 22, 25 

Mound-builders' Chicks . .116 

Mu\rhedi.di,yir., ^nCi Birds of Bcrwicksliire 73 

MuUer, Herr Adolph, 12, 61 ; deductions from facts 

observed . • • • .62 

Naiimannia . ■ ■ -52 

Nehrling, 228 (note) ; on Cow-birds' Eggs in other's nests 240 
New Zealand Cuckoos, connecting link between ours and 

American 205 

Newton and Little Grebe, 33, 34 ; quotes Rowley 85, 86 




Newton, Professor Alfred, 12, 58, 60, 63 ; on Mr. Brine's 
letter, inaccurate, 68 ; a reference to Canon Tristram, 
212 ; the former on American Cuckoos, 224, 228, 229, 

230, 231, 234, 235, 236 

Norgate, Mr., 43 ; quoted by Mr. J. H. Gurney, 83; he 
found Cuckoos' feathers fixed in Reed-warblers' nests 

Norton's, Mr., Collection 

Nicobars, The Koel in the . 

Nightjar does not hatch both eggs at once 

Norfolk and Norwich Natural History Journal 

Nuttall, 229, 231 ; on Cow-birds 

Oatlands, Mr. J. Hancock at 

" Occasional Habits " 

Origin of Species . . 37, 49, loi, 157, 163, 175 

Oviduct, Modification of, in Cuckoo . 

Owen, Sir R., quoted 

Oxylophus glandarius, Canon Tristram overlooks eggs of 

Page, Westley T., F.Z.S. . 

Palestinian Evidence 

Partridges, The case of . 

Pigeons' Eggs left alone by Magpie on same tree as its 
nest ..... 

Pennant quoted 

Perrin, Mrs., and Reed-warbler's nest 

Polyandrous Promiscuity opposed to Full Fertility, 155 
156 ; Source and Cause of Parasitism in Birds, etc 

Popham, Mr., and Cuckoos on Yenisei 

Pralle's collection of Cuckoos' Eggs . . 53 

Promiscuity, Polyandrous, cause of Parasitism 

Quelch, Mr. J. B., on Hoatzin 

Rabbits, Good way of exterminating or reducing 

Ragnarok of the Cuckoos 

Reason, Element of, in Cuckoo, and its eftects . 




242, 247 



176, 220 









54. 142 





290 Index. 


Read, Mr. Robert, and Egg-layinp:, iii ; on two Hen 

Birds using same nest .... 268 
Reed-warbler Builds over Cuckoos' Eggs . . 63 

Reed- warbler's Nest . . 131, 132 

Rey, Dr., 39, 140; on number of Cuckoos' Eggs 124 

Rhett's, Mr., instance . . 128, 129 

Rodney, Mr. H. S., finds Cow-birds' Eggs buried in nests 139 
Roget, Dr., quoted .... 189 

Romanes, Mr., on Mistaken Instinct, 48; on Bird Intelli- 
gence, 51, 103, 117, 121, 122, 123; easy assumption, 
139, 140, 141, 144, 147-9, 150, 151, 154, 158, 169, 180, 
181, 185, 18O ; deposition of Cuckoo's Egg not rare 
event ..... 187, 192, 210 

Rothschild's, Lord, Collection 142 

Rowley quoted by Professor Newton, 85 ; he observed 
turning out of eggs, 85 ; believes laying begins early 
in May . . . . ^ 127 

Sacculina and Crab .... 187 

Sachse, Mr., referred to . . .83 

Samuels, Mr. E. A., finds eggs built over . . 139 

Saturday Revieiv on Cuckoos' Ejections . 36 

Saunders, Mr. Howard, 7, 17; two Cuckoos in one nest, 

45 ; on Blue Cuckoos' Eggs . . -57 

Science Gossip quoted . .92 

Scully, Dr., on Indian Canorus, 218; in the Valley of 
Nepaul from April to October, 218 ; not limited to 
time-table of Jenner there .219 

Scythrops Novu'-Hollnndcp parasitic, 205 ; its monster egg 

laid in nests of smaller birds . 207 

Seebohm's, Mr. Henry, British Birds, 22 ; reproductions 
of Cuckoos' Eggs, 51, 52 ; Blue Cuckoos' Eggs, 52-4, 
57, 58 ; Elwes and Seebohm set at rest question 
about Blue Cuckoos' Eggs . 67, 142, 143 




Seed-eating Birds often try Insects . . . 5-7 

Semper, Professor .... jg. 

Sharpe, Dr. R. Bowdler, 7, 53, 55 ; Blue Cuckoos' Eggs, 

57, 58, 64, 66, 81, 82; Eggs of Blackcap, 107, 115 ; 

on American Cuckoos 128, 151, 223, 224, 226 (note), 234 

Shelley, Captain, on Egyptian Cuckoos, 210 ; on Cuckoos, 

206 (note). 
Shining Cuckoo of New Zealand . . . 202 

Singing Birds sacrificed for one Cuckoo 

Sitting Bird carries away broken shell 

Smith, Mr. Cecil, and Guernsey 

Smith, Rev. Chas. Alfred, 22, 25 ; Blue Cuckoo 
Hedge-sparrow's Nest . 

