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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Osbert Salvin   [1868?]1


Richard B. Sharpe informs me that Carcineutes is the one form in the whole group in which the sexes differ conspicuously. In the ♂ the back, tail and crown of head are fine blue banded with black with much red about the head. In the female the whole upper surface ‘reddish-brown banded with black. Beneath white with black markings’.2 In the closely allied genus Dacelo the distinguishing mark is that in the male, the tail is blue with black bars, in the female brown with bluish-black bars, so that the tail differs in a strictly analogous manner as the whole plumage in the last genus.3

Curious modifications are also exhibited in the genus Ceryle. In some neotropical species the whole lower surface of the male is red, whilst in the female the breast is crossed by a blackish-grey band.4 In certain other species of the same section Chloroceryle the breast alone of the male is red whilst in the female no part is red, and the breast is crossed by an interrupted dark colored band, in some degree resembling the band in the first mentioned species.5 , i.e The presence or absence of a pectoral band is also the distinguishing mark of the sexes of the old world sections of the same genus (Ceryle).6 In fact the section Megaceryle of the old world is analogous to the section Streptoceryle of the New &. the section Ceryle of the Old World is also analogous to the section Chloroceryle of the new.7

CD annotations

1.2 conspicuously] ‘in colour’ interl after, pencil
1.2 back … blue banded 1.3] underl blue crayon
1.3 about the head] underl blue crayon; ‘& not [illeg]added above, ink; ‘& partly faun-coloured below’ interl after, pencil; ‘below’ del ink, ‘, when’ added ink
1.4 Beneath] del ink; ‘& the lower part’ added ink
1.4 white … markings 1.5] underl blue crayon
1.6 the tail … with black bars] underl blue crayon
1.6 bluish-black bars] underl blue crayon
1.8 genus.] ‘Here we have cases of Birds nesting in holes, differing | Kingfisher group’8 added pencil
2.2 the male is red] ‘brick’ interl before ‘red’ pencil
2.2 the breast is crossed 2.3] ‘the same’ interl before ‘crossed’ pencil
2.3 Chloroceryle 2.4] parentheses added pencil


The year is conjectured by the reference to Richard Bowdler Sharpe’s research on kingfishers (see n. 2, below).
Sharpe described two species of Carcineutes in his monograph of the Alcedinidae (Sharpe 1868–71). These descriptions appeared in the first part of the monograph, published on 1 July 1868 (Sharpe 1868–71, p. ii). Carcineutes pulchellus (now Lacedo pulchella, the banded kingfisher) is the species described here by Salvin (see Sharpe 1868–71, pp. 251–2 and pl. 91).
Salvin probably refers to Sharpe’s description of Dacelo leachi (see Sharpe 1868–71, pp. 289–90 and pl. 115). Sharpe divided the family Alcedinidae into two subfamilies; both Carcineutes and Dacelo were in his subfamily Daceloninae (see Sharpe 1868–71, pp. x–xi).
Salvin describes Ceryle torquata (now Megaceryle torquata, the ringed kingfisher; Sharpe 1868–71, pp. 73–5 and pl. 24).
The reference is to Ceryle americana (now Chloroceryle americana, the green kingfisher; Sharpe 1868–71, pp. 89–90 and pl. 28).
Salvin probably refers to the African Ceryle maxima (now Megaceryle maxima, the giant kingfisher; Sharpe 1868–71, pp. 67–9 and pl. 22).
Sharpe did not divide these genera in the way Salvin indicates; rather he placed both old and new world species within Ceryle and rejected many of the genera proposed by other authors, retaining only those that he believed were characterised by marked structural differences (Sharpe 1868–71, pp. viii–ix).
CD refers to the fact that although the sexes are dimorphic in these species of kingfisher, they are all birds that build concealed nests. Alfred Russel Wallace had argued in a paper on nidification (Wallace 1868) that differences in male and female plumage often related to the type of nest built. Species with open nests tended to have females with subdued plumage compared to the males, whereas in species with concealed nests (like kingfishers), females had little need for protective coloration. In a letter to Wallace of 5 May [1868] (Correspondence vol. 16), CD indicated that he did not entirely accept Wallace’s generalisations on bird’s nests. In Descent 2: 173–4, CD cited Sharpe’s description of Carcineutes pulchellus as an exception to Wallace’s rule.


Notes on sexual differences within certain species of birds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Osbert Salvin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 172–3
Physical description
2pp † CD note

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5758,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18 (Supplement)