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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. J. Weir   [before 17] October 18681

6 Haddo Villas | Blackheath SE

Octr. 1868

My Dear Sir

It was not until this week that I was enabled to complete my enquiries regarding the Crossoptilon auritum, although I went to the Gardens soon after I left your house.—2

I have however quite satisfied myself that both sexes obtain the red cheeks the first year, those hatched this season have had the perfect plumage and cheeks some time.—3

The species seems very tame, already several run about the gardens quite at large & follow the keeper back to the enclosure quite as tamely as domestic fowls.

It would seem probable that the species will become a real addition to our poultry yards.—

I have obtained from a gentleman of long experience a trustworthy account of the Golden Pheasant.—

The hen lays from 12 to 30 eggs beginning in April laying one each alternate day.—

The time of incubation is 24 days, the young feather very fast & will fly well when about 6 weeks old.— When about 3 months old the cock birds can be distinguished by a slight gold tinge about the head, and a very small frill, they will remain in that state till the July of the following year, they will then begin to change color and about the end of September or early in October, they will have the whole of their beautiful feathers & will be as richly colored as ever they will be,4 ⁠⟨⁠portion missing⁠⟩⁠

I am still puzzled about the linnets, it is quite clear that cannabina has now a dull red breast concealed by each feather being tipped with brown, it is always assumed that the tips fall off & the red is then exposed, but it is not unusual to find L Linaria at this season with a bright red breast & it is still more common to find L Borealis with a beautiful rosy breast in November,5 now Yarrell6 told me he had dissected several in this state & always found the testes inflamed, surely this cannot make the tips fall off.—

Thanking you for your great kindness to me at Down, the pleasure I enjoyed there remains as one of the brightest reminiscences of my life7

Believe me | Yours very sincerely | J Jenner Weir

C Darwin Esqr.

CD annotations

1.1 It was … your house.— 1.3] crossed ink
3.1 The species … yards.— 4.2] crossed ink
5.1 I have … 6 weeks old.— 7.2] crossed ink
5.2 Golden Pheasant.—] underl ink
7.2 When … will be, 7.6] ‘Gold Pheasant | J. Jenner Weir’ added ink
9.1 Thanking you … of my life 9.2] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘Spurs— 6 months old & then [absent] at a guess—but not too early’8 blue crayon


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. J. Weir, 17 October 1868.
Weir had visited Down House on 12 and 13 September (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [8–10 September 1868] and n. 9). He also refers to the Zoological Gardens, Regent’s Park, London.
In Descent 1: 290, CD stated that the plumage and crimson head appeared early in life in both sexes of Crossoptilon auritum, the eared pheasant; he noted that he received this information from the Zoological Gardens.
CD cited Weir for this information on plumage changes in young males of the ‘Gold pheasant’ in Descent 2: 213 n. 34.
CD and Weir had already exchanged letters on plumage changes in linnets and redpolls; see letters from J. J. Weir, 11 March 1868, and [before 18 June 1868], and letter to J. J. Weir, 18 June [1868]. CD and Alfred Newton referred to the common linnet as Linota cannabina (Variation 2: 158, Newton 1893–6, 2: 151), whereas Weir earlier referred to it as Linaria cannabina; it is now Carduelis cannabina. Weir also refers to Linota (or Linaria) linaria, now Carduelis flammea, the redpoll (see Index animalium and Peters et al. 1931–87, 14: 250). Linaria borealis is now Carduelis hornemanni, the Arctic or hoary redpoll. See Snow and Perrins 1998, 2: 1574–9. In Descent 2: 86, CD referred to plumage changes in the common linnet.
See n. 2, above.
CD recorded this information regarding the eared pheasant (see n. 3, above) in Descent 1: 290, citing Abraham Dee Bartlett as his source.


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

Index animalium: Index animalium sive index nominum quae ab @A.D. MDCCLVIII@generibus et speciebus animalium imposita sunt. By Charles Davies Sherborn. 10 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. London: British Museum. 1902–32. [Vols. 10,11]

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.

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


Both sexes of Crossoptilon auritum (eared pheasant) obtained the red cheeks the first year.

Coloration of the linnet.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Jenner Weir
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 86: A36, 53; DAR 84.1: 139
Physical description
ALS 4pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6421,” accessed on 1 July 2022,

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