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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. B. Tristram   5 September 1868

Greatham Vicarage Stockton on Tees

5 Sept. 1868.

My dear Sir

In Monticola cyanea the ♀ is less brightly coloured than the ♂ but not so as to render her less conspicuous, being a very dark mottled brown with some white.1 The ♀s of the Indian, Chinese, Phillipini, & So. African species differ similarly, & there is no exception in this genus.2 The question as to the Dromolæa leucopygia, & D. leucocephala is very curious, because in these species, as in Saxicola leucomela, there is no difference whatever in the sexual coloration.3 While there are species very slightly from these 3 respectively e.g. Drom. monacha, & Saxicola libanotica, where the female is a pale sandy colour, most inconspicuous,4 yet all inhabit the same localities, have precisely the same nidification, & the eggs are so alike, that only careful observation of the parent bird could decide to what species they belong. Yet the notes & flight of all the species are so distinct, it is impossible to confound the birds even at a distance.

I find a similar parallelism & contrast in the South African & Himalayan species.

Should you wish to examine for yourself, I shall be very happy to forward you a box of specimens of the various species carefully marked in pairs.

There is nothing more apparently capricious than the colouring of the ♀ in the Chat family,5 now identical, now most different in the closest allies— The contrast of blackbird & thrush in this respect is analogous—

Believe me | My dear Sir | Yrs very truly | H. B. Tristram

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Protection’ pencil


See letter from H. B. Tristram, 1 July 1868 and n. 4, and Tristram 1859–60, p. 296. CD cited this description of Monticola cyanea in Descent 2: 172.
For illustrations of the coloration of Monticola, see Snow and Perrins 1998, 2: 1201–6.
See letter from H. B. Tristram, 1 July 1868 and n. 4. No intervening letter from CD to Tristram containing further queries has been found. Saxicola leucomela is now Oenanthe lugens, the mourning wheatear (see also Tristram 1859–60, p. 300). See also Descent 2: 172.
Tristram may refer to what are now Oenanthe monacha, the hooded wheatear, and Oenanthe oenanthe libanotica, a subspecies of the wheatear (see Snow and Perrins 1998, 2: 1194–5, 1178–80).
In the nineteenth century, the chats were often placed in their own subfamily (Saxicolinae); see Newton 1893–6, 4: 115 (Introduction). Now they are placed in either the thrush family (Turdidae), or the Old World flycatchers (Muscicapidae). See, for example, Snow and Perrins 1998, and Dickinson ed. 2003.


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

Newton, Alfred. 1893–6. A dictionary of birds. Assisted by Hans Gadow, with contributions from Richard Lydekker, Charles S. Roy, and Robert W. Shufeldt. 4 parts. London: Adam and Charles Black.

Tristram, Henry Baker. 1859–60. On the ornithology of northern Africa. Ibis 1: 153–62, 277–301, 415–35; 2: 68–83.


Sexual differences in plumage of birds; various species compared.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Baker Tristram
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 95–6
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6351,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

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