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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Newton   15 March 1874

Magd. Coll.

15 March 1874.

My dear Mr. Darwin,

I am much obliged for your opinion on egging— The instance of Northern breeding-places of Sea-birds is very apposite—though it was well known to me—1 There the egging is so well done—that, except in a few inaccessible spots, literally every egg is taken up to a certain date—after which the birds are no more molested.— There must be hardly any places in England if any at all where the eggs of land-birds are so completely taken—some nests & often many nearly always escaping observation— Thus in either case sufficient is left to carry on the breed.

I have looked at the passage in St. John’s ‘Tour’ to which you have kindly referred me—2 I had forgotten its existence. What he says is to the point and a matter of opinion, but he does not enter enough into details— The experience of Mr. Rivers is valuable—3 My friend Mr. Pickard-Cambridge, of Spider fame, assures me that it is only of late years that the Bullfinches have begun to pick the buds in his own & other orchards in Dorset to any great extent.4 I do not see why the habits of birds are not to change. In this case it may be that some new insect infesting buds has introduced itself to the locality— We know that round oak gall has spread within the last 20 years in a wonderful way—5

Believe me | Yrs. very truly | Alfred Newton


See letter to Alfred Newton, 14 March 1874 and n. 3. Newton refers to Charles St John and St John 1849; this passage had to do with the increase of garden birds as a result of the destruction of vermin.
CD refers to Thomas Rivers (1798–1877) (see letter to Alfred Newton, 14 March 1874 and n. 5).
Octavius Pickard-Cambridge, author of many articles on spiders, was rector of Bloxworth, Dorset.
Round oak galls, also known as oak marble galls, are produced on the Turkey oak (Quercus cerris), introduced into Britain in 1735, and on the native oak (Q. robur) by the larvae of the cynipid wasp Andricus kollari, which was introduced into Devon around 1830. The wasp spread across Britain, reaching Scotland by the 1870s. See P. Walker et al. 2002, pp. 336–7 and 346. In the 1850s, the increase in numbers of oak galls was widely noted when it was thought that the galls might ruin the acorn crop used to feed pigs (see, for example, Stainton 1855, and Gardeners’ Chronicle, 1 December 1855, pp. 789–90).


Stainton, Henry Tibbats. 1855. Galls produced by Cynips Quercus-petioli. [Read 5 February 1855.] Transactions of the Entomological Society of London n.s. 3 (1854–6), Proceedings, p. 76.


Thanks CD for his opinion on egging. Despite the intensity of the practice sufficient eggs always remain to carry on the breed.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Newton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 172: 51
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9364,” accessed on 18 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22