One of the most obscure juggling tricks to modern performers and audiences is the “Birds in the Tree” trick. This trick was somewhat popular in the 1800s, but until recently only a handful of jugglers had even heard of it. The trick involves the juggler balancing a tree-like prop on his or her head. In the branches of the tree are fake birds. The juggler then attempts to shoot the birds out of the tree with a small blowgun. The trick seems very silly by modern standards, but perhaps it was well received almost two hundred years ago.
The earliest known performer of the Birds in the Tree trick was Ramo Samee, a famed Indian performer, who presented the trick at least as early as 1818. Publicity for him advertised that “He will balance an artificial tree on his forehead, on the boughs of which are placed eleven birds—and with a tube and balls he will shoot them off with his breath.” The next performers of the trick were the Indian brothers Medua and Mooty Samme. They performed the trick, which they referred to as the Hunt of Diana, at least as early as 1824.
The next performer of the trick that we’re aware of was a juggler named De Bouche. You can see De Bouche in the following illustration from 1829, performing the trick.
De Bouche 1829
The most famous juggler to perform this trick was Carl Rappo (1800-1854), who was famed for his strongman juggling act. Below is an illustration of Rappo performing the Birds in the Tree from 1834.
Carl Rappo 1834
The next evidence of the trick is an illustration from 1844, which you can see below.
The fourth old illustration of the trick that I was able to find shows a juggler named Carlotina performing the trick. No date is known of this image, but it appears to be late 1800s or very early 1900s.
In the 1852 novel The Vagabonds by Karl von Holtei, the writer describes the act of a fictitious Indian juggler and includes a trick similar to the Birds in the Tree. He writes of the juggler “balancing a parasol on his forehead, on top of which there was a Chinese roof which was covered with birds. He had a blowpipe between his lips with which he blew peas to the birds.” This was surely inspired by seeing a juggler performing the Birds in the Tree trick.
I decided to resurrect the trick for the Juggling History Show at the 2017 IJA Festival. This was a last minute decision, so I did not get much chance to practice the trick. You can watch the following video to see the humorously difficult time I had in shooting a bird out of the tree.
I believe I will make a more portable version of the tree out of a folding umbrella to use in future performances of the Juggling History Show. If you would like information about that show or have any more info or examples of jugglers performing the Birds in the Tree trick, please feel free to contact me.