skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   5 August [1866]1


Aug 5

My dear Hooker

Beatson’s bird appears to be one of the Grallatores & such ought not to be called land birds & in my journal I especially exclude them, but state that they are the first immigrants on almost every island.2 At p. 422 of Origin you will find something about land birds on islands, which with respect to Madeira stands in New. Ed. thus corrected. There are 99 kinds, of which one alone is peculiar tho’ very closely related to a European form & 3 or 4 other species are confined to this island & the Canaries.3 About the birds of the Azores I know nothing except that I saw several European kinds there.4

It makes me rather miserable to see how differently we look at every thing: I shd not have expected many American plants in the Azores, seeing that the temperate parts are nearly twice & a half as distant as is Europe; seeing that the sea-currents flow only from the tropical states; & lastly as the American birds which are annually blown to Europe cross the ocean, as lately shewn by Dr Baird U.S., in the lat. of Ireland & Heligoland.5 Formerly, at least judging from the erratic boulders, currents must have reached the Azores from the North.6

I heartily wish all your labours were over   yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin

Whilst trying to find whether I had not a note about Birds being blown to the Azores from Europe—I came across these words “Seeds could arrive at Madeira & Azores by Rennell’s current & then be swept to the south”—7 What this means I now know not.—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 August 1866.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 August 1866 and n. 2. CD refers to Alexander Beatson and to the former order Grallatores of wading birds. In Journal of researches, p. 543, CD implied that members of the order of wading birds should not be considered true land birds.
CD refers to Origin 3d ed., p. 422; in Origin 4th ed., p. 465, CD added that only one of the ninety-nine forms of land birds in Madeira was endemic, and that it was closely related to a European form; he added that three or four species were confined to Madeira and the Canary Islands.
CD had observed starlings, water wagtails, chaffinches, and blackbirds in the Azores during the Beagle voyage (Journal of researches, p. 595).
Hooker maintained that it was difficult to account for the scarcity of American plants in the Azores, given that a few American species occurred on other Atlantic islands, and the fact that the Azores were closer than the other Atlantic islands to America (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 August 1866; see also J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 27). CD countered that the Azores, which were temperate, were closer to Europe than to the temperate regions of America; that the sea currents from America to the Azores flowed only from the tropical regions, and that migratory birds, which might carry seeds, crossed from America to Europe too far north to touch on the Azores. On the last point, CD refers to Spencer Fullerton Baird’s paper ‘The distribution and migrations of North American birds’ (Baird 1865–6; there is a lightly annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL). Heligoland (now Helgoland) is off the coast of Denmark (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
CD used observations of erratic boulders in the Azores as evidence that European plants could have been carried to the Azores as seeds on floating ice (Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Charles Lyell, 26 April [1858] and n. 2; Origin, p. 363; see also Origin 3d ed., pp. 393–4).
Neither note has been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL. Early in the nineteenth century, James Rennell described a current that flowed southward from Cape Finisterre to the Canary Islands (Baker 1963, pp. 146–7). In his copy of Alphonse de Candolle’s Géographie botanique raisonnée (A. de Candolle 1855, 2: 1022), CD added a note on the possibility that seeds were carried to the Azores or Spain by Rennell’s current during the glacial period (Marginalia 1: 142).


CD defends his view of land birds on St Helena.

Explains why he would not expect American plants on the Azores.

It makes him miserable that he and JDH look at everything so differently.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 296
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5181,” accessed on 18 October 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14