The Wonga Pigeon; a Flying Feather Pillow

LET’S SPEND A WHILE WITH A WONGA

Wonga pigeon family living a quiet life in my Blue Mountains garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me introduce……the Wonga pigeon. The name  derives from wonga-wonga,  an  Aboriginal name inspired by their call.  Mind you, I would describe it as a gentle ‘whoop whoop.’  Gentle, yes, but it can be heard more than a kilometre away.

I often wake to this ‘cooing hymn’. Our resident male Wonga has a favourite morning perch on a wooden seat outside my bedroom window. See how  markings on the breast resemble a football jumper? Aussie Rules footy of course.  (An English friend just commented that it looks more like braces holding up britches.)

 

Sometimes he even sits down.

 

 

As you can see, these native Australian birds have a very small head and a large body, especially when they puff themselves up.  They spend most of their time feeding on the ground, following  well worn routes.  It’s hard to get close to them though, because they can walk faster than an Olympian.  If you start  to gain  ground on one  it will suddenly take to the air, rather  like a flying feather pillow.

 

They are monogamous and the  male helps incubate the eggs, usually  only two. The nest is a platform  of twigs, high in a tree.  Unfortunately I have  no photo, as I’ve never managed to spot one.  Recently I came across a report of a parent bird  deliberately tumbling from a tree and playing dead  by rolling down a hill.  It was a clever attempt to distract attention from its nest.

 

Wonga pigeon

Wonga on a wet day.

 

FUN FACT

Did you know that pigeons and doves are able to drink just like us? Instead of having to raise their heads and let water trickle down their throats they can  suck  it up  and swallow!

WONGA PIGEONS IN THE POT

I’m sure Aborigines hunted Wonga pigeons, but life became even more difficult for the birds after white settlement. Here is a sad little tale;

A quail was complaining that he was hunted and punished for stealing grain.  As he was finishing, a beautiful grey Wonga Pigeon flew down beside him and said: “The Quail is wrong when he thinks man punishes him for the mischief he does. It is because his flesh is so good to eat that man kills him so cruelly. Oh, it is a dreadful thing to be good to eat. He kills me just in the same way,”  and the Wonga Pigeon moaned sadly and sang:

Oh, oh, oh, oh!

Man is my foe.

He treats me most cruelly,

Wherever I go.

He says that my meat,

Is deliciously sweet,

So he kills and cooks me,

And calls it a treat.

It was all too true.  The flesh, described as being as white as chicken , was highly prized.  It was popular throughout  the 19th century, and also during the Great Depression.  I live in the Blue Mountains, and was intrigued to find the following  local recipe. It was  sent to a newspaper by  Mrs Stevens from Katoomba,  in 1932.

BAKED WONGA PIGEONS

Required: 3 Wonga pigeons, 1/4 lb butter, 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, juice of 2 lemons, pinch salt and cayenne.

Method: Pluck and clean birds and dredge them with flour, pepper and salt, rubbing it in well. Make a stuffing with part of the butter, breadcrumbs, parsley, salt and pepper, and fill the birds.  Beat lemon juice with butter, allowing it to become creamy. Place pigeons in a baking dish, cover with the lemon and butter mixture, and bake in a quick oven for 1 hour.

Oh my, that does sound tempting, Mrs Stevens.

A Mr George James from Sydney once wrote an article for  The Australian Woman’s Weekly about  camp cooking featuring Wonga pigeons. Out bush  with friends one day George came across a pumpkin, growing by a creek. How it got there was a mystery, but he decided to make  use of it, along with a couple of plump Wongas. When they set up camp that evening he decided to give his friends a culinary treat;

‘I set about cooking an unusual dinner. I dug the fire out deeper and lit a fresh fire with timber to make a bed of coals. Then I cut out a circle in the top of the pumpkin and scraped out all the seeds and some of the flesh, making a cavity as big as a large saucepan.

It took the two pigeons comfortably.  I added onions, carrots, salt and pepper, filled it two thirds with water and put the top of the pumpkin back on for a lid.’

He then made a damper and put some potatoes in to roast on the coals. A couple of hours later and the feast was ready. He  gently slid a shovel under the pumpkin and carried it to a convenient ‘dining table’ stump. His guests looked on as he sliced the pumpkin in half and released a wonderful aroma.

I wonder if George’s pumpkin stew looked like this?

All was cooked to perfection and the juices of the birds had soaked into the pumpkin, which I divided into four, so that everyone would have an equal share. …half a pigeon resting against a quarter of the pumpkin and served with the potatoes, carrots and onions. The birds had fed on some tree that gave the flesh a taste like a slight blending of herbs, just enough to be tantalizing.

I sat back and lapped up the praise.’

All I can say it that it’s no wonder the Wonga is so elusive. Of course it’s now illegal to hunt them, but that fear of ending up in a pan (or a pumpkin) has been imprinted in their DNA.

Autumn brings a bit of a problem for the Wonga; leaves in the birdbath. I don’t  know why, but this shallow dish is our resident bird’s favourite drinking spot. He is not at all happy  if I don’t  keep it pristine;

 

Pauline! Come and fix this please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is another story about Aussie birds and our social history. The Satin Bowerbird

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10 Comments
  1. I thought the male Wonga Pigeon’s outfit was more like trousers and braces (suspenders in American speke) than a football jumper.
    Sharing recipes on here might encourage people to break the law!The pigeon dishes sounds so delicious that I’m sure someone won’t be able to resist going out and ‘bagging’ a couple of birds.

    • Pauline

      I think you may be right about the recipes. I was always tempted to eat wood pigeons in England. And yes, I think the Wonga may be wearing braces to hold up his tweed trews!

      • I have only ever eaten pigeon once, and that was at The Bel and Dragon in Cookham village – which you may have even visited yourself. The meal did not appeal to me when it arrived; two little breasts side by side, the flesh a rather dark odd looking colour, not a lot of meat, but an awful lot of bones. I’ve never had it since.

        • Pauline

          Oh yes, many visits to the Bel and Dragon, no pigeon though. The closest I came was pheasant at the Harleyford Golf Club, and it was full of shot!

          • It’s a bit spooky knowing that your’s and my path may have crossed many times in the past; lovely thought too of course! I hope you never broke a tooth on a bit of shot which is one of the penalties for eating pheasant. Before my sister and husband retired to the south west, their address was in Windsor Forest, and as they knew the Keeper, could get a brace of pheasant for virtual peanuts (I’d have rather had the peanuts!) My sister would phone to invite us all for supper, and my late hubby would groan and say to me “you realise what’s on the menu?” We would painstakingly dissect our meat to pick out all the shot – by which time the dinner was almost cold. I wasn’t even keen on the taste!

  2. Oh dear! I usually love everything you write, Pauline. But I am a vegetarian as well as a keen birder.

    • Pauline

      Well don’t worry Barbara, the Wongas are safe and sound in my garden!

  3. Vegan and bird-lover here too. I just can’t imagine looking at a bird or any animal and wanting to eat it.

    • Pauline

      I’m afraid the Wonga was hunted to near extinction, Christine.

  4. I’m glad it wasn’t Pauline. It’s a beautiful bird and you are lucky to have them in your garden.

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