skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Tegetmeier   25 May 1868

Fortis Green | Finchley | N

May 25 1868

My dear Sir

I dare say you will think me very stupid but I want to be quite certain before I set to work—1

In a few days after a chicken is hatched its first plumage begins to shoot— At two weeks old it has its 1st quill feathers both primaries and secondaries perfect and feathers have begun to grow on the pectoral line,— —sacrum etc

At 2 weeks and a half old, no flight feather has been shed

At 3 weeks old They begin to shed flight feathers—and in strong chickens the first new secondary will be an inch or more long—the secondaries being a little in advance of the primaries in moulting—both moulting from the wrist joint in opposite directions—

At six weeks old, two or three of the new primaries will have grown

The second set of upper wing coverts—(over fore arm) will be growing—and new hackles at base of neck growing,—see specimens sent—2

This second plumage has to be replaced before the permanent sexual plumage appears at from 5 to 6 months— What I want to know is what age you or ages require— As I should have to apply to many breeders and unless you are very definite with unscientific people you get nothing but useless generalities—and I want to send for chickens of a definite age—

I presume you do not object to my incurring some moderate expense in the matter—as I should like to obtain skins or specimens of the most important breeds—.

I will enquire for Mr Lloyds address, I think we have it but I am writing this at home—and will enquire when I reach the office3

My object in troubling you is to ascertain this. You state you “always mean the first plumage after the down is shed” and again you say you wish to know “when the adult masculine colour is acquired”4 Now as there are three stages.

viz those of 1 Infancy
2 Childhood
3 and maturity.

if I may so speak I am rather in doubt, which you meant. The distinction between cocks & hens, is very late in some breeds. I well recollect Messrs Baily and Hewitt5 giving a prize to a pen of three silver spangled polish pullets at Windsor in July, in mistake for a cockerel and two pullets.— and they were early hatched chickens.— In the polish breed the earliest indication is the difference the form of the crest feathers—cocks being more pointed, hens more rounded.—

In white and buff cochins the form of the birds enables you to distinguish the sexes at an early age long before the plumage tells you

But I will write more definitely when I know exactly your requirements, as to the age at which you wish the birds observed

Believe me | Yours very truly | W B Tegetmeier.

Ch Darwin Esq.

P.S. I regret to say that I cannot find out Mr Lloyds address at the office, he has a brother near Hackney but I do not know more6

CD annotations

4.2 an inch] ‘an inch’ above, pencil
5.1 At six … grown] ‘6 week to 2 month old’ blue crayon, circled blue crayon
7.1 This second … months— 7.2] double scored blue crayon
8.1 I presume … breeds—. 8.2] scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘I think comb of Spanish remarkably large in both ♀ [after del ‘sexes’] & developed [after del ‘yet’] at remarkably early age in ♂’ ink

CD note:7

‘I do not care for form of body— combs— or Hackles, only colour. Except in those cases in which both sexes when newborn are alike. or with an unusual degree of similarity | Query about spurs. | Spanish fowl’ pencil

‘Query *both sexes of Polish for the [interl] topknots & I knew that the top-knot appears very early but am anxious to know about colour, as [topknot] differ in colour [in] Polish’ pencil, circled pencil


CD had asked Tegetmeier for assistance in his letter of 20 May [1868].
See plate facing p. 147.
Lloyd’s brother has not been identified.
CD’s notes are for his letter to Tegetmeier of 26 May 1868.


Describes change of plumage in chickens in order to be sure he is clear about the age of chickens on which CD wants information. Encloses feathers to illustrate changes.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 142: 49a, 52
Physical description
ALS 5pp †† encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6208,” accessed on 28 February 2024,

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