Thursday, December 11, 2008

Four Calling Birds

As noted in the first post on the subject of the Twelve Days of Christmas, ‘calling’ is a corruption of ‘colley,’ meaning black as coal, birds. Whether this means actual blackbirds or black fowl is a separate question.

Blackbirds were and are destructive to crops in Europe. Like other small birds, they have been trapped and shot for food. Italian workers in the 19th century took ‘pot shots’ at small birds on their way home from work, Ann Vileisis reports in Kitchen Literacy. The nursery rhyme, Sing a Song of Sixpence, refers to baking blackbirds in a pie. Mark Cocker in Birds Britannica documents the practice of placing live birds under a pie crust just before serving as a medieval custom.

Or it could have referred to domestic fowls, such as the old French breeds, all of which were often black, or black Spanish chickens., such as these reproduced in 1983 by Dr. J. Batty from Lewis Wright's Poultry. Black turkeys were popular in the 18th century in Europe.

Black birds lost favor because the dark feathers show up in the skin of the bird prepared for the table, unlike white feathers. In the 19th century, white birds went through a period of unpopularity, because they were thought to be constitutionally weak. Food fads.


Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

I am really enjoying this series! Very interesting information on all these birds.

PoultryBookstore said...

Amy, you are so kind to be so appreciative! Thank you.