skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. J. Weir   14 June [1870]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

June 14th

My dear Sir

As usual I am going to beg for information. Can you tell me whether any Fringillidæ, or Sylviadæ erect their feathers when frightened or enraged?2 I want to show that this expression is common to all or most of the families of Birds— I know of this only in the Fowl, Swan, Tropic-bird, Owl, Ruff & Reeve, & Cuckoo—3 I fancy that I remember having seen nestling birds erect their feathers greatly when looking into nests, as is said to be the case with young cuckoos. I shd much like to know whether nestlings do really thus erect their feathers? I am now at work on expression in animals of all kinds & birds; & if you have any hints I shd be very grateful for them, & you have a rich wealth of facts of all kinds.—

Any cases like the following: the sheldrake pats or dances on the tidal sands to make the sea-worms come out; & when Mr. St John’s tame sheldrake came to ask for their dinners, they used to pat the ground; & this I shd call an expression of Hunger & impatience.—4

How about the Quagga case?5

I am working away as hard as I can on my book,6 but good Heavens how slow my progress is.— I hope that ⁠⟨⁠you⁠⟩⁠ are well.—

Believe me | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. J. Weir, 27 June 1870.
Fringillidae is the family of finches; Sylviidae is the family of Old World warblers.
See Expression, pp. 97–100. The red-tailed tropic bird mentioned by CD in Expression as Phaeton rubricauda is now Phaethon rubricauda; the ruff (male) and the reeve (female) mentioned by CD as Machetes pugnax are now Philomachus pugnax.
CD recounted this story in Expression, pp. 47–8. Charles St John reported the behaviour of the sheldrakes (Tadorna tadorna) in St John 1849.


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


Asks about birds erecting feathers when enraged or frightened. Interested in examples of expression in birds and animals.

Tells of the sheldrake dancing on tidal sands to make worms come out.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Jenner Weir
Sent from
Source of text
University of Redlands, Armacost Library
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7231,” accessed on 30 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18