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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Tegetmeier   5 March [1867]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

March 5th.

My dear Sir

I write on the bare & very improbable chance of your being able to try, or get some trustworthy person to try, the following little experiment. But I may first state, as showing what I want, that it has been stated that if the 2 long feathers in the tail of the male widow-Bird at the C. of Good Hope are pulled out, no female will pair with him.1

Now when 2 or 3 common cocks are kept I want to know if the tail-sickle feathers & saddle feather of one, which had succeeded in getting wives, were cut & mutilated & his beauty spoiled, whether he would continue to be successful in getting wives. This might be tried with drakes or peacocks, but no one wd be willing to spoil for season his peacock. I have no strength or opportunity of watching my own poultry, otherwise I wd try it.— I would very gladly repay all expences of loss of value of the poultry &c— But as I said I have written on the most improbable chance of your interesting anyone to make the trial or having time & inclination yourself to make it.— Another & perhaps better mode of making the trial wd. be turn down to some hens 2 or 3 cocks, one being injured in its plumage.

I am glad to say that I have begun correcting proofs.2

I hope that you received safely the skulls which you so kindly lent me.—3

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


CD wrote in Descent 2: 120: ‘the female widow-bird (Chera progne) disowns the male, when robbed of the long tail-feathers with which he is ornamented during the breeding-season.’ He noted that he read this observation of Martin Karl Heinrich Lichtenstein’s in Rudolphi 1812, p. 184; an annotated copy of Rudolphi 1812 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 716–18). Chera progne is now known as Euplectes progne, the long-tailed widow bird.
CD refers to Variation, which was published in 1868 (Freeman 1977). He received the first proof-sheets on 1 March 1867 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 15, Appendix II)).
On CD’s return of the last skulls of fowl that Tegetmeier had lent him for engravings in Variation, see the letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 6 January [1867].


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Rudolphi, Carl Asmund. 1812. Beyträge zur Anthropologie und allgemeinen Naturgeschichte. Berlin: Haude & Speuer.

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


Asks whether WBT can carry out poultry mating experiments for him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the New York Botanical Garden (Charles Finney Cox Collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5431,” accessed on 14 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15