I shall certainly make use of them, and need not say how much obliged I should be for any others about which you feel confident.
Do you know of any birds besides some of the gallinaceae which are polygamous? Do you know of any birds besides pigeons, and, as it is said, the raven, which pair for their whole lives?
Many years ago I visited your brother, who showed me his pigeons and gave me some valuable information. Could you persuade him (but I fear he would think it high treason) to stain a male pigeon some brilliant colour, and observe whether it excited in the other pigeons, especially the females, admiration or contempt?
For the chance of your liking to have a copy and being able to find some parts which would interest you, I have directed Mr. Murray to send you my recent book on "Variation under Domestication."
P.S.--I have somewhere safe references to cases of magpies, of which one of a pair has been repeatedly (I think seven times) killed, and yet another mate was always immediately found. (434/1. On this subject see "Descent of Man," Edition I., Volume II., page 104, where Mr. Weir's observations were made use of. This statement is quoted from Jenner ("Phil. Trans." 1824) in the "Descent of Man" (1901), page 620.) A gamekeeper told me yesterday of analogous case. This perplexes me much. Are there many unmarried birds? I can hardly believe it. Or will one of a pair, of which the nest has been robbed, or which are barren, always desert his or her mate for a strange mate with the attraction of a nest, and in one instance with young birds in the nest? The gamekeeper said during breeding season he had never observed a single or unpaired partridge. How can the sexes be so equally matched?
P.S. 2nd.--I fear you will find me a great bore, but I will be as reasonable as can be expected in plundering one so rich as you.
P.S. 3rd.--I have just received a letter from Dr. Wallace (434/2. See "Descent of Man," Edition I., Volume I., pages 386-401, where Dr. Wallace's observations are quoted.), of Colchester, about the proportional numbers of the two sexes in Bombyx; and in this note, apropos to an incidental remark of mine, he stoutly maintains that female lepidoptera never notice the colours or appearance of the male, but always receive the first male which comes; and this appears very probable. He says he has often seen fine females receive old battered and pale-tinted males. I shall have to admit this very great objection to sexual selection in insects. His observations no doubt apply to English lepidoptera, in most of which the sexes are alike. The brimstone or orange-tip would be good to observe in this respect, but it is hopelessly difficult. I think I have often seen several males following one female; and what decides which male shall succeed? How is this about several males; is it not so?
LETTER 435. TO J. JENNER WEIR. 6, Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, W. [March 6th, 1868].
I have come here for a few weeks, for a little change and rest. Just as I was leaving home I received your first note, and yesterday a second; and both are most interesting and valuable to me. That is a very curious observation about the goldfinch's beak (435/1. "Descent of Man," Edition I., Volume I., page 39. Mr. Weir is quoted as saying that the birdcatchers can distinguish the males of the goldfinch, Carduelis elegans, by their "slightly longer beaks."), but one would hardly like to trust it without measurement or comparison of the beaks of several male and female birds; for I do not understand that you yourself assert that the beak of the male is sensibly longer than that of the female. If you come across any acute birdcatchers (I do not mean to ask you to go after them), I wish you would ask what is their impression on the relative numbers of the sexes of any birds which they habitually catch, and whether some years males are more numerous and some years females. I see that I must trust to analogy (an unsafe support) for sexual selection in regard to colour in butterflies. You speak of the brimstone butterfly and genus Edusa (435/2.