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Salting a Bird’s Tail — Fact or Folklore?

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Salting a Bird’s Tail — Fact or Folklore?

Let’s see a show of hands — how many of you as children tried to catch a bird by putting salt on its tail? If you are raising your hand, you are in good company. The old saying — “You can catch a bird by putting salt on its tail” — has been around for generations. It’s unknown how the saying began, but it appears to date back at least to the sixteenth century.

So what is the thinking behind this “tail tale?” One theory suggests salting a bird’s tail startles it just long enough for you to catch it before it flies away, while another school of thought believes salt contains magical properties that casts a spell over the bird. Still others think salt on the bird’s tail feathers may interfere with its ability to take flight.

While these are all interesting theories, is there any truth in them? It seems the answer lies within common sense. When it comes down to it, if you are close enough to get salt on a bird’s tail, you are close enough to catch it.

But just because this piece of avian folklore is nothing more than myth, doesn’t mean there isn’t value in passing it along to the next generation. While your childhood attempts to salt a bird’s tail may have been an exercise in futility, you have to admit, it was fun trying!

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1 comment

1 Bad Children of History #5 | Notes For Bibliophiles { 05.27.15 at 12:37 pm }

[…] the belief that you can catch a bird by putting salt on its tail dates back to at least the sixteenth century. That said, just because it was persistent does not mean that it […]

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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