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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. S. G. Canning   18 February 1874

31. Portman Square

Febry. 18th | 1874.


I received your letter this morning.—1

About ten years ago there appeared a female of the blackwinged peafowl among the common sort at my home in Ireland;2 several years before I had bought a young cock   I turned him out there, but he died before he quite came to his plumage & many years elapsed at least about eight or ten, before this female appeared; she also died leaving a common young one a hen (perhaps slightly lighter in color). this brown hen a few years ago produced a female of the blackwinged kind; but in both these latter instances there were only common cocks from which they proceeded— I took away this peahen & bought another of the same kind, also two blackwinged cocks; I have at present at another place in Ireland; these four old birds & & four young ones three cocks & a hen reared this last Summer— When just hatched they seem quite white, but I could at once tell the difference between them & the common white peafowl by a peculiar pink tinge on the wings, perceptible directly they leave the shell, & which deepens gradually into the lightish brown or hay coloured quill feathers possessed by both male & females & which constitutes I think the only resemblance in color between male & female of this species.3 The plumage of the young male birds gradually losing every speck of white, is very remarkable especially in their second year; when with the exception of neck & crest, they appear to somewhat resemble the female of the Javan kind—4

I have observed that in all instance I know they are rather smaller than the common sort, & always beaten & worsted by them.—5

I believe Mr P. L. Sclater still thinks they may be found wild in some parts of Asia,6 but I know not if this has ever been ascertained.—

If you should be in town & have leisure to see me either in Portman Square or this Club,7 I should be very happy to answer any inquiry in my power—

I am, Sir, | yr obednt Servant | ASG Canning

C. Darwin Esq | &c. &c. &c.

CD annotations

On envelope: ‘Black-shoulder Peafowl’ blue crayon


CD’s letter has not been found, but see the letter from A. S. G. Canning, 16 February 1874.
CD mentioned the black-shouldered peahen in Variation 2d ed. 1: 306, citing an article in the Field and thanking Canning for information about his birds.
CD cited Canning for information about the coloration of black-shouldered peafowl in Variation 2d ed. 1: 305–6.
The Javan kind: Pavo muticus. (Common Indian peafowl are P. cristatus.)
CD cited Canning for information about the size and strength of black-shouldered peafowl in Variation 2d ed. 1: 305.
Canning refers to Philip Lutley Sclater. See Sclater 1860.
The letter is written on headed notepaper from the Carlton Club, a Conservative gentlemen’s club.


Reports on a female black-winged pea-fowl at his home in Ireland.

Letter details

Letter no.
Albert Stratford George Canning
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Portman Square, 31
Source of text
DAR 161: 41
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9302,” accessed on 20 September 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22