I fear this note is very badly written; but I was very ill all yesterday, and my hand shakes to-day.
LETTER 437. TO J. JENNER WEIR. 4, Chester Place, Regent's Park, N.W., March 22nd .
I hope that you will not think me ungrateful that I have not sooner answered your note of the 16th; but in fact I have been overwhelmed both with calls and letters; and, alas! one visit to the British Museum of an hour or hour and a half does for me for the whole day.
I was particularly glad to hear your and your brother's statement about the "gay" deceiver-pigeons. (437/1. Some cock pigeons "called by our English fanciers gay birds are so successful in their gallantries that, as Mr. H. Weir informs me, they must be shut up, on account of the mischief which they cause.") I did not at all know that certain birds could win the affections of the females more than other males, except, indeed, in the case of the peacock. Conversely, Mr. Hewitt, I remember, states that in making hybrids the cock pheasant would prefer certain hen fowls and strongly dislike others. I will write to Mr. H. in a few days, and ask him whether he has observed anything of this kind with pure unions of fowls, ducks, etc. I had utterly forgotten the case of the ruff (437/2. The ruff, Machetes pugnax, was believed by Montague to be polygamous. "Descent of Man," Edition I., Volume I., page 270.), but now I remember having heard that it was polygamous; but polygamy with birds, at least, does not seem common enough to have played an important part. So little is known of habits of foreign birds: Wallace does not even know whether Birds of Paradise are polygamous. Have you been a large collector of caterpillars? I believe so. I inferred from a letter from Dr. Wallace, of Colchester, that he would account for Mr. Stainton and others rearing more female than male by their having collected the larger and finer caterpillars. But I misunderstood him, and he maintains that collectors take all caterpillars, large and small, for that they collect the caterpillars alone of the rarer moths or butterflies. What think you? I hear from Professor Canestrini (437/3. See "Descent of Man" (1901), page 385.) in Italy that females are born in considerable excess with Bombyx mori, and in greater excess of late years than formerly! Quatrefages writes to me that he believes they are equal in France. So that the farther I go the deeper I sink into the mire. With cordial thanks for your most valuable letters.
We remain here till April 1st, and then hurrah for home and quiet work.
LETTER 438. TO J. JENNER WEIR. 4, Chester Place, N.W., March 27th .
I hardly know which of your three last letters has interested me most. What splendid work I shall have hereafter in selecting and arranging all your facts. Your last letter is most curious--all about the bird-catchers --and interested us all. I suppose the male chaffinch in "pegging" approaches the captive singing-bird, from rivalry or jealousy--if I am wrong please tell me; otherwise I will assume so. Can you form any theory about all the many cases which you have given me, and others which have been published, of when one [of a] pair is killed, another soon appearing? Your fact about the bullfinches in your garden is most curious on this head. (438/1. Mr. Weir stated that at Blackheath he never saw or heard a wild bullfinch, yet when one of his caged males died, a wild one in the course of a few days generally came and perched near the widowed female, whose call-note is not loud. "Descent of Man" (1901), page 623.) Are there everywhere many unpaired birds? What can the explanation be?
Mr. Gould assures me that all the nightingales which first come over are males, and he believes this is so with other migratory birds. But this does not agree with what the bird-catchers say about the common linnet, which I suppose migrates within the limits of England.
Many thanks for very curious case of Pavo nigripennis. (438/2. See "Animals and Plants," Edition II., Volume I., page 306.) I am very glad to get additional evidence.