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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Bernhard Tegetmeier   14 July 1870

Finchley | N

July 14/70

My dear Sir.

I enclose you a proof of a very interesting letter on Variation in Wild Ducks by Mr Teebay on whose accuracy of observation I can fully rely.1

I do not know whether you are working at varieties now. If you are would you like to look at Dr Cooper’s octavo volume on Game fowls.— It is an American Treatise on Fighting Cocks.2 with a vast amount of valuable information in an American form.— — If you would like to see it I can lend you my own copy or I could get you one at the publishing price 5 dollars. but mine is very much at your service for as long as you like

I am at work on a new edition of my own large poultry book and will, with your permission, avail myself of your store of information in your work on ‘Variation’.3

I have lately been making some observations respecting your theory of analogous variation,4 & I have thought of collecting the prototypes? of our varieties of pigeons. and comparing with the varieties.. and having drawings made of each, the analogy is closer than I could have imagined. After all the breeds of the fancier are but imitations of the colorations, etc. of wild species of the same group

The cases would form a good subject for a paper—

I am breeding from the Crested Turkey but the young are not yet old enough for me to say whether any have crests. but you shall know—5

I have not been able to work much lately at subjects of purely scientific interest   Fortune holds to many hostages and constrains me to work for her but as my work is congenial I am thankful.

Trusting your health is good | Believe me truly yours | W B Tegetmeier

I forget whether or no I ever sent you a drawing of the crested turkey so forward one6


White Wild Ducks

I have a pure-bred wild duck and drake that last year had two nests of young ones. In the first hatch were ten of the true wild duck colour, and one (which turned out a duck) with pure white plumage. In the second nest there was7 again ten of the true wild colour and one pure white drake, and a duck all white, except a black spot on the top of the head and black tail coverts—this duck is now pure white in plumage. The beaks of the two that were pure white are bright orange; the beak of the other ducks is bright orange, with the saddle on the upper beak much speckled with rich black. The legs of all three are orange, the webs of the feet of a more dusky colour. All three are remarkably slender in form, and have the long graceful shape of the pure wild duck.

This year the same pair of old birds have eleven youngs ones of the true wild duck colour, and one, pure white. Both the old birds were from eggs taken from separate wild duck nests, are both pinioned, and the duck has had no access to any other drake.

Early this year the white drake was paired with the white duck. She has eight young ones nearly full grown, five of which are pure white in plumage, the other three white with the small black spot on the top of the head and black in the coverts. The black on these three is much less than it was when they were in their first feathers, and will very likely be replaced with white when they make up their plumage.

The other duck that had the black spot on the head and the black tail coverts was paired with a wild drake of the true colour. Her nests having been twice destroyed, she has only four young ones, which are not yet feathered, but from appearance three will be pure white, and one with the spot on the head and some black above the tail.

The white drake and two ducks have not been pinioned, and during last autumn and beginning of winter had full liberty of flying miles round, but never, that I know of, alighting anywhere except at their own ponds. When taking a long flight they would go an immense height, and to my mind there are few more beautiful sights than to watch their manœvres in the air on a windy day, especially when coming down.

I am totally at a loss to account for these white birds, as the remainder of the old duck’s young are as near like one another and like their parents as possible, and it is more strange that the nearly white duck put to the grey drake should produce white young ones. It is again singular the the coloured feathers should be all black, not one having had a grey feather. Beautiful as these white birds are, if they would retain the black spot on the top of the head, and the black tail coverts some of them have in their earlier feathers, they would be still more beautiful.

Richard Teebay.

CD annotations

3.1 I am … ‘Variation’. 3.2] scored ink
Right margin: ‘The Field | July 1870’ ink; ‘7’ after del ‘6’


Tegetmeier enclosed an article, ‘White wild ducks’, by Richard Teebay, that appeared in the 18 July 1870 issue of the Field (the annotated cutting is in DAR 193: 43). Teebay described the offspring of a pair of pinioned wild ducks, among which were three white individuals. He also described the progeny of the white individuals. Tegetmeier was pigeon and poultry editor of the Field (ODNB).
Tegetmeier refers to John W. Cooper and Cooper [1869].
Tegetmeier refers to The poultry book (Tegetmeier 1867) and to Variation. The new edition of The poultry book (Tegetmeier 1873) appeared in monthly parts between March 1872 and May 1873. Tegetmeier mentioned CD’s work in the preface to the new edition, and quoted a long passage from Variation on the peafowl (Tegetmeier 1873, pp. 331–2).
In Variation 2: 348, CD had discussed analogous variation, or the appearance of similar characteristics in several varieties or races descended from the same, or even distinct, species.
Tegetmeier had sent CD an engraving of the crested turkey and enclosed specimens of the crest feathers in his letter of 20 July 1869 (Correspondence vol. 17).
See n. 5, above. The only extant image of the crested turkey in the Darwin Archive–CUL is the one Tegetmeier had already sent. It is in DAR 193: 39.
The word ‘was’ has been crossed through with pen and ‘were’ added in the margin.


Cooper, John W. [1869.] Game fowls, their origin and history. With a description of the breeds, strains, and crosses. West Chester, Pa.: the author.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Tegetmeier, William Bernhard. 1867. The poultry book: comprising the breeding and management of profitable and ornamental poultry, their qualities and characteristics; to which is added ‘The standard of excellence in exhibition birds’, authorized by the Poultry Club. London and New York: George Routledge & Sons.

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


Sends a letter by Mr Teebay on variation in wild ducks.

Offers to lend Dr Cooper’s book on game fowls.

Is preparing a new edition [1873] of his Poultry book.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 82, DAR 193: 43
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7274,” accessed on 17 April 2021,

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