Reflections following the visit to the Galapagos (3)
All the small birds that live on these lava-covered islands have short beaks, very thick at the base, like that of a bullfinch. This appears to be one of those admirable provisions of Infinite Wisdom by which each created thing is adapted to the place for which it was intended. In picking up insects, or seeds which lie on hard iron-like lava, the superiority of such beaks over delicate ones, cannot, I think, be doubted; but there is, perhaps, another object in their being so strong and wide. Colnett says, p. 59, "they observed an old bird in the act of supplying three young ones with drink, by squeezing the berry of a tree into their mouths. It was about the size of a pea, and contained a watery juice, of an acid, but not unpleasant taste." "The leaves of these trees absorb the copious dews which fall during the night; the birds then pierce them with their bills for the moisture they retain, and which, I believe, they also procure from the various plants and evergreens.' "The torch thistle contains a liquid in its heart, which the birds drank, when it was cut down. They sometimes even extracted it from the young trees by piercing the trunks with their bills." For thus squeezing berries, and piercing woody fibre, or even only stout leaves, a slight thin beak would be scarcely available. Colnett observes, that some of the birds which he saw resembled a few that he had seen at New Zealand, but as he also remarks that all the dead shells which he found upon the beach were familiar to him, I think one may suspect the accuracy of his eye, if not his memory, in those instances.