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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford

Taking of Birds

Quail. The most important food birds to the hill Miwok were the Valley Quail (nükü'te, P; heke'ke, N, C, S), Lophortyx californica, and the Mountain Quail (kū'yaka, P; kūyaya, ū'yakka, C; hū'yūkūī, hū'yūhūī, S), Oreortyx pitta. They were taken chiefly by means of a brush fence with openings five to ten feet apart, in which were set snares (po'kī, P; we’lla, S). Such a fence was built in any desired shape, governed by its situation. It was ordinarily about three feet high and

Fig. 23.--Brush fence snare.
[click to enlarge]
Fig. 23.—Brush fence snare.
composed of vertical stakes driven into the ground, with twigs or brush interwoven. It was usually built near or around a spring. In the latter case a brush roof was placed over it. Further, any other convenient supply of water was covered with fine grass or pine needles. This drove many birds, including quail, to seek the openings in the fence.

The snare was made of human hair twisted into a very fine, but strong, thread. As shown in text-figure 23, each opening in the fence had a pair of crossed sticks to which the snare was attached, by very lightly tying it to the point at which the sticks crossed, or to one of them, or by looping it over slight notches cut on the two sticks. These were simply means for holding open the loop of the snare, the opposite end being firmly attached to any convenient branch or stake. The slight notches in the side sticks usually had to be renewed after a quail was caught, because of the damage done by its struggles. No attempt was made to hang and strangle the bird by means of a spring pole. It found itself caught by head, wing, or foot and worried itself to death in its endeavor to gain freedom. A quail fence was used year after year with whatever repairs were necessary. The vicinity of a small streamlet, called “Indian spring” (Kolakota), lying 200 or 300 yards up the canyon from the steatite quarry Lotowayaka, near the modern town of Tuolumne, was a favorite place for erecting a quail fence. The exact site of the fence was the crest of a steep ridge just northeast of the streamlet. As many as fifty quail a day were caught in spring when migrating to higher altitudes. Another fence on a hill northeast of Tuolumne was said to have been half a mile long.

Nets of human hair and, in Caucasian times, of horse hair were stretched across a hillside up which quail habitually walked. There were openings in the net which led into pockets, flanked by sticks to hold them in position. The quail tried to go through the openings and became entangled in the pockets of the net.

Band-tailed Pigeons (luñuti, C), Columba fasciata, were caught in a fence built around a spring near scrub oaks. The pigeons after drinking, were accustomed to walk from the spring to the scrub oak patch for small acorns. They tried to pass through the openings in the fence and became ensnared. Twelve to fifty a day could be caught. Pigeons and other birds were shot with arrows from a green brush blind (ū'spu, P) built at a spring. Squabs were never used for decoys as among the Yokuts of Tule river61 Pigeons were usually eaten at once, not preserved.

Pigeons, Jays, Red-shafted Flickers (Colaptes cafer), and an unidentified red-breasted bird (takana, S) were caught in a noose trap baited with an acorn placed between four vertical sticks (text-figure 24). A fifth stick, serving as a trigger, had the noose attached to it.

Fig. 24.--Baited snare.
[click to enlarge]
Fig. 24.—Baited snare.
The end of the trigger stick was placed on the acorn. When the bird pecked at the acorn the trigger was dislodged, the trap sprung, and the bird hung by the spring pole. A single hunter could set as many as two hundred snares in a day. He visited them frequently and might secure a basketful of birds during the day. It was necessary to remove all ensnared birds before night, as the coyotes would eat them and destroy the traps.

Woodpeckers. An ingenious method of catching woodpeckers was recorded. During the day the people plugged all, except a few, of the woodpecker holes in the trees of a given grove or restricted locality. In the few remaining holes the woodpeckers congregated at nightfall and were an easy prey to the hunters who ascended the trees during the night.

Waterfowl. To the Plains Miwok waterfowl were an important item of diet. Two kinds of duck traps were made. In one of these,

Fig. 25.--Duck trap.
[click to enlarge]
Fig. 25.—Duck trap.
two poles were set up in the shallow, still water near the shore of a lake or stream where the ducks were wont to feed. Between them was stretched a net (sammi, P, N) about six feet wide and forty or more feet long (text-figure 25). The edges were weighted slightly and to the middle of the upper edge was attached a long cord which ran to the hiding place of the watcher in the neighboring tule or tall grass. Acorns were used as bait, since these sink to the bottom. At first a duck or two might discover the bait and commence feeding. This attracted others and soon a large flock was swimming and diving for the bait. When a sufficient number were in the proper position, the watcher gave a careful, strong pull on the line. This caused the net to fall flat on the water. The first impulse of the ducks was to fly away rather than to dive. Immediately they tried to rise they became entangled in the meshes and the watcher easily caught them. The weights on both edges of the net held it down quite firmly.

The other duck trap was designed to catch the birds as they winged just above the water. It consisted of the same kind of a net as that just described, supported at one end by a post or a tree, the other end being attached to a rope which ran up and over a crotched post to a blind or some other point of concealment for the watcher. When set the rope was loose and the net lay relaxed near the surface of the water. Upon

Fig. 26.--a, duck trap, set. b, trap raised upon approach of birds.
[click to enlarge]
Fig. 26.—a, duck trap, set. b, trap raised upon approach of birds.
the approach of a flock of ducks to within a short distance of the trap the watcher raised the net suddenly by a strong pull on the rope. The ducks flew into the almost invisible net before they could change their course. As they struck the net the line was relaxed and the ducks were enmeshed in the net. Sketches of this trap with the net lowered and with it raised are shown in text-figure 26a and b.

Geese were taken by means of a fire at night. They would fly into or near it, and were easily dispatched with clubs.

61Holmes, 1902, pl. 32.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management