29 November 2008

Market Prices for Wildbirds Given in Chronicles of Urban History

A fresh bit of fare for a day's meal, has always - through chronicles of times during history - been a notable bit of meat that was freshly shot, and as the country was going urban, was bought at the market down some sort of primitive street or lane.

There was always some cost for fresh meat that others acquired. Some of the first known instances of prices are known from the years before there were united states in North America. Hunters were out and about throughout each of the colonies and territories, as vast flocks of wild birds were a fine target.

One of the first mentions of market costs is from more than 235 years in the continental past. The instance referenced one of the greatest flocking fowl of the continent. When these flocks moved and came to roost when gathered in their seasonal hordes, flint-lock guns came out of the closet and from elsewhere, ready to fire upon the passing horde of fresh pigeons.

Passenger Pigeon: Boston in 1771; great numbers of pigeons brought to market in Boston, nearly fifty thousand were sold in one day

The great penguin of the north also provided marketable commodities for the local sea-faring men...

Great Auk: Stinking Islands, ca. 1775; about 20 years prior to 1794; person took half a ton of feathers, many eggs for the market

Undoubtedly abundant, wild ducks and other waterfowl were brought to the market in Charleston, in 1784.

Some "milk white pheasants: could be bought in a Quebec market, in 1791, when it was November and a time when moving flocks could add an ingredient of taste and hearty eating for a day's meal.

Ducks and fowls cost a quarter dollar in New York, back in 1806.

John Melish noted some important historic details during travel his travels in the current states of the U.S.A. There is quite a variety of places from where the prices were given to be known.

8/16/1811- Pittsburgh: ducks 25c
9/11/1811 - Cincinnati: ducks 25c per pair
9/25/1811 - Louisville at Bear Grass Creek: ducks 25 to 33 cents per pair
10/7/1811 - Zanesville: 12 1/2 cents
11/12/1811 - Utica: ducks 25 cents
Goose, on a per carcass basis
8/16/1811 - Pittsburgh: 50-75c
9/11/1811 - Cincinnati; 37 1/2 to 50 cents
9/25/1811 - Louisville at Bear Grass Creek: 33 cents each
10/7/1811 - Zanesville: 37 1/2 cents
11/12/1811 - Utica: 50 cents
11/17/1811 - Albany: 25 cents
Unidentified waterfowl
9/25/1811 -Louisville at Bear Grass Creek: fowls 12 1/2 to 16 cents
10/7/1811 - Zanesville: fowls 6 1/4 cents
11/12/1811 - Utica: fowls 9c each
11/17/1811 - Albany: fowls 12 cents each

This could have included anything from snipe to sandpipers, or any variety of geese and ducks. The passenger pigeon or others birds of the migratory flocks could have been harvested and taken to the market to provide some cash income.

Wild Turkey
8/16/1811 - Pittsburgh: 50 to 100 cents
9/11/1811 - Cincinnati: 12 1/2 to 25 cents
9/25/1811 - Louisville at Bear Grass Creek: turkeys 25 to 50 cents each
10/7/1811 - Zanesville: 25 cents
11/12/1811 - Utica: 62 cents
11/17/1811 - Albany: 62c, around the holiday time

Zanesville, along the Muskingum River in Ohio, is an interesting variety in Ohio territory pricing. Fowls, ducks, wild turkeys and geese, with an increasing price for each.

Subsequent chronicles for 1815 mention the Northern Bobwhite available for purchase at the town market in Cincinnati, along with the Wild Turkey.

New Orleans, at the base of the Mississippi River, had an obvious market for fowl, with migratory flocks at the delta, the bayous, and elsewhere in the wild river's habitats. In 1820-1821, naturalist and watcher on the streets, John James Audubon was eaking a living - selling original sketches of the local scenes, which obviously would depict birds - about places of the cosmopolitan city on the big river.

These are some details of the price given only at the market among the products for purchase, and not printed elsewhere for idle reading.

American Woodcock: 1/12/1821; one wood cock in the market
Great Egret: 1/18/1821; saw in market two white herons
Shorebird: 1/18/1821; new species of snipe in the market, partly plucked
Common Moorhen: 2/4/1821; many purple gallinules in the market
Sora: 2/4/1821; several rails or soras in the market
American Robin: 2/5/1821; number of robins killed is astonishing; bring 6 1/4 cents each in market
American Coot: 2/9/1821; hundreds of coots were in the market this morning
Tree Swallow: 2/24/1821; market well stocked with green-backed swallows; caught at roost holes
Cedar Waxwing: 3/10/1821; saw in the market some Ampellis Americana
Great Egret: 3/17/1821; a white crane in the market; there is no reason this might not have been a Whooping Crane
Shorebird: 3/17/1821; pures in the market
American Golden-Plover: 3/17/1821; market plentifully supplied with golden plovers
Great Blue Heron: 3/18/1821; five beautiful blue cranes in the market
Wilson's Snipe, and sandpipers: 3/24/1821; hundreds of snipes in the market
Upland Sandpiper: 3/24/1821; three Bartram's snipes in the market, here called papacots
Great Egret: 3/24/1821; white heron without legs in the market
Northern Mockingbird: 4/5/1821; young mocking birds in the market, able to fly
Gallinule-type Waterbird: 4/23/1821; found in the market a gallinule; differs much from the purple one

