Wood Duck illustration from P. Taverner’s 1921 edition of Birds of Eastern Canada

10 things mostly not about the Wild Turkey 

Day 14 of 100 days of blogging

The Wild Turkey would likely be an obvious theme choice for a bird related post at Canadian Thanksgiving. Not just table fare, the turkey (domestic or wild) is a prominent commercial holiday icon here in Canada as much as it is one across the border to the south. It is also one of those nice conservation come-back stories. So while the title of today’s post could have easily been “10 Things about Wild Turkeys”, quite frankly that’s been done all over the Internet already! 

Instead, here’s a look at game-birds that might have made it to the dinner table instead of the Wild Turkey (the domestic Turkey not withstanding), with a quick peak at Percy A Taverner’s entries in his 1921 edition of Birds of Eastern Canada. First published in 1919, It was one of the first ”modern” Canadian field guides aimed at amateurs to aid in field identification of birds that “an ordinary observer might meet with …”  It was also intended to serve as a guide for the agricultural economist to be able to tell “bird friend form bird foe.” In this vain, each bird’s description included an assessment of the birds “economic” value from the perspective of crop destruction. While still not exactly the sort of thing you’d carry in your pocket, it had 100 colour illustrations to supplement the text. 

So as you eat leftover turkey for the next week, here’s some food for thought with a round-up of substitutes for Wild Turkey that might have been on your plate (or hopefully not in some cases) at the time when the PQSPB was founded. Of course you wouldn’t have been eating Wild Turkey anyway, but more of that below. For that matter, you wouldn’t have been celebrating Thanksgiving this early in October either. While the first official post-confederation Thanksgiving holiday was set in 1879, the date was moved around to take place somewhere at the end of October or early November. After WWI it was set to take place in early November; the current observance on the 2nd Monday in October was only established in 1957.

The following italicized text is the original entry as it appeared in P. Taverner’s 1921 edition of Birds of Eastern Canada.

#1. Wild Turkey – so this is why you were not eating it
The Turkey as a wild form occurred in Canada only in southern Ontario and has been extinct for a number of years. At present the wild turkey remains only in the most out- of -the way, wooded localities of the wilder southern United States and even there it promises to vanish soon.

#2. Mallard
This is the “Wild Duck” par excellence , and is known as such to the sportsman of the old world as well as the new … one of the best table birds.

#3 Mergansers
They are not very desirable table birds, though some young autumn birds, properly cooked, are not to be altogether despised.

#4. Wood Duck
The wood duck was originally the summer duck of our southern borders and almost every woodland stream and back-water pond had at least one pair; but, since the clearing of the land, the farmer’s-boy-shot-gun combination has been too much for it.

#5. Bobwhite
The bobwhite occurs in Canada only in southern Ontario where it is known to every country dweller. In autumn the sportsman hunts it with dogs…

#6 Spruce Partridge
A northern bird of the spruce woods. Its over-confiding nature has given it the popular name of “Fool Hen” as, where not much disturbed, it can often be killed with a stick or with stones. Owing to its feeding largely upon spruce or evergreen buds its flesh is too strong for the ordinary civilized palate.

#7. Ruffed Grouse
This is the Partridge of most Canadian sportsman.

#8. On Woodcocks, Snipes, Sandpipers and Curlews in general
These species formed the great bulk of the wonderful flocks of shorebirds that once thronged our shores…. The great reduction must be blamed upon indiscriminate shooting. As they fly in dense flocks they offer an easy target and eighty or more have been known to fall at one discharge of the gun, so that there is no wonder they are now comparatively scarce.

#9. Woodcock
…owing to the unrestricted shooting, the drainage and clearing of wastelands, and perhaps the depredations of the domestic cat, the Woodcock is a scarce, almost a rare bird.

#10. Mourning Dove
In many sections the Dove is regarded as a game bird, but such status is not usually recognized by law. Great numbers are killed however incidental to other sport, in spite of legal protection, and the life of the species is not an undisturbed one. It is, however, a strong and thriving race and is a little immediate danger.