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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. J. Weir   [14 April 1868]1

His head gardener, an intelligent man, told me he knew of a case of two Starlings building in a cottage near my Brothers,2 one was shot in the morning but again there was a pair before noon, another was shot but ere the sun went down the pair was again complete.—

I met with several verifications of the fact that 3 Starlings often have one nest   The gardener & my Brother both had constantly seen 3 together & I asked one person how many Starlings there were to a nest   he said without any hesitation “Three”.—3

There are now some young rooks in the trees at the back of my house nearly a fortnight old, still other rooks are constantly building new nests, and often taking them to pieces & trying another tree.—4

I met with a singular case a few days since, a gentleman has a valuable trained Bullfinch (German) for which he gave £10.10.— it pipes a German Waltz, there are about 20 other birds in a large cage in the same room, now when the Bullfinch commences to sing all the others range themselves close to the side of the cage nearest the performer, and actually quarrel for good places, all the birds appearing to listen & take the greatest interest in the performance,—at the same time making a low murmering warbling to each other.—

Believe me | My Dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | J Jenner Weir

C Darwin Esqr.

CD annotations

1.1 His … another tree.— 3.3] crossed pencil
4.1 I met … themselves 4.4] crossed blue crayon
4.4 close … each other.— 4.7] crossed pencil


The date is established by the mention of this letter in the letter to J. J. Weir, 30 May [1868].
Weir’s brother was Harrison William Weir, who lived at Lyndhurst Road, Peckham (Post Office London suburban directory 1868). The gardener has not been identified.
Weir had earlier reported that his friend Edward Newman had observed a nest with three starlings (see letter from J. J. Weir, 7 March 1868 and n. 7).
Weir discussed the behaviour of rooks (Corvus frugilegus) near his home in his letter of 31 March 1868.


Post Office London suburban directory: The Post Office London suburban directory. Kelly’s London suburban directory. London: Kelly & Co. 1860–1903.


Starlings find new mates readily. Nesting in threes common.

Recognition of song by birds.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Jenner Weir
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 88–9
Physical description
4pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6152,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

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