Chapter XIII: Of Wild And Tame Fowls

Order requireth that I speak somewhat of the fowls also of England, which I may easily divide into the wild and tame; but, alas! such is my small skill in fowls that, to say the truth, I can neither recite their numbers nor well distinguish one kind of them from another. Yet this I have by general knowledge, that there is no nation under the sun which hath already in the time of the year more plenty of wild fowl than we, for so many kinds as our island doth bring forth, and much more would have if those of the higher soil might be spared but one year or two from the greedy engines of covetous fowlers which set only for the pot and purse. Certes this enormity bred great troubles in King John's days, insomuch that, going in progress about the tenth of his reign, he found little or no game wherewith to solace himself or exercise his falcons. Wherefore, being at Bristow in the Christmas ensuing, he restrained all manner of hawking or taking of wild fowl throughout England for a season, whereby the land within few years was thoroughly replenished again. But what stand I upon this impertinent discourse? Of such therefore as are bred in our land, we have the crane, the bitter,the wild and tame swan, the bustard, the heron, curlew, snite, wildgoose, wind or doterell, brant, lark, plover (of both sorts), lapwing, teal, widgeon, mallard, sheldrake, shoveller, peewitt, seamew, barnacle, quail (who, only with man, are subject to the falling sickness), the knot, the oliet or olive, the dunbird, woodcock, partridge, and pheasant, besides divers others, whose names to me are utterly unknown, and much more the taste of their flesh, wherewith I was never acquainted. But as these serve not at all seasons, so in their several turns there is no plenty of them wanting whereby the tables of the nobility and gentry should seem at any time furnished. But of all these the production of none is more marvellous, in my mind, than that of the barnacle, whose place of generation, we have sought often times as far as the Orchades, whereas peradventure we might have found the same nearer home, and not only upon the coasts of Ireland, but even in our own rivers. If I should say how either these or some such other fowl not much unlike unto them have bred of late times (for their place of generation is not perpetual, but as opportunity serveth and the circumstances do minister occasion) in the Thames mouth, I do not think that many will believe me; yet such a thing hath there been seen where a kind of fowl had his beginning upon a short tender shrub standing near unto the shore, from whence, when their time came, they fell down, either into the salt water and lived, or upon the dry land and perished, as Pena the French herbarian hath also noted in the very end of his herbal. What I, for mine own part, have seen here by experience, I have already so touched upon in the chapter of islands, that it should be but time spent in vain to repeat it here again. Look therefore in the description of Man (or Manaw) for more of these barnacles, as also in the eleventh chapter of the description of Scotland, and I do not doubt but you shall in some respect be satisfied in the generation of these fowls. As for egrets, pawpers, and such like, they are daily brought unto us from beyond the sea, as if all the fowl of our country could not suffice to satisfy our delicate appetites.

Our tame fowl are such (for the most part) as are common both to us and to other countries, as cocks, hens, geese, ducks, peacocks of Ind, pigeons, now a hurtful fowl by reason of their multitudes, and number of houses daily erected for their increase (which the boors of the country call in scorn almshouses, and dens of thieves, and such like), whereof there is great plenty in every farmer's yard. They are kept there also to be sold either for ready money in the open markets, or else to be spent at home in good company amongst their neighbours without reprehension or fines. Neither are we so miserable in England (a thing only granted unto us by the especial grace of God and liberty of our princes) as to dine or sup with a quarter of a hen, or to make as great a repast with a cock's comb as they do in some other countries; but, if occasion serve, the whole carcases of many capons, hens, pigeons, and such like do oft go to wrack, beside beef, mutton, veal, and lamb, all of which at every feast are taken for necessary dishes amongst the communalty of England.

The gelding of cocks, where by capons are made, is an ancient practice brought in of old time by the Romans when they dwelt here in this land; but the gelding of turkeys or Indish peacocks is a newer device, and certainly not used amiss, sith the rankness of that bird is very much abated thereby and the strong taste of the flesh in sundry wise amended. If I should say that ganders grow also to be gelded, I suppose that some will laugh me to scorn, neither have I tasted at any time of suc tivits, king-fishers, buntings, turtles (white or grey), linnets, bullfinches, goldfinches, washtails, cherrycrackers, yellowhammers, fieldfares, etc.; but I should then spend more time upon them than is convenient. Neither will I speak of our costly and curious aviaries daily made for the better hearing of their melody, and observation of their natures; but I cease also to go any further in these things, having (as I think) said enough already of these that I have named.. . .