National Geographic : 1967 Apr
THESE WERE THE FINCHES that shook the world, I reminded myself-the famous Darwin's, or Galapagos, finches. A pair of the little dark birds hopped about my feet and busily picked up tufts of hair snipped from my gray locks. The adaptable birds were using this windfall for lining their nest in a nearby tree cactus. Terry Shortt (qualified by a knowledge of taxidermy) acted as my barber. He had come all the way from Canada to this equatorial archipelago-the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off Ecuador-to gather material for a diorama of the Galapagos scene for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. I had come with a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation camera crew to interpret Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution for television audiences. I was fascinated by the ever-present finches. Seldom were we out of hearing of their monotonous songs: such repetitious phrases as T-shirt, T-shirt, or Charlie-D, Charlie-D, or jib-jib-jib. Their coarse voices and rude ways reminded me of the house sparrows back home. When Darwin, aged 26, stepped ashore in the Galapagos 132 years ago, the islands reminded him of "what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be." Yet by contemplating the small finches peculiar to this craggy archipelago, he was to arrive at one of the basic concepts of all time. EKTACHROME © N.G.S. He noted that the finches differed from island to island, yet seemed to have had a common inheritance, a phenomenon that naturalists now call "adaptive radiation." Twenty-four years later, he published his famous On the Originof Species by Means of Natural Selection. Since then, man's view of the world has not been the same. The year of Darwin's visit was 1835. His ship was the British survey vessel H.M.S. Beagle, on a five-year voyage around the world. As the unpaid naturalist of the expe dition, he spent five weeks intensively ex ploring the islands (map, pages 554-5). And here he found intriguing clues leading toward his radical theory of the evolution ary design of life. But what would Charles Darwin have thought of the four-engine plane that had flown me from the coast of South America in scarcely more than three hours? Would he have put it down to "natural selection" or "evolution"? And what would he have thought of this, I wondered, as I surveyed the cluster of low buildings-dormitories, laboratories, workshops. This was the new Charles Dar win Research Station, dedicated in 1964. The site chosen for the station was Feathered vampire of Wolf Island, a sharp-beaked ground finch rests on the tail of a masked booby from which it has taken a meal of blood. Geospiza difficilis feeds by stabbing the soft skin at the base of the larger bird's secondary wing feathers.