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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton   18 February 1869

Athenæum Club

Feb 18 1869

Dear Darwin

The habits of the Fallow Deer as regards the breeding season are precisely the same as those of the Red Deer. The males herd together and keep aloof from the females during the growth of the horns and until the velvet is stripped and the horns hard. Soon after the horns are clean, the throat begins to enlarge simultaneously, I believe, with the enlargement of the prostate and Cowpers glands; this is always hastened by cold weather and frosty nights, and retarded by warm weather. They then begin to roar, at first only occasionally, and moderately and go in search of the herds of females, breaking up themselves into smaller herds. The large Stags have generally one or two sentinels with them who keep watch; but I have never seen this occur with Fallow Deer. When the males join the herds of females, the fighting begins for mastery. The battle is always prefaced by roaring loud and long, the Stags walking round and round each other   Suddenly they come together with a clash, and getting the horns fixed, a desperate struggle ensues, each trying to force the other to turn.1 When this occurs the victor dashes into the other and endeavours to plunge his brow antlers into him as he runs away. The upper portion of the horns is used only for fencing, the brow antler being the weapon of offence. So forcible is the blow when well directed that I have frequently had bucks killed, generally by the antler traversing the muscles of the haunch and breaking the femur. The roar of the Stag is very like that of a bull. The volume of sound is not so great, and yet I think it is heard at a greater distance. The roar of the Fallow Buck is harsher and more monotonous, something between a bark and a roar. Very shortly after they begin to roar, they lose their condition. All the internal fat dissolves, they have a very rank smell and loose their appetite. There is little food found in the stomach and that not properly digested and all the bloodvessels of the interior are gorged. The males are always endeavouring to keep together as large a seraglio as they can but the ladies seem to have no predilections. It generally happens that while two large Stags are fighting for the mastery, the smaller Stags, which always hover around the herd at a respectfull distance, take the opportunity of engaging the females.2 I may mention a circumstance which I do not find alluded to in any book of natural history I have read, which is this, the deciduous horned are the only ruminants in which the males have a season as well as the females. In all the other ruminants, as also in most of the mammalia the male is—nunquam non paratus 3—if the female be in season. I shall be most happy to answer any further questions you may send me addressed to Oulton Park Tarperley as I return there tomorrow

Believe me | Yours very truly | P. M Grey Egerton

CD annotations

1.11 The battle … femur. 1.18] crossed ink
1.18 haunch] ‘haunch’ above ink
1.26 It generally … tomorrow 1.34] crossed ink


In Descent 2: 253, CD cited Egerton on fighting technique in red and fallow deer.
In Descent 2: 269, CD cited Egerton on females mating with males not engaged in fighting.
Nunquam non paratus: never unprepared (Latin).


Habits of the fallow deer during the breeding season. [See Descent, 2d ed., p. 803.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Philip de Malpas Grey- Egerton, 10th baronet Egerton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Athenaeum Club
Source of text
DAR 83: 179–81
Physical description
6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6620,” accessed on 23 July 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17