Letter | Published:

The Ancestor of the Dipper (Cinclus)

Abstract

IN NATURE for April 3 (vol. xxix. p. 524) the Duke of Argyll desires Mr. Romanes to prove “that the dipper once had an ancestor which began to dive in water, &c.” The Duke well knows that such ancestry cannot be exhibited, but seems unaware that there are other land birds that are divers besides the dipper (Cinclus). I have often seen the winter wren dart or dive through a sheet of water, and remain in the damp and dripping space behind the little cascade. The water-thrushes (Seiurus, sp.) all wade in water, and often, seeing minute mollusca on the bottom of the stream, plunge both head and neck beneath the surface; so that, often for several seconds, a large part of the body is submerged. Now, these birds, like the winter wren, still have the plumage “pervious to water, and so are liable to be drenched and sodden”; but they have also the faculty of giving these drenched feathers such a good shaking, that flight is practicable a moment after leaving the water. Swallows, too, are often seen flying in and through spray and thin sheets of falling waters, yet with no detriment to their flight power. Certainly the waterthrushes or wagtails (Seiurus ludovicianus, auricapillus, and noveboracensis) have taken many preliminary steps towards becoming as aquatic as the dipper (Cinclus), and the winter wren, and even Maryland yellow-throat, are not far behind. The Duke can scarcely derive any comfort from the dippers; Mr. Romanes can.

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