Quoddy Nature Notes – Bon Appetit

Bon appétit

Now that we are well into 2010, most of us can, without too many pains of a well-scarred conscience, recall the New Year’s resolutions that we failed to keep.  I was reminded of my neglect a while back when looking through ‘A Popular Handbook of the Birds of the United States and Canada’, by Thomas Nuttall.  What was my abandoned resolution?  Not to eat so much.  Now what could possibly be the connection between my discarded resolution and an old birder’s handbook? Well, Thomas Nuttall, writing in the mid 1800’s, described birds not only in the way we do today (i.e. size, color, range, habitat, diet, etc.) but he frequently included their edibility, such as:

Osprey -‘…from the nature of its food, the flesh and even the eggs are rendered exceedingly rank and nauseous.’

Barred Owl – ‘…Their flesh is eaten by the Creoles of Louisiana and considered palatable… At Hudson’s Bay a large owl resembling the cinereous (probably the Great Gray owl) is likewise eaten and esteemed a delicacy.’

Meadowlark – ‘…The flesh of our bird is white and for size and delicacy it is considered a little inferior to the partridge, but that of the European is black and bitter.’

Red-winged Blackbird –  ‘The flesh of this bird is but little esteemed except when young, being dark and tough like that of the starling, yet in some markets of the US they are at times exposed for sale.’

Bobolink – ‘…As soon as the cool night of October commence and as the wild rice crops begin to fail, the birds take their departure from Pennsylvania and New Jersey and in their farther progress through the southern states they swarm in the rice fields and before the crop is gathered they have already made their appearance in the islands of Cuba and Jamaica, where they feed on the seeds of the Guinea grass and become so fat as to deserve the name of “Butterbirds” and are in high esteem for the table.’

Cedar Waxwing – ‘…Like its European representative (the Waxen Chatterer), it is capable of braving a considerable degree of cold; for in Pennsylvania and New Jersey some of these birds are seen throughout the winter, where as well as in the early part of the summer and fall, they are killed and brought to market generally fat and much esteemed as food.’

Robin – ‘…Mr. Lock was engaged in fowling and wounded a robin which was claimed by a shrike.  He finally shot the shrike and got his robin…Even in the vicinity of Boston, flocks of robins are seen, in certain seasons, assembling around open springs in the depth of winter, having arrived probably from the interior; and in these situations they are consequently often trapped and killed in great numbers.  When feeding on cherries, poke, sassafras and sour gum berries they are so intent as to be easily approached and shot down in numbers; and when fat are justly esteemed for food and often brought to market.’

Horned Lark – ‘…During migration they are usually fat , esteemed as food and are frequently seen exposed for sale in our markets.’

Snow bunting – ‘…At times, pressed by hunger, they alight near the door of the cottage and approach the barn, or even venture into the outhouses in quest of dormant insects, seed or crumbs wherewith to allay their hunger; they are still, however, generally plump and fat, and in some countries much esteemed for the table.’

Tree swallows – ‘(After migrating to Louisiana)…the greater number resorted to the lakes and spent the night among the wax myrtle whose berries at this season afford them a support which they fatten and are then considered as excellent food.’

Flicker – ‘…In this part of New England (Boston),  it is known by the name of Pigeon Woodpecker, from its general bulk and appearance; and to the disgrace of our paltry fowlers, it is in the autumn but too frequently seen exposed for sale in the markets, though its flesh is neither fat nor delicate.’

Considering that these are not even reckoned as game birds, I find it amazing that we have any birds left.  Waterfowl were exploited even worse.  Again from Nuttall, ‘…The islands between the small port of Little Macatine and Brador (I could not find either of these) abound with the Razor-bill and other allied marine birds whose eggs are collected by the inhabitants of Nova Scotia.  For this purpose they commence by trampling on all that they find laid and the following day begin to collect those which are newly dropped, and such is the abundance of the eggs that Mr. Audubon fell in with a party of three men who, in the course of six weeks, had collected thirty thousand dozen with an estimated value of four hundred pounds sterling.’

We could improve our association with the natural world, but I think we have come a long way since the ‘good old days’, but if you want a super recipe for crow, let me know.  You’ll have to hurry, as the spring season in the Quoddy region closes on March 31.  FG


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