A recent research project has me poring through bird entries in medieval bestiaries and encyclopedias. I find the genre fascinating and wish I had more time to study it thoroughly. The entries are a strange mix of actual bird behavior, pseudo-scientific biological explanations, and spiritual moralizations. The funnest bits, of course, describe sexual habits. The partridge entry in Thomas of Cantimpré’s De natura rerum has this to say on the matter:
When the males fight for the females, the victors trample on the vanquished and mate with them, and, as the experimentor says, their lust is so vehement that they forget which sex it is. . . . The hens are said to be so lustful that they conceive merely by smelling the male. For at that time they stick their tongues out from sexual desire. When they mate, they exhale a nasty smell.
That’s one fertile bird!