Robins have been all over my yard for the last few weeks. It must be spring.
In my youth I never understood how robins could be a harbinger of spring. My text books in elementary school as well as many stories I read talked about how robins showed spring had arrived. Here in middle Georgia, big flocks showed up in December and stayed until the spring.
After doing some research on robins and what they eat, it made sense. Robins eat earthworms, bugs and fruit. It is impossible for them to get to worms when the top of the ground is frozen, and bugs and fruit get very scarce. They must migrate south as the ground freezes.
Although they may arrive up north as spring arrives and the ground thaws, they arrive here in the fall and winter, seeking soft ground. Just like in my youth, robins are all us around right now.
I liked robins when young. They are pretty, but more important to me back then they were easy to stalk, get in range with my BB gun, and hit them. They were so easy that I seldom shot one unless I wanted to eat it.
On outings with my friends in the woods or when alone, we would often get hungry. It was easy to shoot and clean something, often birds that are protected now, and roast them on a fire. Robins had the same flavor of doves, but were tough and dry from our cooking method
Since I grew up on a farm and was taught to use everything for food we could, we even cooked the hearts, livers and gizzards on a flat rock heated in the fire. When frying them, mama used giblets from doves and quail for gravy. For some reason our dry, crunchy flat-rock giblets didn’t taste quite the same, but I liked the taste.
A bird I did not like was a blue jay. They ate our pecans and I hated their raucous cry. My parents paid me a bounty of five cents for each one I could kill. That kept me in .22 bullets to use on them.
We sometimes ate them, too, but they were much harder to kill on demand. They did taste about like robins, possibly because we usually did not have any water to wash the carcass or our hands after cleaning them, so there was a lot of blood.
They were wary, possible from me hunting them around the farm year-round. The easiest way to kill them was to sit still under one of our pecan trees so we seldom got one on our outings to eat.
I also shot as many crows as possible, but they were much harder to kill. I have read crows are one of the smartest birds in the wild, and they are difficult for a kid to get close enough to for a kill. I got 25 cents for every one of them I could kill.
We never ate a crow, probably because it was so rare to get one, and almost impossible to kill one on demand. And we knew they ate road kill, which was a turn-off even though we happily ate pork after slopping hogs. We might have tried them if we had lucked into one when hungry in the woods. I hear they taste good and will try them if I can kill one. I
A bird I saw occasionally in the swampy area between two of our fields was not as easy to get close to or to hit as robins. Sometimes when walking through the wet area in the fall and winter, a bird would take off with a loud whirr of wings, dart and dodge through the trees and be gone.
If I had my .410 with me, I would shoot at it if I could get my gun up in time, but never hit one. When a teenage I did kill one with a luck y shot. I had the 12 gauge with me and made a lucky shot.
The brown bird with lighter markings had a very long bill and long legs. I managed to find it in my encyclopedia. This was long before computers and Google. It was a snipe.
I had heard of going snipe hunting all my life, but that hunt involved night time, a sack and being left in the woods. I was surprised to find there really was such a bird as a snipe.
Later I saw a picture of a woodcock in one of my outdoor magazines and a little more research showed the two species are closely related. After realizing I was seeing a snipe fly, and finding they were related to woodcock, the nickname “timberdoodle” made a lot more sense. I also realized why hunters were so proud when they hit either.
I was used to shooting doves and quail, both of which pretty much fly in a straight line. With doves you usually see them coming in time to get ready. A dog on point on quail does the same. And woodcock hunters use dogs, too. But with snipe on our farm, no matter how careful I was to be ready, it was always a surprise to flush one.
Its been more than 50 years since I killed and ate a song bird, so the animal rights fanatics can calm down. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out. I would not shoot one now, I obey the laws and they are pretty, but I was kid in a different world than we have now.