From Alfred Newton 21 January 1867
10, Beaufort Gardens. | S.W.
21 Jany. | 1867
My dear Sir,
If I remember right the instance of Rhynchæa was cited at Nottingham by Mr. Edgar Layard (not by me) with reference to a remark of Mr. Wallace’s to the effect that among birds the plumage of the male was invariably more brilliant than that of the female.1
I therefore hazarded the suggestion that perhaps in Rhynchæa the duties of incubation were performed by the male, adding that I had had no personal acquaintance with the species of that genus—abnormal & peculiar as they are in many respects—but that I had some reason from my own observation to suspect that such was the case in Phalaropus (including the subgenus Lobipes).2
When in East Finmark in 1855 I ascertained for myself that the female of Phalaropus hyperboreus was the larger & the most highly coloured of the two sexes—3 This was no new discovery, for the fact though subsequently contradicted had been stated before. The same summer & in the same locality I found that the male of this bird shewed much greater devotion to its young when they were in danger than the female did—4 I do not know when the idea first crossed my mind, but it was either then or three years later in Iceland, when I had abundant opportunities of observing the same species, that it struck me that there was in all probability a connexion between the facts I have mentioned. Your beautiful theory had not then been published & was of course unknown to me, or I should have probably at once seen the desirability of making precise observations to determine the truth of my hypothesis—and I have never since had the opportunity of doing so— But I still entertain a strong belief that it will be found that in those species of Grallæ wherein the plumage of the female far exceeds in brilliancy that of the male, the male has the greatest share in the duties of incubation— Among these species may be specially cited Phalaropus hyperboreus & P. fulicarius, Limosa lapponica & L. ægocephala, Tringa canutus & T. subarquata, but there are probably at least as many others—5
Of Limosa lapponica I have twice had sent me from Lapland the birds which had been killed (snared I believe) on the nests. In each case they were in the pale dull plumage which has caused the birds wearing it to be described as a distinct species (L. meyeri Leisler), and though the sexes were not noted by the collector, from the small size of the specimens I have little doubt of their being males— One of them I have still at Cambridge, & can send it to you when I return thither if you like to see it.6
It would seem from Mr. Swinhoe’s statements that a similar state of things would obtain in the genus Turnix.— Cf. Ibis, 1865, pp. 542, 543, & 1866, pp. 131, 403, 405.7
As to your enquiry respecting the Swans I am sorry to say I have no information to give, nor do I know where you could obtain any except perhaps from Mr. Samuel Gurney—8
Trusting that some of the foregoing statements may be of use to you, and assuring you that it gives me great pleasure to write to you, | I remain, | Yours very truly | Alfred Newton
C. Darwin, Esq. F.R.S.
Suggests that, in some birds, plumage of males is less colourful than that of females; the reason is that the males perform the duties of incubation [see Descent 2: 204 n.].
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5374,” accessed on 28 September 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-5374