16 April 2014

Blackbirds as an Article of Food at Philadelphia

From the Philadelphia News.

There is a large trade in this city in blackbirds. Some years ago, when it first began, very few birds were sold; but the restaurants and private families found out that the birds could be made tender and palatable by par-boiling them and then baking them in a pie, and now dozens of bunches of blackbirds, twelve in a bunch, are sold at the very best game depots. The trade continues from April, when the birds come back from the south, until early October, when they leave this latitude; and all the season through there is one unvarying price demanded for this sort of game — viz.: Twenty-five cents per "bunch" of twelve birds.

The birds are shot by farmers' boys and other sportsmen within a radius of twenty miles from Philadelphia. As the birds fly to their feeding grounds in the morning and back to their "roosts" in the woods at sundown, and their line is straight, the gunners can fire volleys into their fluttering flocks whenever they come within range while crossing the country. At early morning and an hour or two before the sun sets the swamp and crow-blackbirds, two very different species, seem less wary and feed in the plow-furrows in the field or along the banks of creeks and rivers, where worms and fresh-water shellfish abound, and then the volleys of No. 6 shot decimate their sable ranks.

Theoretically, there is no reason why the flesh of blackbirds should not be used for food. They feed on cherries, currants, fruit, grain and worms, just as reed-birds, doves, wild pigeons, and plenty of other palatable game birds do. Blackbirds don't eat carrion, and, although they are polygamous, don't mate, and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. They are not otherwise different from other species. They are noisy, cheeky and great pests of farmers who have cherry orchards or graperies, and those who know blackbirds best will set it down as an invariable rule that if they can steal ripe cherries they will not touch any other kind of food.

No country people eat blackbirds any more than they eat crows. They look upon both warblers with about the same sort of feelings. There is a tradition in the neighboring counties that blackbirds eat carrion, but it is not true, though their flesh is rank enough before being parboiled. A blackbird roost, that is, a place where hundreds or thousands of the stable-feathered pests flock and scream at night, is regarded by the tillers of the soil as a local misfortune, and it often happens that a dozen farmers, with their sons and hired hands, all armed with guns, will lie in ambush evening after evening, for several days, in order to shoot the birds as they fly in, in small black clouds at night, to a harboring place of this sort.

May 15, 1886. Blackbirds as an article of food. Washington D.C. Evening Star 68(10307): 2.