Snakes, Transitory Tooth in young . 

Snapshots, Mr. Millar's 

South African Weaver-birds 

Southesk's, Lord, Britain's Art Puradise 

Speedy's, Mr. Tom, Craigmillar, 182, 184 
Speedy and Deer's Antlers 

Stanley, Bishop 

StaphylinidcB found in anthills confer no benefit on ants 

188 ; Van Beneden's supposition 
Stevenson, Mr. H., on Reed-warblers, 133 ; M 

Tame Cuckoo 
Stickleback, The . 

Suicide, Unintentional, of a species . 
Swinhoe, Mr. R., and Cuculus orientalis 
" Tables Turned, The " 

Taylor, Rev R., quoted on Shining Cuckoo 
Tennyson quoted . 
Thompson, Mr. R., on the Koel 
Thoreau's Night-hawk and Eggs 




s Eggs in 

58. 89, 92 




117 (note\ 
Mr. Tom 



, 189 






Tristram, Canon, on Canorus in Palestine, 211; Glan- 
darius there lays in nest of Hooded Crow, 211 ; even 
mz-y he o\ex\oo\ied, 'Eggs o{ OxylopJms glandariiis . 212 
True Instinct, Return on . 191, 192 

Tui or Parson-bird, Long-tailed Cuckoo eats Eggs of . 201 
Two Cuckoos in one Nest . . . .45 

Tyrant-birds in America . . .138 

Vale of Guernsey . . .32 

Van Beneden, Arguments from, 159, 164, 166 ; shrunken 

males ..... 167 

Wallace, Dr. A. Russel . 102, 119, 157, 15S, 162, 182, 184 
Waterton on Insect eaters and Migration . 8, 26, 27 

Weaver-birds, South African . . . 171 

Weir, Durham .... 

White, Gilbert, 8 ; number of Cuckoos' Eggs . 

White, Mr. W. A., on Cow-birds' Eggs and Young Ones 

Widmann, Mr. O., on the Yellow-billed Cuckoo 

Wilmot, Rev. Mr., and Cuckoo Brooding 

Wilson, Mr. H. L., quoted by Mr. J. H. Gurney, 86 

letter in The Field 
Witchell, Mr. . 

Woodward, Dr. H., and the Keas and Dinornis 
" Woolly Bears" (tiger-moth larva). Cuckoos' tit-bit 
Wordsworth and Cuckoo 
Wren Killed through Feeding Cuckoo 
Yarrell and Cuckoos Sucking Eggs 
Yellow-billed Cuckoo great Destroyer of Eggs, 228 ; Ex 

tensive Range, 233 ; on Taming . 
Young Birds Recognise Parents 

Young Cuckoos, migration later than that of parents 
Zoological Journal quoted . 
Zoologist for 1S73, 58 ; Mr. Bidwell in 
Zygodactyle Foot, 12 ; Probable Intention 


241, 242 


41, 62 


256, 266 










69, 70 



I12eto $ jFottbcoming IPublicationg 

8vo. 6s. By Sir Walter Besant. 

3S. 6d. By Sir Edwin Arnold. 

and Critical Study. The Authorised Life. By 
Mackenzie Bell. With Six Portraits and Six 
Facsimiles, being all the original illustrations. 
Fourth Edition, completing two thousand five 
hundred copies. 6s. 

Crown 8vo. 5s. By Dr. Joseph Parker. 

Gilt Top. 6s. By John Bickerdyke. 

A strange and romantic yachting story, throw- 
ing, incidentally, considerable light on the 
methods of modern company promoters and the 
hired director. 

HER WILD OATS. A Novel. 6s. By 
John Bickerdyke. 
' ' Audaciously original and diverting. " — Daily Mail. 
"Quaint, humourous, and delightful." — Truth. 


6s. By Mrs. Aylmer Gowing. 


Novel. Crown 8vo. 3s. 6d. By Bart Kennedy. 

Man. 6s. 


IS. Cloth, IS. 6d. 
OLIVETTE. By A. V. is. net. 

net. By Sir Edwin Arnold. 

17, Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road. 


New and Forthcoming Publications. 

BAM WILDFIRE: a Character Sketch. 
Crown 8vo. With Frontispiece 6s. By Helen 
Mathers, author of " Coviin' thro' the Rye," etc. 


ARDENNES. Crown 8vo. With Frontis- 
piece. 3s. 6d. By T. Mullett ElHs. 


LETTERS. 6s. By J. C Bailey. 

MAUREEN MOORE. 6s. By Rupert 


BALLYRONAN. New and Cheaper 
Edition. 3s. 6d. By Rupert Alexander. 


New and Cheaper Edition. 3s. 6d. By Rupert 

Series. 6s. By Rev. S. M. Tracey Boevey. 

FRENCH AS SAID. 3s. 6d. net. By 
E. Aldred Williams. 


6s. By Georgette Agnew. 


By Charles Williams. 


3s. 6d. net. By A. Rogers. 



J. Johnston. 

E. C. Pedley. Illus. 

ED BY THE CHILDREN, and set down by 
S. M. Fox. Illus. 


17, Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road.