Is working on "Sexual selection"; asks WDF to send observations on birds' finding new mates during breeding season [see Descent 2: 103–7].
Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.
My dear Fox
You have been an acute observer of Birds, & may come across sharp gamekeepers & sportsmen-naturalists in the course of next 2--4 months.— Will you aid me?— I have references, somewhere safe, on one of a pair magpies being repeatedly shot on or near the nest; & each time a new mate was found in course of few days. A gamekeeper this morning told me that he had just trapped one of a pair with young, & in 2 days a pair to his surprise again frequented the nest.— Can you get me other instances with magpies, carrion-crows, hawks, jays or any other Bird.
When possible to say, which sex was killed? How can you
account for this fact: the gamekeeper said he has never noticed
single magpies during pairing season. It is incredible that there
I am working at what I call ``sexual selection'' & want all facts & cases of polygamy (is any bird in England besides the pheasant polygamous?)—of the females alluring the males—of victorious males getting wives—of attachment between individual birds—anything & everything— I am driven half-mad by the number of collateral points which turn up in my present enquiry.— Did your half-wild male Turkeys fight? & how, I forget whether they have spurs— Do Partridges use their rudimental spurs in fighting; I suppose no man can answer. Do you know anything about fighting of Guinea-fowls, or Peacocks—
Forgive me Forgive me. Your old friend & tremendous bore. | C. Darwin
P.S. Do not hurry yourself to answer— Tell me nothing except you feel very sure; for remember that there are many too glad to pitch into me.—
- f1 5929.f1The year is established by the relationship between this letter and CD's note, dated 25 February 1868, in DAR 84.2: 202 (see n. 2, below).
- f2 5929.f2CD recorded the information on magpies from the gamekeeper William Reeves in DAR 84.2: 202, adding the remark: `We can understand magpie case only by supposing many birds do not like each other & do not pair or do not nest, & will pair with bird with nest'. Reeves was a gamekeeper for John Lubbock; CD reported his observations of magpies in Descent 2: 103. For CD's other references on magpies, see Descent 2: 103 n. 5.