Upriver, the lakes and much swamp land about St. Genevieve on the languid Mississippi, ca. 1823, were inhabited by countless numbers of wild ducks flying about in unbelievably large flocks. The hunting by shootists yielded a rich harvest at the market in St. Louis, according to the narrative written by Paul Wilhelm.

The 1826 journal by Captain G.F. Lyon during a residence and tour in the republic of Mexico, gives details from Pueblo Viejo, in Veracruz. This presents one of the few notable sources for this type of information from another nation.

Grouse, large-crested pheasant: game in the market
Gallinule-type waterbird, cojolites: game in the market
Chachalaca, chachalacas: game in the market
Wild turkeys: game in the market
Duck: game in the market

The quantity of ducks available at the market was once again noted to be enormous, in 1835 at St. Louis, on the wild Mississippi River.

Cosmopolitan New York City, had its street markets where fowl were sold. Charles Fox noted a wide variety when was about and taking detailed notes at the Fulton Market, and going there in January, March, April and May, in 1835.

Birds at the January market: great variety of ducks and sea-birds; Alauda alpestris, wild turkey, Columba carolinensis, as well as the Turdus migratorius.

Birds at the March market tended towards small birds, not the bigger migratory water fowl, although ducks were plentiful; others: Snowy Owl, American Woodcock, Horned Lark, American Robin, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird, using modern parlance, since Mr. Fox listed species in his narrative according to their scientific name at the time

Birds at the April market: ducks, etc. which were noted as being very scarce; Northern Bobwhite, Great Blue Heron, Sora, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Mourning Dove, Passenger Pigeon, Snowy Owl, Belted Kingfisher, American Goldfinch

A greater variety is given for birds at Fulton Market in May, as listed in the published memoirs according to their accepted, transitional scientific name, but given here in modern common name style: Wood Duck, Common Loon, Clapper Rail, American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Eastern Kingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, and some Passeriformes and other unidentified species.

Another bunch of observations are depicted in details for the State of Massachusetts in 1836, among some of the prominent bird records kept by Thomas M. Brewer.

Ring-billed Gull: I have in my possession a pair obtained in our market.
Harlequin Duck: This bird, though extremely rare, is still occasionally met with in our waters; occasionally been shot near Nahant; last winter, in our market a pair that was shot off Phillips' Beach; this winter procured at the Graves.
Curlew Sandpiper: John James Audubon obtained two specimens of this bird in our market.
Redhead: This bird is often to be met with in our market, and is occasionally shot in Fresh Pond.
Ruddy Duck: This bird is quite common in the market, in the early part of September, and is known as the Dun-Bird.
American Black Duck: This is one of our most common ducks. Improperly known in our market as the Black Duck.
Purple Sandpiper: I have met with this bird in abundance in our market.

Two dozen Ruddy Duck were noted in the Charleston Market, on March 20th, 1837.

Some Lapland Longspur's, probably moving south in a large flock, became the target, and there were several specimens shot on Long Island that made it to the New York market district.

The white-fronted geese were a market item at Cincinnati, on the same date, but a brief six years later, in 1843.

In 1844, when sportsman and ornithologist Jacob Post Giraud Jr. was writing about the birds of Long Island, he mentioned market birds.

Microptera Americana, American Woodcock; commands a high price at the markets
Razor-billed auk; occasionally for sale in the New York market during the winter months
Tringa subarquata, Curlew Sandpiper; several purchased at Fulton Market, New York

Two Great Gray Owls - known then as the great cinerous owl - were obtained in 1848 at the Boston markets, and noted as probably having been killed in the state.

Next details are from the people coast and a new frontier in the west, out west on the Pacific coast territory. These are specifics for the San Francisco Bay area, at the great city on the bay when its population was exploding in the middle of the 1800s, especially from 1848-1855.

