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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Scot Skirving   [1860?]1

Last year I had 1,200 killed in one week on one field.2 A rather distinguished naturalist in Scotland insists they are not birds of passage, yet I know I have shot them with acorns in their crop that never grew here, & the keeper of the May Island light in the Firth of Forth says he has seen them arrive there in a state of exhaustion.3 The question of these migrations has been discussed in Agricultural Clubs. 〈In the past〉 members [killed last winter] there 〈section missing〉 whether one was 〈section missing〉 why not millions?

I have only now to ask pardon for this intrusion— unwarranted on my part, as, in begging for information as to the clover plant, I presume not to think I can in any way return more than thanks.

I am | Your Obt & faithful Serv | R Scot Skirving

CD annotations

1.1 Last year … in Scotland 1.2] crossed ink
1.2 birds of passage,] ‘Wood Pigeon’ added red crayon
1.2 yet I know … exhaustion. 1.5] square brackets added brown crayon; ‘see Back’4 added red crayon
1.7 why not millions? … Skirving 3.1] crossed ink


It has not been possible to ascertain the exact date of this and the following letter. The period between 1858 and 1860 was one in which CD sought information from a wide variety of correspondents on the possible means of dispersal of seeds by birds. Skirving lived in Edinburgh and was the author of several tracts on the labour question in Scotland. He had apparently written to CD with an inquiry about one of CD’s references to clover plants. Although it is possible that the inquiry related to CD’s letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle, [13 November 1858] (Correspondence vol. 7), Skirving’s second letter to CD indicates that a post-Origin date is more likely. CD discussed the relation between bees and clover in Origin, pp. 73–4. See also following letter.
Skirving refers to wood-pigeons. See CD’s annotations and following letter.
The Isle of May lighthouse is situated at the entrance to the Firth of Forth, on the east coast of Scotland. CD discussed the transport of seeds in the crops of migratory and other birds in Origin, pp. 361–2.
CD’s annotation refers to the fact that a subsequent note from Skirving, supplying information pertinent to this letter, was attached to the letter (see following letter). Both letters were cut into sections, presumably to retain only those portions that were of interest to CD.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Tells of shooting wood-pigeons that had in their crops acorns that did not grow locally.

[Fragment of letter glued to 2197.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Scot Skirving
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.2: 250a
Physical description
2pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2196,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8