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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Caroline Shuttleworth   27 November [1871–80?]1

Wykeham Rise | Totteridge | N

Nov. 27


I am taking the liberty of writing to tell you of a curious instance of what appears to me like aberration of instinct (insanity?) on the part of a fantail pigeon, wh. on no theory can I account for. It is several years ago, before I was acquainted with yr. writings.2 I only wish that I still possessed the eccentric bird that I mt. add to my audacity in asking you to do it & me the honor of paying us a visit. But alas! it is no more. Still I have so often wondered how you wd. have accounted for its conduct, that at last I am constrained to write & ask you:

At that time we kept a few white fantail pigeons in a pigeon-house at the top of the coach house. One day I picked up somewhere an empty ginger-beer bottle—of the ordinary brown stone description, & I threw it, I dont know why, into the middle of the stable yard, just below the pigeon house.

Immediately the father of the fantail family flew down in a state of intense excitement, & to my great amusement began to perform the most extraordinary genuflexions, evidently in homage to the bottle.

He walked solemnly round & round it, cooing continually, & trailing his wing, & bobbing his head up & down, with the most exaggerated antics I ever beheld on the part of an enamoured pigeon. This went on for hours, but he never went quite up to it, & it never ceased until the bottle had been removed.

And this object never failed to attract him. Whenever an amusement was required for our visitors, I produced the bottle with invariably the same results. He flew down with quite as great alacrity, & usually : far greater, than when his peas were thrown out for his dinner. The other members of his family regarded his performances with contemptuous indifference, taking no interest whatever themselves in any ginger beer bottle. I often tried him with other things, but only the bottle ever attracted him.

Now what was the cause of this infatuation? He cd. not possibly have thought it was a pigeon. If it was insanity it was a monomania, for on all other points he was as sane a bird as you cd. find.

With many apologies for troubling you with this anecdote I am | yr. obedient servant | C. Shuttleworth


Reports peculiar behaviour in a fantail pigeon, which persistently courted a ginger-beer bottle.

Letter details

Letter no.
Caroline Jemima (Caroline) Shuttleworth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 158
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13840,” accessed on 19 September 2021,