Notes on Bird Oils.
By P. L. SIMMONDS.
Among the animal oils or fats, that of birds has been the least investigated, probably because it is so seldom met with in commerce, and yet there are some quarters where various kinds have economic and medicinal uses. Goose grease is perhaps the only one which with us has a domestic reputation as an emollient for chapped hands, etc. As Mr. Stanford has recently drawn attention to the fulmar oil in the Journal, a few notes as to the uses and commerce in other oils or fats from birds may probably lead to further investigations and a careful examination of any useful properties they may possess.
The Penguin (Diomedia chilensis) in the Falkland Islands is chiefly sought after for its oil, deriving its name from its pinguidity or excessive fatness. On the islands of the Falkland group these birds are found in millions, and schooners, with a gang of twelve or fifteen men, go there solely for boiling down the oil of the birds. The fat of eleven birds skimmed gives about one gallon of oil, and each schooner or gang of men will return to Stanley, after a month or six weeks' campaign, with from 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of oil. This oil, which comes chiefly to London, is used, I believe, for currying leather only. I have sent Mr. Stanford and the museum of the Society specimens of this oil. It varies in color according to the time it has been boiled.
Another bird oil largely sought for in the islands of Bass's Straits and New Zealand, is from what is called locally the mutton bird (Procellaria obscura). Large quantities of oil are obtained from the young birds. The body is pressed and the oil runs from the mouth, each bird yielding about half a gill. The oil is reputed to possess considerable virtue as a liniment in cases of rheumatism. The fat, when clean, is pure white and looks like goose fat, but the taste is rather oily; however, it may be used for a good many purposes other than for food. It burns very well in small, shallow tin lamps, which get warmed by the light and melt the fat.
Father Labat (Nouv. Voy. tome vi. p. 895) speaks of the virtues of the grease or fat of the frigate bird. It is said to be an admirable specific in the sciatica, and in numbness of the limbs and other ailments arising from a want of circulation. The grease is to be heated, and while it is on the fire, the parts affected are to be well rubbed and chafed in order to open the pores, and some good brandy or spirits of wine are to be mixed with the fat immediately before it is applied. A piece of blotting paper steeped in this mixture may be laid on the part, with compresses and a bandage to keep it in its place.
Mother Carey's chickens (Procellaria pelagica) are killed in quantities at the Western Islands for their oil. They are so plump that the islanders merely draw a candle-wick through the body, and it becomes so saturated with the liquid fat as to form a lamp without further process. (Heh. Do you believe that? I don't. Henriette.)
Ostrich fat has much local repute. The first care of the sportsman after securing his bird, is to remove the skin, so as to preserve the feathers uninjured; the next is to melt down the fat and pour it into bags formed out of the skin of the thigh and leg, strongly tied at the lower end. The grease of an ostrich in good condition fills both its legs, and as it brings three times the price of common butter, it is considered no despicable part of the game. It is not only eaten with bread and used in the preparation of kooskoos and other articles of food, but the Arabs reckon it a valuable remedy in various maladies. In rheumatic attacks, for instance, they rub it on the part affected till it penetrates thoroughly; then lay the patient in the burning sand, with his head carefully protected. A profuse perspiration comes on, and the cure is complete. In bilious disorders, the grease is slightly warmed, mixed with salt and administered as a potion. It acts thus as a powerful aperient, and causes great emaciation for the time; but, according to the Arabs, the patient, having thus been relieved from all the bad humors in his body, afterwards acquires robust health and his sight becomes singularly good.
The grease of the emu, or Australian ostrich (Dromaius Novae-Hollandiae) is held in great esteem by both colonists and natives as a cure of bruises and rheumatism. The skin of the bird produces six or seven quarts of a clear, beautiful, bright yellow inodorous oil. The method of obtaining the oil is to pluck the feathers, cut the skin into pieces and boil it.
At one of the Madras Industrial Exhibitions, oil from peacocks' fat in Tinnevelly was shown, but it was not stated to what use it was applied.
In South America, in the immense cavern of Gaucharo, in the government of Cumana, Humboldt describes an extensive pursuit carried on of a bird for its fat by the Indians. This cave is peopled by millions of nocturnal birds (Steatornis caripensis) a new species of the Caprimulgis of Linnaeus. About midsummer the young birds are slaughtered by thousands. The peritonaeum is found loaded with fat, and a layer of the same substance reaches from the abdomen to the vent, forming a kind of cushion between the hind legs. Humboldt remarks that this quantity of fat in frugivorous animals not exposed to the light, and exerting but little muscular motion, brings to mind what has been long observed in the fattening of geese and oxen. It is well known, he adds, how favorable darkness and repose are to this process. The fat of the young birds is melted in clay pots over a brushwood fire. It is half liquid, transparent, inodorous, and so pure that it will keep above a year without turning rancid. (Bonnycastle's 'South America.')
The passenger pigeons (Columba migratoria) of North America are another source of oil. They migrate at certain seasons in millions, and the Indians, watching their roosting-places in the forests, knock them on the head in the night and bring them away by thousands. The Indians preserve the oil or fat, which they use instead of butter. There was formerly scarcely any little Indian village in the interior where a hundred gallons of this oil might not at any time be purchased. The squabs, or young pigeons, when taken in quantity, are also melted down by the settlers as a substitute for butter or lard.—The Pharm. Jour. and Trans. June 17, 1871.