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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. J. Weir   16 April 1868

6 Haddo Villas | Blackheath SE

16 April 1868

My Dear Sir

A curious litter of Rabbits has been produced at Camberwell.—1 Nine were reared

3 perfect

3 without ears

1 without ears or tail

1 without one ear & tail

1 without ears & with but three legs.—

My Brother who at his country residence keeps numerous Rabbits has kindly consented to try whether they will breed true and I have therefore sent him a buck and a doe without ears for the experiment.—2

The result shall be reported to you.—

Since I wrote the Rooks at the back of my house have made two new nests, and I observe them copulating, surely these must have been unpaired birds up to the present time.—3

A friend of mine whose Father kept a great number of Gold Pheasants,4 informs me that the antics of the male to attract the female are extraordinary,—he says he erects the plumes of the side of the neck, suddenly depresses them, creeps on the ground with his feathers closely adpressed darts forward, instantaneously ruffles out all the ornamental feathers of his body and turns about in the most lively manner.—

But he also informs me that the Silver Pheasant5 is very quiet under similar circumstances and only makes the most of his brilliant red comb & wattles, these become larger in the breeding season & are partially erected.

The Tragopans (Ceriornis) make the greatest use of their bright blue & red wattles blowing them out to an immense size when courting, this perhaps you observed at the Zoological Gardens when there, it may be observed constantly at this time of the year.—6

My own belief is that all vivid colors in birds are the result of sexual selection, even the red helmet & garters of the Moorhen.—7

I find that all birds that I know of having rich plumage are more quarrelsome than dull colored birds, in an aviary the linnet is of all finches the most inoffensive & the goldfinch the most pugnacious, the latter is always snapping at its companions but from its weakness does little damage.—8

I was surprized to read in your work that Mr. Brent thought mules amongst the Finches were not wild,9 my experience is exactly the reverse, the Siskin is the tamest of Finches but its mules are as wild when young as newly caught birds, and are constantly lost through their continued efforts to escape.—

Yours very truly | J Jenner Weir

C. Darwin Esqr.

CD annotations

1.1 A curious … legs.— 1.6] crossed blue crayon and pencil
2.1 My … to you.— 3.1] crossed blue crayon
4.2 surely … time.— 4.3] scored blue crayon
5.1 A friend … manner.— 5.5] crossed pencil
6.1 very quiet] ‘Silver Pheasant’ added pencil
6.1 under similar circumstances 6.2] ‘of courtship’ added pencil
7.1 The … Moorhen.— 8.2] crossed pencil; ‘Birds | p. 16? or 46’ red crayon
7.2 blowing] underl blue crayon
9.1 I find] opening square bracket
9.1 I find … the reverse, 10.2] crossed pencil
9.1 I find … damage.— 9.4] ‘Blackbirds very pugnacious not Thrushes’ added ink del pencil; ‘Bartlett on Pheasants’10 added pencil
10.2 the Siskin … escape.— 10.4] ‘Keep’ added pencil; ‘Dom. Animals—’ added blue crayon
11.1 Yours … Weir] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘K’ blue crayon, circled blue crayon
End of letter: ‘p. 16? or 46’ red crayon del pencil


Camberwell is a district in the borough of Southwark, London.
Weir refers to Harrison William Weir, whose country residence, Weirleigh, was near Brenchley, Kent (Scientific American Supplement no. 275, 9 April 1881).
The gold pheasant is now known as the golden pheasant, Chrysolophus pictus.
The silver pheasant is now Lophura nycthemera. Several subspecies are currently recognised (Clements 2000).
Tragopans are a group of Asian pheasants; they now belong to the genus Tragopan. During his stay in London from 3 March to 1 April 1868, CD visited the zoological gardens at Regent’s Park.
Gallinula chloropus.
Weir refers to the linnet, now Carduelis cannabina, and the goldfinch, now Carduelis carduelis. In Descent 2: 93, CD cited Weir for this observation.
See Variation 2: 45. The reference is to Bernard Peirce Brent. In Variation 2d ed., 2: 20, CD noted Weir’s view on the tameness of the siskin.
The reference is to Abraham Dee Bartlett. A note in DAR 84.2: 198 dated 28 March cites Bartlett on the display of the gold pheasant.


Clements, James F. 2000. Birds of the world: a checklist. Vista, Calif.: Ibis Publishing Company.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Describes a curious litter of rabbits.

Pairing of rooks, courtship of golden pheasant.

Behaviour of finch hybrids.

Seasonal coloration of birds; bright plumage results from sexual selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Jenner Weir
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 71–2, 140, DAR 181: 75
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6125,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16