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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Tegetmeier   20 May [1868]1

Down Bromley, Kent

May 20.

My dear Sir

I want much to beg your assistance; but it will cause you the loss of a good deal of time, & probably you will have to make enquiries from other breeders.

I know that you will not answer without feeling sure, & will permit me to give you as my authority. My queries relate to the colour of the first plumage of fowls after the down is shed. In fact I almost require a description of the colours of each breed in the first plumage; & as the sexes are I believe at this period always alike one description will serve for both sexes. I will specify some particular points that you may see my object, which is quasi-embryological. Chickens in their first plumage of all white & black breeds are white & black, & the adults of both sexes resemble each other. Now what is the colour of the plumage of the chickens of the cuckoo sub-breeds, of Dorkings & of other breeds, & of the Sebright bantam, for these several sub-breeds & breeds are nearly alike in colour when adult. If the chickens are not like the adults do they acquire the colours of the adult plumage earlier than games, Malays &c of which the 2 adult sexes differ greatly in plumage.

What is the character of the chickens of the Pile Games, & are the hens when adult white where the Cocks are white? I am especially curious about the chickens in first plumage & about the hens of the Piles.

What is the colour of the chickens of Golden & Silver Spangled & pencilled Hamburgs & of Spangled Polands? What is the difference between a chicken of a Golden & Silver spangled & pencilled Hamburgh in their first plumage?

(N.B By chickens I always mean first plumage after the down is shed.)

At what age can the young cocks of the various sub-breeds of the Game (Red & Black breasted, Duck-wing &c &c) be readily distinguished; i.e. at what age do they acquire their characteristic colours? Are the young cocks alike at first?

I have arranged on a separate slip of paper, as far as my ignorance permits, the several breeds in order, beginning with those in which the adult sexes do not differ in colour of plumage, & ending with those which differ most; & I think you will best understand the chief object of my enquiry when I say I want to know whether the age at which the colours of the adult plumage is first acquired approximately corresponds in order with this list. Thus the black & white breeds at the top acquire their colour very early i.e. at first, & Games & Malays comparatively late in life. Now at about what age do such breeds as Golden pencilled Hamburgs & Partridge-Cochins, which do not I think differ in colour sexually so much as Games, acquire their adult colours?

I have expressed myself badly throughout this letter, but I think you will see that I want to make out, viz the relation between sexual difference in the colours of the adult plumage, & the period of life at which the adult masculine colours are acquired.2

I shall be particularly obliged if you will employ as much of yr time as you find necessary to give me full & accurate answers to these troublesome questions.

My dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

Pray forgive excessive untidiness of this letter, but I am overwhelmed with letters & work, too much for my small strength: otherwise I would have rewritten it.

If you can answer partially in regard to some few of the breeds, soon, it would be a great assistance. & I shd. then be able to judge how far subject worth pursuing.3


White Breeds

Black Breeds

Black Polish with white top knot

Sebright bantam

Cuckoo sub-breeds of all Breeds

Golden-spangled Poland

Buff Cochin

Gold or silver spangled Hamburg

Golden pencilled Hamburg

Partridge Cochin


Black & Red breasted Game

and Game bantam


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 25 May 1868.
For CD’s discussion of the late appearance of sexually differentiated characteristics, see Descent 1: 286 and (with reference to fowl) 294.
This paragraph was written at the head of the letter.


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


Inquires about the colour of first plumage of poultry breeds and development of distinguishing features.

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
LS(A) 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6188,” accessed on 2 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16