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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Turner   [after 28 April 1866?]1

One evening, some summers’ ago, I was sitting with a friend in his garden, when, during a pause in the conversation, our attention was attracted by a slight tap-tap, several times repeated— We quietly rose from our seats & stepped to some bushes, from amidst which the sound proceeded— On peering between the branches we saw a bird holding in its beak the shell of a common garden snail which it was tapping with some force against a flat stone lying on the ground— After a time the shell broke into several pieces & the bird then extracted the snail with its beak. The ground for some distance around the stone was covered with numerous fragments of snails’ shells & the conclusion was naturally drawn that the bird had been in the habit of resorting to this particular stone for the purpose of aiding it in breaking the shells of the snails on which it fed—

Wm Turner


The date is conjectured from the likelihood that the information in the letter was communicated after the Royal Society of London soirée on 28 April 1866 at which CD first met Turner (see letter to William Turner, 5 June [1866]). Subsequent correspondence with Turner is confined to medical topics relevant to Variation, Descent, and Expression.


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Observations on a bird that used a stone to break open a snail.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Turner
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 197
Physical description
2pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13850,” accessed on 26 September 2020,

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