Candles made from dead birds?

I have a vague recollection about reading something about the use of dead birds as candles. I can’t recall now where or when I read it—it might even have been right here—but my searches are failing me.

The idea I recall is that it was something that was done somewhere in northern Europe—the British Isles or Nordic areas—probably on islands that had lots of birds.

Apparently, some birds contained so much fat that there was apparently a way to just stick a wick in a dead bird and use it as candle.

Does anyone know anything about this? Searching for birds and candles just gets me images of regular candles decorated with images of birds.

I think I heard that about petrels:

Ah that’s it! Fascinating. Kill a bird, dry it, stick a wick down its throat and light it. Weird world.

Better to light a petrel than to curse the duckness.

When I was a kid, they described oil-birds, oil-fish and candle-berries as sources of torch-light. With a drawing of each aflame. You’re going to have to look up those individually.

Thing is, sometimes you’d rather light a foodstuff, instead of eating it in the dark, and sometimes you can’t eat these oily foods anyway, and might as well light it up. Certain bacteria make fats as wax ethers, whereas we can only digest fatty acid esters. If the fish or bird depends on other smaller fish that graze on these bacteria exclusively, they’re not good eats.

That quote is worth the candle. Nicely done.

Penguins were used as fuel for fires by whalers and sealers in the sub-Antarctic islands. Apparently the fat makes them very effective.

In Vostok Station woodpile walks to you.


Some animals are useless as meat, unless people are starving, because they just plain old don’t taste good. I’ve definitely heard this about swans. But why not use them this way if you can?

The Secret Life of Machines episode about the electric light mentioned both petrels and penguins. Granted the cartoon animation just showed someone clubbing the bird and immediately jamming a wick down its throat. A little bit of artistic license there, along with the penguin’s flame being so bright and long-lived as to bother the people trying to sleep. But I’m pleasantly surprised to know the penguin thing wasn’t just made up. Look it up on YouTube, I’m pretty sure all the episodes are there.

Actually, in the Middle Ages, Swans were considered mighty fine eating. In fact they were reserved for royalty to eat.

Ah here we go :smiley:

Works with humans too.

Weird- and I thought I heard it all :wink:

I clicked in because I thought the thread title was asking about “candies.” I was going to suggest Werther’s Original.

Grandma candies are made from dead birds?

Would explain why they’re always feeding the damned things.

Well, that and they only weigh about an ounce, feathers, bones, and all.

Another fish used as a source of light is the eulachon or candlefish of Alaska and the Northwest coast::

:slight_smile: I first got these from my Oma too.

Some parts produce the best results though.


Jeez Louise.

Cite–>“Hand of Glory” (because Sloe Moe was so modest):
The Hand of Glory is the dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged, often specified as being the left (Latin: sinister) hand, or, if the man were hanged for murder, the hand that “did the deed.”

Old European beliefs attribute great powers to a Hand of Glory combined with a candle made from fat from the corpse of the same malefactor who died on the gallows. The candle so made, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, would have rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented. The process for preparing the hand and the candle are described in 18th century documents, with certain steps disputed due to difficulty in properly translating phrases from that era.