[Rookery at the Farallon Islands, 1856]

One of the first items of record is from egg collectors, boating out to the Farallon Islands when the birds were at their peak of laying eggs for the breeding season. Men working for Doc. Robinson loaded their boat with eggs of the California murre, Uria aalge californica, and western gull, Larus occidentalis; notably in 1848.

Lophortyx californicus; large quantities of eggs brought to the markets, in March-August 1852
Uria Troile, foolish guillemot; at the Farallones, they exist in great numbers; demand for eggs in San Francisco supplied from these islands

And the fowl were especially seasonal game, that was at the shot end of a gun during a time when hopeful men were hungary, and were ready to buy, since much of their time was spent in a panning search for bright nuggets. The Bay city market was one place to get bird meat to eat, when away from the gold-fields.

Greater White-fronted Goose: called the speckled belly in the San Francisco market; worth 75 cents to $1 per pair
Canada Goose: in the market at San Francisco
Canvasback: in autumn and winter congregate in large numbers on the bays and rivers of California; the San Francisco market is well supplied with them, command a price of from one dollar to one dollar and fifty cents the pair
Redhead: common at the San Francisco market; an excellent bird for the table
Black Scoter, Oidemia american, scoter duck: very abundant about San Francisco in winter; never brought into market, being too fishy and strong to be eaten even by the Chinese
Red-breasted Merganser: abundant about San Francisco in winter; frequent in the markets, but suspect no one eats them but the Chinamen
Grebe: exceedingly abundant about San Francisco; sometimes brought into the markets, but are so fishy as to be uneatable
American Avocet, western avoset: brought into the San Francisco market in considerable numbers in fall and winter; and sold as an article of food
Marbled Godwit, Limosa fedoa, godwit: very common about San Francisco in the winter; always to be found in the market
Wilson's Snipe, Scolopax wilsoni: shot in considerable numbers about San Francisco; constantly in the market during the autumn and winter
Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx viaticus: frequently brought into the San Francisco market and is reported very good eating

Another variety of history before the present era, is known for the District of Columbia, of 1856, notably based on history being done about the Smithsonian Institution, a repository ofr skins of many a shot bird. In this instance, the skins were shot by someone other than a collector of specimens. Market birds were the Long-tailed Duck, Ruddy Duck, Wild Turkey, Horned Grebe, Herring Gull, and Barred Owl.

Another set of notes comes from a Canadian metropolis, Montreal, on the St. Lawrence River:

Ptarmigan or Arctic partridge, Tetrao mutus: brought a fine specimen in the market; shot near Sorel
Great Horned Owl, Strix Virginiana: common during winter, specimens for sale every winter in the market; seen on a barn near Sherbrooke street
Snowy Owl, Strix nyctea: winter of 1859, brought seven snowy owls to the market; rather rare about the immediate neighbourhood of the city, but generally brought into the market every winter; last winter, 1860, only two in the market; they were all young
Barred Owl: seen on St. Helen's Island, one being shot there January 1857; exposed for sale in the market for the last four winters
Blue Jay, Garrulus Canadensis: not very common; obtained some specimens during 1859, in the market; last winter a specimen brought to the market

Further notes came forth from along the Potomac River, among the scientific men keeping a diverse array of history. The bird details given here in the manner of which they were included in the article: List of the birds ascertained to inhabit the District of Columbia, with the times of arrival and departure of such as are non-residents, and brief notices of habits, etc. This was written by government man Elliott Coues and D. Webster Prentiss, in 1861.

2. Falco columbrius, Linn. Pigeon Hawk. Rather rare, but few having been observed. Very shy. Sometimes exposed for sale in the market.
9. Buteo pennsylvanicus, (Wils.) Bon. Broad-winged Hawk. Very rare; only occasionally observed. Specimens have been obtained in the market.
15. Bubo virginianus, (Gm.) Bon. Great Horned Owl. Cat Owl. Not common. Sometimes offered for sale in the market.
154. Meleagris gallopavo, Linn. Wild Turkey. Regularly seen in the markets all through the winter, though not often found in the immediate vicinity of the city. Remains all the year in the neighboring districts.
185. Cygnus americanus, Sharpless; American Swan. Winter resident. Not common. Seen sometimes on the river, and frequently exposed for sale in the market.
186. Bernicla canadensis, (Linn.) Boie. Canada Goose. Wild Goose. Winter resident. Common, but seen most frequently flying over. Arrive in fall just before the first approach of severe weather. Found in market through the winter.
195. Fulix marila, (Linn.) Bd. Greater Black-head Duck. Winter resident. Not very abundant. Often exposed for sale in market, but not much esteemed for food.
198. Aythya americana, (Eyton) Bon. Red-head duck. Winter resident. Very abundant. A common market duck, and frequently offered for sale as the canvas back.
200. Bucephala americana, (Bon.) Baird. Golden-eye duck. Winter resident. Rather abundant. Frequently seen in the market.
206. Erismatura rubida, (Wils.) Bon. Ruddy duck. Winter resident. Abundant. Frequently exposed for sale in the market, but not esteemed for food.

