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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Tegetmeier   30 March [1867]1

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

March 30

My dear Sir

I am much obliged for your note & shall be truly obliged if you will insert any questions on subject.2 That is a capital remark of yours about the trimmed Game cocks & shall be quoted by me.3 Nevertheless I am still inclined from many facts strongly to believe that the beauty of the male bird determines choice of female with wild Birds, however it may be under domestication. Sir R. Heron has described how one pied Peacock was extra attractive to the Hens.—4 This is a subject which I must take up as soon as my present book is done.—5

I shall be most particularly obliged to you if you will die with magenta a pigeon or two. Would it not be better to die the tail alone & crown of head; so as not to make too great a difference: I shall be very curious to hear how an entirely crimson pigeon will be received by the others as well as his mate.6

With cordial thanks for your never failing kindness— | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin

PS. Many thanks for the printed Queries.7

P.S. Perhaps the best experiment for my purpose would be to colour a young unpaired male & turn him with other pigeons & observe whether he was longer or quicker than usual in mating.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 29 March 1867.
In his letter of 29 March 1867, Tegetmeier had offered to publish a query in the Field as to whether female birds bred with male birds missing ornamental feathers. No such query has been found in the Field between March and May 1867.
See letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 29 March 1867; CD noted Tegetmeier’s opinion about the trimmed gamecock in Descent 2: 117.
In Descent 2: 117, CD wrote: ‘some allowance must be made for the artificial state under which [fowls] have long been kept’ after recording the opinion that female birds did not prefer more ornamental males. CD cited cases of female choice in both wild birds, and those that were domesticated or confined, in Descent 2: 113–24. He quoted Robert Heron’s case of the pied peacock from Heron 1835, p. 54, in Descent 2: 120. For more recent discussions of sexual selection, see Mayr 1972, and J. L. Gould and Gould 1997.
CD was correcting proofs of Variation.
See letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 29 March 1867. CD recorded in Descent 2: 118 that Tegetmeier stained some of his pigeons magenta at CD’s request, but that they were not much noticed by the other birds. However, Tegetmeier evidently did not do this for some time (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 4 August [1867], and Correspondence vol. 16, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 21 February [1868]).


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.

Heron, Robert. 1835. Notes on the habits of the pea-fowl. [Read 14 April 1835.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1833–5) pt 3: 54.

Mayr, Ernst. 1972. Sexual selection and natural selection. In Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871–1971, edited by Bernard Campbell. London: Heinemann.


Believes beauty of male bird important for attracting mate in wild. Will be interested to hear how a dyed male pigeon is received by the hens.

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) (Tegetmeier 103)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5475,” accessed on 30 May 2020,

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