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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. B. Tristram   5 September 1868

Greatham Vicarage Stockton on Tees

5 Sept. 1868.

My dear Sir

In Monticola cyanea the ♀ is less brightly coloured than the ♂ but not so as to render her less conspicuous, being a very dark mottled brown with some white.1 The ♀s of the Indian, Chinese, Phillipini, & So. African species differ similarly, & there is no exception in this genus.2 The question as to the Dromolæa leucopygia, & D. leucocephala is very curious, because in these species, as in Saxicola leucomela, there is no difference whatever in the sexual coloration.3 While there are species very slightly from these 3 respectively e.g. Drom. monacha, & Saxicola libanotica, where the female is a pale sandy colour, most inconspicuous,4 yet all inhabit the same localities, have precisely the same nidification, & the eggs are so alike, that only careful observation of the parent bird could decide to what species they belong. Yet the notes & flight of all the species are so distinct, it is impossible to confound the birds even at a distance.

I find a similar parallelism & contrast in the South African & Himalayan species.

Should you wish to examine for yourself, I shall be very happy to forward you a box of specimens of the various species carefully marked in pairs.

There is nothing more apparently capricious than the colouring of the ♀ in the Chat family,5 now identical, now most different in the closest allies— The contrast of blackbird & thrush in this respect is analogous—

Believe me | My dear Sir | Yrs very truly | H. B. Tristram

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Protection’ pencil


See letter from H. B. Tristram, 1 July 1868 and n. 4, and Tristram 1859–60, p. 296. CD cited this description of Monticola cyanea in Descent 2: 172.
For illustrations of the coloration of Monticola, see Snow and Perrins 1998, 2: 1201–6.
See letter from H. B. Tristram, 1 July 1868 and n. 4. No intervening letter from CD to Tristram containing further queries has been found. Saxicola leucomela is a synonym of Oenanthe pleschanka, the pied wheatear (see also Tristram 1859–60, p. 300). See also Descent 2: 172.
Tristram may refer to what are now Oenanthe monacha, the hooded wheatear, and Oenanthe oenanthe libanotica, a subspecies of the wheatear (see Snow and Perrins 1998, 2: 1194–5, 1178–80).
In the nineteenth century, the chats were often placed in their own subfamily (Saxicolinae); see Newton 1893–6, 4: 115 (Introduction). Now they are placed in either the thrush family (Turdidae), or the Old World flycatchers (Muscicapidae). See, for example, Snow and Perrins 1998, and Dickinson ed. 2003.


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

Newton, Alfred. 1893–6. A dictionary of birds. Assisted by Hans Gadow, with contributions from Richard Lydekker, Charles S. Roy, and Robert W. Shufeldt. 4 parts. London: Adam and Charles Black.

Tristram, Henry Baker. 1859–60. On the ornithology of northern Africa. Ibis 1: 153–62, 277–301, 415–35; 2: 68–83.


Sexual differences in plumage of birds; various species compared.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Baker Tristram
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 95–6
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6351,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

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