Raw and Uncut 1: Tameness of Birds and Fear of Man, An Acquired Instinct

22 May 2013 by Joe Dramiga, posted in Uncategorized

While reading through the Voyage of the Beagle I stumbled on some of Darwin’s interesting observations of animal behavior which I will share with you in the upcoming blog posts. What I will not do is to comment on Darwin’s observations or explain the animal’s behavior. I will deliver the pieces raw and uncut to put the reader in the shoes of a scientist. In this way I hope to spark the interest and the curiosity of the reader to delve deeper into the topic. This series “Raw and Uncut” will start with Darwin’s travel journal but in the future highlight excerpts from books or notebooks of other natural scientists.

Tameness of Birds and Fear of Man, An Acquired Instinct

I may add that, according to Du Bois, all the birds at Bourbon in 1571-72, with the exception of the flamingoes and geese, were so extremely tame, that they could be caught by the hand, or killed in any number with a stick. Again, at Tristan d’Acunha in the Atlantic, Carmichael states that the only two land-birds, a thrush and a bunting, were “so tame as to suffer themselves to be caught with a hand-net.”

From these several facts we may, I think, conclude, first, that the wildness of birds with regard to man, is a particular instinct directed against him, and not dependent upon any general degree of caution arising from other sources of danger; secondly, that it is not acquired by individual birds in a short time, even when much persecuted; but that in the course of successive generations it becomes hereditary.

With domesticated animals we are accustomed to see new mental habits or instincts acquired or rendered hereditary; but with animals in a state of nature, it must always be most difficult to discover instances of acquired hereditary knowledge. In regard to the wildness of birds towards man, there is no way of accounting for it, except as an inherited habit: comparatively few young birds, in any one year, have been injured by man in England, yet almost all, even nestlings, are afraid of him; many individuals, on the other hand, both at the Galapagos and at the Falklands, have been pursued and injured by man, yet have not learned a salutary dread of him.

We may infer from these facts, what havoc the introduction of any new beast of prey must cause in a country, before the instincts of the indigenous inhabitants have become adapted to the stranger’s craft or power.


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