Other published articles are among the great variety of chronicles of the bygone era, including two notable items:

Herring Gull: Isle of Cuba; 1862 - Larus argentatus; specimen found by Lembeye in the market at Havana, and mentioned in his work as marinus
Sooty Tern: St. Thomas; 1863 - Sterna fuliginosa, sooty tern; in the market at St. Thomas, saw a large basketful of eggs, which had been taken at Tortola; bought a dozen for half-a-dollar

At the Farallon Islands, a boat with 25 armed men arrived to harvest murre eggs on June 4, 1863, as the egg business continued to harvest the birds' laying effort.

Back in the east, in a portion of the state of Massachusetts, in 1863:

Redhead: red-headed duck; autumn and winter; not very common; abundant in the markets of Boston in winter; brought from the bays and rivers of the middle states
Greater White-fronted Goose: white-fronted goose; specimens obtained in Boston market that were probably taken in the state

Matamoras has a meat market remembered from 1863 and 1864, as scribed by H.E. Dresser, in his notes about bird-life at southern Texas ...

Northern Mockingbird: Mimus polyglottus; young birds offered for sale in the market-place for three pence each; bought several
Plain Chachalaca: Ortalida maccalli, chiacalacca; very common; in the autumn, great numbers are exposed in the market for sale
Red-billed Pigeon: Columba flavirostris, red-billed dove; during the autumn, brought to the market for sale

In a list of birds observed near Hamilton, Canada west, T. McIlwraith wrote:

Spruce Grouse: Burlington Bay; 152. Tetrao canadensis Linn. Spruce Partridge. The habitat of this species is the dense spruce forests to the north and east of us. I have seen it exposed in the market with the Ruffed Grouse, but its occurrence so far south is by no means common.

In 1866, further details, from a latter decade, are given for New York, Long and Staten Islands.

The following information is from an article by George N. Lawrence - an activist on writing of birds on a scene - who gave his version of bird history for the Long Island, New York vicnity:

Pileated Woodpecker: West Hoboken; 169. Hylotomus pileatus (Linn.). Black Woodcock. I possess one specimen killed at Hoboken. A few years ago it was not unusual to see specimens in our market (in the winter) sent from the northern part of Pennsylvania.
Bald Eagle: In winter, examples killed on Long Island are frequently brought to market
Scolopax rusticola, Linn. Woodcock; this species with the following note, dated 6th Dec. 1859. A poultry dealer in Washington market; found it to be a true European Woodcock; doubtless killed near Shrewsbury, N. J.
Sterna Forsteri, Nutt. Forster's Tern. A few years ago, in the autumn, I found in Fulton Market several specimens of this Tern, both adult and young, which came from Long Island.

In 1867-1869, the Snow Bunting was so abundant during winters, that hundreds were killed for markets in Trenton, New Jersey.

Another of the notable items for market pricing, was from the same vicinity, and the same era. The records are for east Pennsylvania and New Jersey:

Lesser Snow Goose. Anser albatus. Mr John Cassin procured, in the Philadelphia market, two pairs, in the course of twenty years, of this inhabitant of Northwest America.
Wild Turkey. Meleagris gallopavo. Now rare. A few straggling flocks are yet met with on the Alleghanies, and specimens which have been killed there may be seen every winter in the Philadelphia market. It is not uncommon in Virginia.


There are 89 species mentioned in more than 175 records of formerly wild birds at the local meat market. The species mentioned most often, are: Wild Turkey, 12 instances; Redhead, 4; Ruddy Duck, 4; Barred Owl, 4; and, Snowy Owl, 4. Also notable referred to are ducks, 15; geese 6, and some type of waterfowl or waterbirds.

The two most prominent species mentioned first in the narratives are now extinct.

Noticeably of lesser occurrence is the swan, with it only being listed once. Wit the ample meat available on these largest of the North American waterfowl, it is surprising they were not more prevalent in the chronicles. The colorful Carolina Parakeet, a loud and obvious part of the avifauna, was not apparently abundant for a bunch to get shot and dressed for a market, and to get sufficient note to be referenced in notes known now as history.

A diversity of wildbirds in the market are one especially notable aspect of bird history that present interesting details that further illustrates the ornithological history through the centuries on the continent.

The Market Assistant, Containing a Brief Description of Every Article of Human Food Sold in the Public Markets

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