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Darwin Correspondence Project

From R. M. Middleton   22 October 1878

Fountain House, | West Hartlepool.

22 Oct:, 1878.

My dear Sir,

A scientific friend once remarked to me that he supposed the chief reason why dogs & cats were the principal animals kept in houses was the power they possessed of controlling their evacuations. This led me to say that my favourite South American parrakeet (Conurus guianensis)1 invariably restrained himself in this respect while being handled or when sitting on the head or dress of any person, & that, when being fed on the dining-table, he would always back to the edge of the table, & sometimes almost overbalance himself, in his effort to save the table-cover or cloth from defilement.— This bird has now been in my possession for nearly three years, so that I have had abundant opportunities of observing his habits.

Will you kindly pardon me for troubling you with these facts; & may I venture to ask if you are aware of any analogous instance of scrupulous care in the discharge of the fæces on the part of birds,—or of mammals other than those mentioned?

I am, Dear Sir, | Faithfully yours, | R. Morton Middleton, | Jr.

Charles Darwin, | Esqre. | etc. etc.—


Conurus guianensis (a synonym of Psittacara leucophthalmus) is the white-eyed parakeet. A bird of the same species was kept as a pet by Henry Walter Bates and described in Bates 1863, 2: 103–4.


Bates, Henry Walter. 1863. The naturalist on the River Amazons. A record of adventures, habits of animals, sketches of Brazilian and Indian life, and aspects of nature under the equator, during eleven years of travel. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


Did cats and dogs become pets because they are scrupulous in the discharge of their faeces? He has a pet parakeet whose behaviour supports this view.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Morton Middleton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
West Hartlepool
Source of text
DAR 171: 178
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11726,” accessed on 17 September 2021,