BEAUTIFUL BIRDS >> True Ideas
It is rare that birds possessing pleasant voices are gifted also with beautiful feathers. The bluebirds and canaries are, perhaps, the most notable exceptions. Upon this subject Mr. Wood remarks:
As a general rule, it is found that the most brilliant songsters among the birds are attired in the plainest garb; and it may safely be predicted of any peculiarly gorgeous bird, that power, quality, and sweetness of voice are in inverse ratio to its beauty of plumage.
He mentions the dazzling colors of sunbirds, hummingbirds, and some others, and says:
In all these creatures, the male possesses no real song, the glorious beauty of the feathers compensating him and his mate for the absence of poetic utterance. Why this should be the case is a problem which has long attracted the attention of observant men, and it seems to me that a key may be found to its solution in the now acknowledged fact that sound and color run in parallel lines through creation, and closely correspond with each other in their several relations. . . . It may be therefore that, on the one side, the bird which is possessed of a good voice and a plain dress pours forth his love and manifests his sympathetic emotions in gushing strains, which are addressed to the ears of his mate; again, the bright-plumaged bird utters his voiceless song by the vivid hues that flash from his glittering attire, the eye being the only medium through which his partner, whose ears are not attuned to melody, could realize the fullness of his emotional utterance. (Natural History, p. 258)
It is a singular fact that among the brilliant birds there are several which love to adorn their homes and favorite haunts with lichens, bright feathers, shells, white stones, or any other gaily colored materials that they can find. Perhaps they are the only animals with a decided taste of this kind. It is interesting to discover the love of expression by color and form, here in the line of birds parallel to that in which we found the love of musical expression.
The difference seems to answer perfectly to that between the senses of sight and hearing. Songs, addressed to the ear, have more power to communicate affection; but forms and colors, addressed to the eye, impart ideas. The songs of birds are representatives of social communion of glad, grateful, and affectionate thoughts. Their beautiful plumage is representative of true ideas of the nature and quality of spiritual affections. We may express affection simply by words—chiefly by the tones of the words—and by songs; or we may express it by truthful description, and by tasteful decorations in colors and forms. The expression by sound has more power to excite strong feeling; that by description and decoration shows more clearly its quality as to intelligence, refinement, and wisdom.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875