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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Abraham Dee Bartlett   9 December [1867]1

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

Dec. 9th

My dear Sir

Would you have the kindness to send me on a slip of paper the name of the 3 or 4 Tringa-like Birds in the Aquarium, which never, except once, assumed the proper summer plumage.2 Please just add whether you have known this with more than the 3 or 4 individuals, which you showed me.3

I much wish I could persuade you to try with differently coloured worsted or rags, whether the Bower-bird prefers gay colours.—4

I thank you most sincerely for all the interesting information which you so often give me.—5

My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. D. Bartlett, 9 December 1867.
CD refers to the aquarium in the gardens of the Zoological Society of London (Scherren 1905, pp. 107–8) and to the genus Tringa (now Calidris) (Birds of the world 3: 519–20). In Descent 2: 82, CD noted that captivity in the Zoological Gardens affected the reproductive system as well as the development of ornamental summer plumage in Tringa.
CD had visited London from 28 November until 7 December 1867 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 15, Appendix II)).
CD refers to birds of the family Ptilonorhynchidae; their preference for brightly coloured objects is described in Descent 2: 69–71, 112.
Bartlett was cited in Variation, the sixth edition of Origin, Descent, and Expression. See also Correspondence vols. 8–14.


Birds of the world: Handbook of the birds of the world. By Josep del Hoyo et al. 17 vols. Barcelona: Lynx editions. 1991–2013.

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.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Scherren, Henry. 1905. The Zoological Society of London: a sketch of its foundation and development and the story of its farm, museum, gardens, menagerie and library. London: Cassell.

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


Asks for name of the birds that have only once obtained summer plumage.

Wishes he could persuade ADB to experiment to see whether bower-birds prefer gay colours.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Abraham Dee Bartlett
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. 5719,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

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