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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Godfrey Wedgwood   [November 1873]1

Mr Smith, Cecils master,2 who is a good entomologist, & therefore used to notice natural facts, says a neighbour of his caught a young corncrake while scarcely fledged, not so big as a sparrow, brought it up, and made it so fond of him that the bird followed him about from room to room like a dog, came when it was called never trying to escape. for some months it was kept in a yard with a high wall all round. All at once it disappeared in the night & was never seen again— The Owner thought it must have been Stolen, even when Mr Smith pointed out that it was the time when the bird would have migrated naturally.3

Another neighbour of his had a young cookoo which when the time came for migration grew restless & continually beat itself against the bars of the cage until it killed itself. It had been quite tame before. Neither of these cases could have been imitative instinct.

Cases of instinct not being imitation referring to De Candolle, page 322.4


The date is established by a note, ‘November 1873 from Godfrey Wedgwood’, added to the letter probably by George Howard Darwin, and the year of publication of Candolle 1873 (see n. 4, below).
Cecil Wedgwood was Godfrey’s son; his schoolmaster has not been identified.
The corncrake (Crex crex) breeds in Europe and Asia and migrates to Africa for the winter.
Candolle 1873, p. 322, discussed whether the migration of birds was a learned behaviour or an inherited instinct. CD considered the power of the migratory instinct in Descent 1: 83–4.


Candolle, Alphonse de. 1873. Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux siècles: suivie d’autres études sur des sujets scientifiques en particulier sur la sélection dans l’espèce humaine. Geneva: H. Georg.

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


Captive and tame birds inheriting the migratory instinct.

Letter details

Letter no.
Godfrey Wedgwood
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181: 52
Physical description
Amem 2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9121,” accessed on 21 October 2020,

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