Birds for sale
Birds for sale
The heavy business of Christmas post is, for me, lightened by the pictures of birds on so many of the cards I send and receive. My favourite this year is a modest little card depicting a modest little bird, a tree sparrow – brown, black and whitish plumage much like its more robust cousin the house sparrow, but with a chestnut head and neat black spot on each cheek. It’s rarer and shyer too, They favour hedges, living in small groups and carrying on cheerful, chirping conversations. After a disastrous decline nationwide, their numbers are on the increase. They seem to have taken to nest boxes, and eight lucky WNS members reported nests in their gardens in 2012. Should be even better news when records come in for 2013, a much kinder year for breeding birds.
Other Christmas card stars over the years have been whooper swans, herons and bitterns, several species of waders and lots of the more colourful small birds like bullfinches, crossbills and bramblings. What a change, I thought, as I slit open the envelopes, from centuries past when many unlucky birds would have formed part of the Christmas menu. Mallard, teal, cranes, herons, woodcock and seventeen other types of birds were served at the feast for the enthronement of Archbishop Neville of York in 1466. At the enthronement of the Bishop of Salisbury fifty years earlier the menu for the great and the good included bitterns, curlews, plovers, quails and larks. So much for the teachings of St. Francis!
Of course, our peasant ancestors would not have much of a share as there were strict rules as to who was allowed eat what. They would have had their own legal sources of food: crows, rooks and seabirds, their eggs and young. Surely, too, a fair amount of surreptitious poaching went on. After all, wild birds represented an important source of protein. It’s not all in the distant past either. My husband can remember eating rook pie and going out as winter daylight faded, to try for a duck or goose as it returned to its roost on the Solway marshes. I recall people collecting plovers’ eggs from fields near Burley in the lean years of World War2. It’s our comparative affluence as much as our finer feelings that enable us to set up Reserves for birds rather than eating them! So let’s enjoy our turkey and remember to feed the birds. Happy Christmas!