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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Arthur Nicols   25 May 1873

11. Church Row. NW

May. 25th 1873.

Dear Sir,

Thanks to you, my candidature for the Zool: Soc: was entertained at once.1

If you have not had the following called to your notice I beg to do so because to me at least it is very singular.

Last week while watching the Flamingoes I noticed the harsh cry of Cariama Cristata (Bustard (?) whenever the keeper approached.2 While the bird was crying one of the largest of the flamingoes drew near and leaning over C. C. began to drop upon him a bright fluid like arterial blood. This went on for several minutes and the quantity given off must have been considerable. The flamingo appeared to be in constant state of vomit judging from the heaving of its abdomen and the fluid fell so fast from its beak that it became almost a thin stream. Great solicitude and anxiety was expressed by the flamingo. Unfortunately the keeper left me and I could not secure any of the fluid for examination—but if you think the subject worth attention I will collect some of it on paper and transmit to you this week.3

I thought it possible that C. C.’s cry resembled that of the young flamingo and excited the nursing instinct in the latter.

The keeper assured me he had seen this habit frequently.

Yours faithfully | Arthur Nicols.

Chas Darwin. Esq. F.R.S. etc


Nicols was evidently nominated by CD for membership of the Zoological Society of London.
The Cariama cristata (red-legged seriema) of Brazil has a far-carrying call (see Birds of the world 3: 239). Bustards are in the family Otididae; seriemas are in the monogeneric family Cariamidae.
Flamingos (of the monogeneric family Phoenicopteridae) of both sexes nurse their young on milk that is secreted in the upper digestive tract; the production of this milk is stimulated by the begging calls of the chicks (see Birds of the world 1: 513–14). The colour of the milk is due to presence of red blood cells.


Birds of the world: Handbook of the birds of the world. By Josep del Hoyo et al. 17 vols. Barcelona: Lynx editions. 1991–2013.


Thanks to CD his candidature for the Zoological Society has been entertained.

Observed a flamingo, at the Zoological Gardens, that vomited on a bustard in answer to the latter’s harsh cries.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Arthur (Arthur) Nicols
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 172: 61
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8922,” accessed on 18 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21