Pecking order: how John Gould dined out on the birds of Australia

Of all the changes to the study of ornithology in the past 200 years, the most striking, when reading John Gould’s seven-volume 1848 treatise The Birds of Australia, is the apparent lack of interest among modern scientists in what their subjects taste like.

Gould left no such questions unanswered. The prototype of his beautifully illustrated guide, digitised and made available online by the State Library of New South Wales, contains many tips for the keen sportsman on how best to shoot each of the featured birds and, where Gould had opportunity to sample them, what they tasted like.Parrots, he wrote, were so good he never turned them down. Of particular note was the Tasmanian rosella or Platycercus caledonicus, which is listed in volume five as the yellow-bellied parakeet. “Most of my readers are doubtless aware that Parrots are frequently eaten by man, but few of them are, perhaps, prepared to hear that many species of the family constitute at certain seasons a staple portion of the food of the settlers,” Gould writes.



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