Does any female bird regularly sing?
Do you know any case of both sexes, more especially of the female, [being] more brightly coloured whilst young than when come to maturity and fit to breed? An imaginary instance would be if the female kingfisher (or male) became dull coloured when adult.
Do you know whether the male and female wild canary bird differ in plumage (though I believe I could find this out for myself), and do any of the domestic breeds differ sexually?
Do you know any gallinaceous bird in which the female has well developed spurs?
It is very odd that my memory should fail me, but I cannot remember whether, in accordance with your views, the wing of Gallus bankiva (or Game-Cock, which is so like the wild) is ornamental when he opens and scrapes it before the female. I fear it is not; but though I have often looked at wing of the wild and tame bird, I cannot call to mind the exact colours. What a number of points you have attended to; I did not know that you were a horticulturist. I have often marvelled at the different growth of the flowering and creeping branches of the ivy; but had no idea that they kept their character when propagated by cuttings. There is a S. American genus (name forgotten just now) which differs in an analogous manner but even greater degree, but it is difficult to cultivate in our hot-house. I have tried and failed.
LETTER 445. TO J. JENNER WEIR. Down, May 30th .
I am glad to hear your opinion on the nest-making instinct, for I am Tory enough not to like to give up all old beliefs. Wallace's view (445/1. See Letter 440, etc.) is also opposed to a great mass of analogical facts. The cases which you mention of suddenly reacquired wildness seem curious. I have also to thank you for a previous valuable letter. With respect to spurs on female Gallinaceae, I applied to Mr. Blyth, who has wonderful systematic knowledge, and he tells me that the female Pavo muticus and Fire-back pheasants are spurred. From various interruptions I get on very slowly with my Bird MS., but have already often and often referred to your volume of letters, and have used various facts, and shall use many more. And now I am ashamed to say that I have more questions to ask; but I forget--you told me not to apologise.
1. In your letter of April 14th you mention the case of about twenty birds which seemed to listen with much interest to an excellent piping bullfinch. (445/2. Quoted in the "Descent of Man" (1901), page 564. "A bullfinch which had been taught to pipe a German waltz...when this bird was first introduced into a room where other birds were kept and he began to sing, all the others, consisting of about twenty linnets and canaries, ranged themselves on the nearest side of their cages, and listened with the greatest interest to the new performer.") What kind of birds were these twenty?
2. Is it true, as often stated, that a bird reared by foster-parents, and who has never heard the song of its own species, imitates to a certain extent the song of the species which it may be in the habit of hearing?
Now for a more troublesome point. I find it very necessary to make out relation of immature plumage to adult plumage, both when the sexes differ and are alike in the adult state. Therefore, I want much to learn about the first plumage (answering, for instance, to the speckled state of the robin before it acquires the red breast) of the several varieties of the canary. Can you help me? What is the character or colour of the first plumage of bright yellow or mealy canaries which breed true to these tints? So with the mottled-brown canaries, for I believe that there are breeds which always come brown and mottled. Lastly, in the "prize-canaries," which have black wing- and tail-feathers during their first (?) plumage, what colours are the wings and tails after the first (?) moult or when adult? I should be particularly glad to learn this. Heaven have mercy on you, for it is clear that I have none. I am going to investigate this same point with all the breeds of fowls, as Mr.