Bird hunting and trapping have been a part of most nationalities living skills especially for the poor. This occupation continued from very early times into the present century. Trapping a variety of birds was often the only way poor people could obtain meat. Children learnt from an early age how to trap and hunt birds, using simple pull-string traps and hunting with slings, throwing sticks and later catapults.
One of my jobs as a kid in England was to hunt wood pigeons for the table and to stop them eating our cabbages.
My Father was born in 1904, and he used to hunt blackbirds, he said they tasted like chicken. Other boys he told me used to hunt sparrows in the hedge rows.
Wood pigeons existed in great numbers in England and may still do so. I hope so.
The partridge and the pheasant are probably the most well known game birds, especially in England and the New World.
The Blackbird, common in England and the New World.
The humble sparrow. Not a lot to eat on a sparrow so I suspect the kids had to hunt and trap quite a few of them the make a meal.
We have twice a year the pleasure of catching pigeons, whose numbers
are sometimes so astonishing as to obscure the sun in their flight.
Where is it that they hatch? for such multitudes must require an
immense quantity of food. I fancy they breed toward the plains of
Ohio, and those about lake Michigan, which abound in wild oats;
though I have never killed any that had that grain in their craws.
In one of them, last year, I found some undigested rice. Now the
nearest rice fields from where I live must be at least 560 miles;
and either their digestion must be suspended while they are flying,
or else they must fly with the celerity of the wind. We catch them
with a net extended on the ground, to which they are allured by what
we call TAME WILD PIGEONS, made blind, and fastened to a long
string; his short flights, and his repeated calls, never fail to
bring them down. The greatest number I ever catched was fourteen
dozen, though much larger quantities have often been trapped. I have
frequently seen them at the market so cheap, that for a penny you
might have as many as you could carry away; and yet from the extreme
cheapness you must not conclude, that they are but an ordinary food;
on the contrary, I think they are excellent. Every farmer has a tame
wild pigeon in a cage at his door all the year round, in order to be
ready whenever the season comes for catching them.
Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crevecoeur. 1735-1813.
Passenger pigeons. These are the birds that were hunted and trapped by Indians and settlers for food in the 18th century in the New World.
The Indians captured the pigeons in large nets and by the 1630s the settlers of New England were doing the same.
"When a Pigeon is seen gliding through the woods and close to the observer, it passes like a thought, and on trying to see it again, the eye searches in vain; the bird is gone."
"I positively brought myself so much among the pigeons and in the woods of America that my ears were as if really filled with the noise of their wings..."
John J. Audubon
"For three miles together, the pigeons' nests were so thick that five hundred might have been told on the beech trees at one time; and, could they have been counted on the hemlocks, as well, I doubt not but five thousand, at one turn around."
Richard Hazen, New England,1741.
. "They darkened the sky like locusts;"
Along the New England coast, they were caught on the marshes by means of live decoys. In other parts, stuffed birds were used to attract passing flocks. Many a man boasted of ten, twenty-five, or thirty dozens of Pigeons caught in a snare at one time. One writer claimed that cumin seed or its oil was found by experience the best lure to induce the Pigeons to these nets. Particularly favourable for netting were the salt springs, at which the netters took as many as 800 to 1,500 or 1,600 at once in one net. These Pigeon traps were various in form and construction. One was made of nets 20 x 15 feet stretched on a frame. This was propped up by a pole eight feet long. When the birds entered under it, a boy or man concealed by a fence withdrew the prop with a string attached to it, and the falling net enmeshed the birds. To the nets they were also allured "by what we call tame wild pigeons, made blind, and fastened to a long string. His short flights and his repeated calls never fail to bring them down. Every farmer has a tame wild pigeon in a cage, at his door, all the year around, in order to be ready whenever the sea-son comes for catching them" (Crevecoeur, 1783).
"during the flights . . . the lower sort of Canadians mostly subsisted on them."
"at the market so cheap that, for a penny, you might have as many as you could carry away; and yet, from the extreme cheapness, you must not conclude that they are but ordinary food; on the contrary, they are excellent."
"The farmers, besides having plenty of them for home use, and giving them to their servants, and even to their dogs and pigs, salted cask full of them for the winter."
"several Indian towns of not above seventeen houses, that had more than one hundred gallons of pigeon's oil or fat; they using it with pulse or bread as we do butter, . . ." Lawson,1714.
Dovecots. Pigeons would be kept and raised in dovecots for food. Often the young "squabs" would be taken before they could fly. This practice dates back to medieval times, and is still in use today.
On the snow to the right you will see a bird trap.
Children learnt at a young age how to trap birds.
I hate sad endings, but it must be said that due to commercial trapping in the 19th century, the passenger pigeon aventually became extinct. Well done humans, greed wins again!