Game was one of the earliest human foods, inexpensive and easily obtainable for any possessor of, successively, a stone, a club, a boomerang, a slingshot, a spear, a blowgun or a bow and arrow. Then firearms arrived, which first made game immensely easier to obtain, and very swiftly thereafter, too rare and dear to be eaten by anyone but hunters or rich dinners in expensive restaurants.
Even for those, the variety of game has dwindled sharply, except for people able and willing to pursue it to the less accessible corners of the world. It is thus fairly safe to assert that very few persons who read these words have ever tasted what was once one of the great European treats in this category - the bustard.
The bustard is the largest land bird of Europe, sometimes exceeding 35 pounds in weight; its range also includes all of the temperature and warm regions of Asia and Africa (excluding the Sahara) and even Australia. It may have originated in Africa, where it reaches its greatest size (Choriotis kori attains a height of nearly 5 feet, compared with not much more than 3 1/2 for Otis tarda, the European great or bearded bustard) and where it is most widespread, with its principal habitat in Senegal; it is called korossobounti there.
"Bustard" comes from the French outarde , which comes from the Gallic austarda , which comes from the Latin avis tarda , slow bird. The bustard's flight is heavy and it needs a long takeoff run with wings outspread to work up sufficient momentum to get off the ground; hunting dogs have been known to reach it before it could rise. The birds makes up for this disadvantage by frequenting open fields or dry, even desertic, terrain, where it can spot enemies from a long distance.
Thus it had to be hunted in Europe from moveable wagons disguised to resemble cows. This necessity disappeared with the appearance of the telescopic sight mounted on rifles of increased range; and at the same time urban encroachments diminished the expanses of open land sufficiently extensive to support so large a bird.
As a result the great bustard has become extinct in England, France and some other Western European countries, from which formerly it migrated annually to Spain or North Africa. It is still occasionally found in Spain, Greece, Italy and Sardinia, from which it does not need to migrate. France still has the little bustard. Otis tetrax , whose official name is canepetiere , pronounced unblushingly even by provincial spinsters without a thought for the meaning of the word - "farting duck," from the noise it makes in flight.
Choriotis sigripes is the bustard of northeast India, Choriotis arabs that of North Africa and the region just south of the Sahara. In South Africa the bustard is called pauuw , and its largest variety the great pauuw, Choriotis australis is known to the Australians as the plains turkey; it is becoming extremely rare because it has been overhunted, both for sport and the table. All the bustards belong to the Otides, of the same zoological order as the cranes, and all of them are good eating.
The breast most of the African bustard is said to taste like white chicken meat, while the drumsticks have been described variously as recalling golden plover or hare. The European great bustard has a high reputation for delicacy of flesh, like the pheasant, but its meat is a little solid and heavy, so gourmets prefer the finer lighter flesh of the little bustard. Their favorite morsel is the drumstick.