Shooting vertically at an array of clusters of feathers, is a direct descendant of the practise used by longbow men on ships in port.
In order to maintain their skill while the navy’s ships were in port, birds (usually jays or parrots) or alternatively feather clusters were placed on the yardarms and at the top of the mast.
It was also practised by placing a flag post horizontally out of the top of a church steeple, where shooting ground for practising “at the butts” was limited.
Hitting and knocking the top cluster off its perch gives the highest score. Clusters placed on the lower down count for less.
This type of shooting using a long pole is still practised in England. A wooden parrot or cock represented by a cylinder of 5”x2” (12.5x5cm) is placed at the top of the mast or pole. On cross-members below are 4 hens of 4”x1.5” (10x3.8cm), below which are 24 chicks of 2”x1” (5x2.5cm).
All have feathers attached. Scoring is 5 points for the cock, 3 for each hen and 1 for each chick.
They must be knocked off their perch in order to count and all have to be re-set once the cock has been unseated.
There are a few important safety considerations here. Shots can only be taken one archer at a time. Archers should all either stand to one side of the pole, or they should duck under a safety-net immediately the single shot is taken.
Some of the more modern perches in France and Belgium have a large cage at the top to catch the arrows, which then fall down (fairly) harmlessly.
Popinjay is much more popular in Northern France and Flemish-speaking Belgium.
The centre for popinjay is in Bruges where there is an ancient range on the outskirts of the town. In Northern France too popinjay is widespread, particularly in the in the regions of the Nord/Pas de Calais (Artois), with most of the activity centred on Hazebrouck, to the Southwest of Lille. Adherents of this type of shooting on the Continent do not use the longbow, but more generally the recurve bow. The arrows have a flat pile ¾ to 1 inch in diameter (1.9-2.5cm). Even some quite small communities have their own “perche” or mast of up to 85 feet (26m) in length.