Friday, August 23, 2013


Today is the 200th Anniversary of Alexander Wilson's death.

To be honest, a month ago I didn't know much about Alexander Wilson, but, in the last few weeks I have daily added to my knowledge about him (thanks largely to my hubby, Rick). I have even been to the cemetery where Wilson is buried (if you think a cemetery is not a very romantic place to spend time, let me tell you that before we were married Rick took me to a sewage pond--you birders will understand!)

At any rate, I have become increasingly fascinated by this young man who was a few years older than I when he died (and had achieved significantly more--I have some major catching up to do). Though he appears not to have appreciated Bloomfield, NJ, where he lived for a short while (and where we now live), I have to respect him for his talents--in particular I am impressed with his artistic depictions in American Ornithology.

But I was even more impressed (not necessarily positively) with his words about the Killdeer. I have a partiality for plovers--perhaps because years ago I saw a film adaptation of Brideshead Revisted and the one scene that has stayed in my head is when the protagonist talks about his mother having sent him plover's eggs to eat, a scene that made me feel I need to protect plovers from omnivorous humans.

Wilson offers two fascinating tidbits: one, "There [in South Carolina planters' yards] the negro boys frequently practise the barbarous mode of catching them [the killdeer] with a line, at the extremity of which is a crooked pin with a worm on it" American Ornithology, p. 158;

and two, "Their [killdeer] flesh is eaten by some, but is not in general esteem, though others say, that in the Fall, when they become very fat, it is excellent." (ibid)

The thought entered my head that killdeer are being treated as fish and that they have some affinity with Thanksgiving turkey. Two very strange things to learn about killdeer--they're treated as fish and could be eaten like turkey....