To W. D. Fox 25 February 1
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.—2 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 shd be many single birds unpaired, always ready to pair. Or will one of a pair, which have failed in rearing young, always break his or her troth & join a widow or widower with the attraction of a nest. The gamekeeper also said that he had never seen an unpaired partridge; yet surely there must sometimes be an excess of males or females.— Think, enquire & be a good man & try & illuminate me.—
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.—
Is working on "Sexual selection"; asks WDF to send observations on birds’ finding new mates during breeding season [see Descent 2: 103–7].
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5929,” accessed on 27 October 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-5929