The woodcock. It’s solitary, nocturnal and a feather in your cap if you bag one, says John McEwen. Illustrated by Carry Akroyd
Spirits of well-shot woodcock,
Flutter and bear him up the Norfolk sky:
Sir John Betjeman, from ‘Death of King George V’.
W H Hudson confirms that the ‘very handsome’ woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) is ‘a favourite alike with the ornithologist, the sportsman, and the lover of delicate fare’. The woodcock’s renown as a delicacy is illustrated in the 13th-century Bird Psalter and other medieval prayer books. Shakespeare refers to ‘four woodcocks in a dish’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 4, Scene 3). The cooked innards add savoury to the meat, but to the disgust of gourmets, Euroland decrees marketed birds must now be gutted.