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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Swaysland   12 June 1869

4 Queens Road | Brighton

June 12th 1869


In reply to your letter I beg to say that the birds that arrive for the first few days are all males, I have never seen the female before the males of any birds males & Females come together after the first few days, but it is not the case when they go away, I one Spring shot 39 Rays Wagtails before I saw a female, I have several times known the male Whitethroat build the nest before the females arrive1

I have seen clods of earth on the birds feet such as Wheatears Winchats Wagtails particulary on fogey mornings and certain they had only just crossed the water2

I have never noticed any substance in crops or stomachs of Birds when they arrive as they cross the water in the night or before they feed in the morning   the greater part of the Wagtails arrive between 7 or 8 Oclock in the morning   I have shot and caught birds for over 40 years and do so now if you should come to Brighton I could tell you a great deal more

I am | Sir | Your Most Obent | Servant | Geo Swaysland

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Keep for Distribution Means of; p. 13’ pencil; ‘& Origin’ ink


CD’s letter to Swaysland has not been found. CD had asked John Jenner Weir for Swaysland’s name and address (see letters to J. J. Weir, 20 May [1869] and 27 May [1869]). CD cited Swaysland’s information on Ray’s wagtail (now the yellow wagtail, Motacilla flava) in Descent 1: 260.
CD cited Swaysland’s information on earth on birds’ feet in Origin 6th ed., p. 328. Wheatears belong to the genus Oenanthe; the whinchat is Saxicola rubetra; wagtails belong to the genus Motacilla.


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

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


Observations on birds entering the country in spring. Some have clods of earth on their feet.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Swaysland
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.2 (Letters): 252
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6780,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17