Day 13: Birds


FBA: “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas” by Mary Celestia Parler

OFM: “Ozark Folklore and Magic” by Vance Randolph

Devil Birds:

“Blue Jays are evil birds. They fly to the devil everyday and report the doings of the world.” ~FBA

“Blue jays are supposed to be very rare on weekends, and children are told that these birds go to hell every Friday to help the Devil gather kindling. Another story is that the blue jay spends Friday breaking off twigs to be burned by wicked people here on earth. There is an old song with the chorus:
Don’t you hear that jaybird call?
Don’t you hear them dead sticks fall?
He’s a-throwin’ down firewood for we-all,
All on a Friday mornin’.” ~OFM

“To kill a buzzard is bad luck because it is kin to the devil.” ~FBA

“If you see a jaybird carrying sticks, he’s going to build a fire for the devil.” ~FBA

“Snakes, frogs, snails, buzzards, and blue jays are in league with the spirits of darkness.” ~FBA

“It appears that many old settlers have a peculiar feeling about the wren; some of them really believe it is different from all other birds, and that there is something supernaturally evil in its habits. The bite of a wren is supposed to be deadly poison, perhaps because wrens eat so many spiders. I have known country boys who were accustomed to rob every birds’ nest they could find, but had never even seen a wren’s egg, much less touched one, although wrens were nesting all over the place. Several of these fellows told me that it is very bad luck to kill wrens, the best course being to let them severely alone.” ~OFM

Death Birds:

“When a person is dying and a whippoorwill starts calling outside the house, that whippoorwill is trying to catch the soul of the dying person to keep it from reaching heaven.” ~FBA

“Whippoorwills seldom alight on buildings, but if one (Joes come to rest on the roof of a house and gives its characteristic call from this position, there will be a death in the neighborhood within twenty-four hours. Any sort of a bird rapping on a windowpane, or trying to get into the cabin, is a very bad sign; a man from St. Paul, Arkansas, tells me that when a turtle dove flies into a house, somebody is sure to die soon.”

“The Ozarker does not like to hear a screech owl near his cabin, since it is always an unfavorable sign and may indicate sickness or approaching death. But above all he cautions his children never to imitate the call of such a bird under these conditions. If an owl hears its cry answered from within the cabin, it will return again and again and sooner or later descend the chimney and scatter the fire out on the floor, so as to burn the whole place down.” ~OFM


“When a rooster crows in the dawn, all spirits depart for the spirit world.” ~FBA

“There are several magic tricks to protect domestic fowl from birds of prey. Mrs. Lillian Short, of Galena, Missouri, tells me that one of her neighbors used to take a smooth stone from a runnin’ branch, just about big enough to fit the palm of the hand, and keep it in the oven of the cookstove this was supposed to prevent hawks from killing the chickens. Most hillfolk of my acquaintance use a horseshoe instead of the stone, and some think that a muleshoe is even better. It is frequently fastened in the firebox of the stove rather than in the oven. In the old days the muleshoe was hung up in the fireplace, or even set into the mortar at the back of the chimney.” ~OFM

“Some chicken grannies pull one feather out of each chicken in their flock and bury these feathers deep in the dirt under the henhouse or henroost. As long as the feathers remain there, it is believed that those particular chickens cannot be carried off by hawks or varmints, or stolen by human chicken thieves.” ~OFM

“The great horned owl is often called a witch chicken, perhaps because of the belief that owls can charm a chicken off its roost.” ~OFM

Seasons and Weather:

“One often hears frogs piping very early. Mr. Kufe Scott, attorney at Galena, Missouri, has noticed for many years that during court week (the second week in March) the frogs holler for the first time. In this locality it is commonly believed that the frogs always come out too soon, and are ‘froze back’ three times before spring really arrives. The birds known as killdeers are much more reliable than frogs, but even killdeers are sometimes mistaken about the weather. One certain sign of spring, however, is the return of the turkey buzzards; the old-timers all agree that there is never any freezing weather after the first buzzard is seen.” ~OFM

“If a big owl hoots in the daytime, or calls loudly and persistently near the house at night, there will be a heavy rain within three days.” ~OFM

Magic Birds:

“The great plicated woodpecker, rare in most sections of the country, is still fairly common in the Ozarks. Most Ozarkers call it a woodhen, but it is also known as ‘God Almighty’ or ‘Lord God Peckerwood,’ doubtless because of its large size; it looks as big as a teal duck, or a crow. This bird is supposed to have some supernatural powers, and I am told that various portions of its body are highly prized by witches and goomer doctors.” ~OFM

“The body of a buzzard is somehow used to treat cancer, but this must be done secretly, for the killing of a buzzard means seven years of crop failure for the whole countryside, and the man who shoots one of these birds is naturally unpopular. Dr. Oakley St. John, of Pineville, Missouri, tells me that a farmer who killed a buzzard some years ago, to treat his daughter’s cancer, so enraged his neighbors that they threatened him with bodily harm, and several people came into town to see if he could not be punished by the county officers.” ~OFM

“In some places one finds people who believe that the blood of black birds or animals has some special virtue as a treatment for any sort of skin eruption.” ~OFM

“At many points in Missouri and Arkansas country folk treat chickenpox by bringing a black hen and chickens into the sickroom and making them walk over the patient’s body as he lies in bed. Near Bentonville, Arkansas, I knew a woman who brought a black rooster into her house and placed it again and again upon the bed where a little boy lay sick with chickenpox.” ~OFM

“Every old woman has heard that owls’ eggs are a sure cure for alcoholism. Owls lay their eggs in March, and it is said that many Ozark children are kept out of school and sent by their mothers to search for owls’ nests in the tall timber. Many a hillman has been fed owls’ eggs, scrambled or disguised in one way and another, without knowing what he was eating.” ~OFM

“A man in Fort Smith, Arkansas, told me that his father placed the entrails of a big horned owl over the door, to keep witches away. And Otto Ernest Rayburn tells of a man on trial for hog-stealing who wore ‘the dried gizzard of a hoot-owl tied round his neck for good luck.'” ~OFM

Love Birds:

“Some girls hunt birds’ nests on May 1. If the first nest a girl finds on that day has eggs in it, she’ll be married soon; if the nest is empty, she will be an old maid. ‘But what if there are young birds in the nest?’ I asked the girl who told me about this. She cast down her eyes, blushed, and made no answer. Her mother overheard the question, and called the girl into the house at once. I have never been able to learn what happens to the girl who finds young birds in the nest.” ~OFM

Bird Signs:

“Various sorts of birds are believed to carry warnings. A woman in my neighborhood whipped her grown daughters unmercifully, until one day ‘the redbirds come an’ ha’nted her’ by tapping on the windowpane, which gave the woman a terrible fright and caused her to mend her ways. Another of my mountaineer friends was greatly disturbed when a “rooster redbird” hovered about his door; he said that it was a warning of death, and sure enough, one of his daughters died within a few weeks.” ~OFM

“It is said to be very bad luck to count the birds in a flock. Nevertheless, Ozark children have a little jingle to sing when they see crows flying:
One’s unlucky,
Two’s lucky,
Three’s health,
Four’s wealth,
Five’s sickness,
Six is death.”

“If an owl hoots or a wolf howls in the vicinity the watchers are seriously disturbed, because these sounds signify that one of the group will die before the year is out.” ~OFM

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