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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Richard Bowdler Sharpe   5 August 1868

Zoological Society of London, | 11, Hanover Square, | London, W.

Augt. 5 1868

Dear Mr. Darwin,

I have been a long time answering your questions, which were very difficult to answer, as we know so little of the economy of Tanysiptera and Dacelo.1

I have ransacked all my material, but cannot answer your query if the tail of young birds resembles the females in the first plumage. The species you refer to are Dacelo Leachii, cervina (ex Austr.) D. Gaudichaudi (ex Novã Guineã)

I have written to Australia to find out about them and will certainly let you know. I am very sorry I cannot tell you now2

The long-tailed Kingfisher is a Tanysiptera. We are only acquainted with the habits of T. sylvia ex Sept. Austr. (which I shewed you). The tail-feathers of the female get rumpled in nesting, as also the young.3 I have a young bird of T. doris, Wallace from Morotai in which the plumes are very much so.4

The other day I saw a portrait of you in a Photographers   I went a day or two after but it was gone, and I cannot get one.5 If you should ever have a carte de visite to spare, would you mind giving me one with your autograph. I have many of my friends portraits and I should very much value yours. Please excuse the liberty I have taken in asking for it. You will be glad to hear my work is flourishing.

Hoping soon to give you better information on the Kingfisher | I have the honour to be | dear Mr. Darwin | Respectfully yours | R B Sharpe

CD annotations

4.1 The … very much so. 4.4] crossed ink
5.1 The … Kingfisher 6.1] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Keep | about Tail-feathers | Photograph. Wanted.’ pencil; ‘Menura tail— asked | P. 7. 1868 | D’ blue crayon


CD’s letter to Sharpe has not been found. Tanysiptera and Dacelo are kingfisher genera.
Dacelo leachii cervina, a subspecies of the blue-winged kookaburra, is found in Australia. Dacelo gaudichaudi, the rufous-bellied kookaburra, is found in New Guinea. No further correspondence with Sharpe on this subject has been found, but in Descent 2: 188 n. 2, CD wrote that Sharpe had informed him that the young male of D. gaudichaudi was at first brown.
Tanysiptera sylvia, the buff-breasted paradise kingfisher, is found in north-east Australia. Ex Australia septentrionale: from northern Australia. Sharpe wrote ‘2’ over ‘Sept.’ and ‘1’ over ‘Austr.’, indicating that he had written the words in the wrong order. CD cited Sharpe for information about the rumpling of the tail-feathers of Tanysiptera sylvia in Descent 2: 165.
Tanysiptera doris is now Tanysiptera galatea doris, a subspecies of the common paradise kingfisher, found on Morotai, an island in the northern Moluccas.
See also letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 8 January [1868?].


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


Is writing to Australia to answer CD’s questions about resemblance of tail-feathers of young and mature female kingfishers. [See Descent 2: 188.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Richard Bowdler Sharpe
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Zoological Society
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 98–9
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6306,” accessed on 18 January 2022,

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