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( Originally Published 1938 )
Bird pets have lived with man throughout all known history. It was a bird that first brought word to Noah and his family that they could debark safely from the Ark after the flood.
Who knows when the first hawk was taught to be a hunter; when the first raven was made a companion and oracle to some ruler; when the first peacock was brought to decorate a garden; when the first nightingale was made a captive soloist; or when the first little glowing green tropical bird was popped into a rough cage and taken to Europe to charm a strange race with its liquid voice?
Canaries are the most popular cage birds today, their ,total number probably far surpasses the rest of the cage bird population. This should not be taken as an indication that the canary is the only suitable type of bird pet, because parrots, parakeets, tropical finches, and other feathered pets are doing daily duty as entertainers, friends, and companions in the homes of men. The trade is a reasonably equitable one-the birds exchange freedom for a more or less certain meal ticket!
There are many good and valid reasons why a bird makes a satisfying pet for almost any person. It is reasonably certain that a canary would not be nearly the care that a dog or cat is, while, in its own way, the canary provides its owner with quite as much entertainment. For its sheer decorative value, a brilliantly hued parrot will warrant its keep; hardier souls will get stimulus and enjoyment from the hunting falcons; even an ordinary gardenvariety chicken can be turned into an amusing pet if you have the time and patience.
In an earlier American day, thrushes, cardinals, catbirds and many other native wild birds led the lives of household pets. Today the law prohibits the caging of these birds except for momentary imprisonment at bird-banding stations. But the predecessors of the modern cage birds are pointed evidence of the fact that bird ownership has long been a delight close to the heart of man.
But aside from the simple enjoyment of ownership, the smaller cage birds especially offer a chance to indulge in a diverting hobby-breeding. The average apartment dweller might have a very difficult time turning into a dog breeder on a large scale, but not so the canary fancier. There are plenty of American homes today that house twenty-five or more birds in about the space it would take to kennel one single Great Dane. With the proper amount of intelligence and technical guidance, a canary owner is able to get into the fascinating game of breeding for color, song, show lines, or health. With only modest quarters devoted to his hobby, he falls into the same category as the men who will breed out the winner of next year's Kentucky Derby, or the stock breeder whose Grand Champion Hereford will sweep the shows. Don't laugh at the comparison-nobody thought much of the lowly outboard motor until an enthusiastic outboard owner bolted his "gasoline-driven egg-beater" onto the back of a three-cornered wooden shell and shoved it over a race course at a speed that made the owners of multi-cylindered boats blink in amazement. These days the outboards do 60 m.p.h. every now and then. These days there are plenty of canary breeders who know as much about heredity and blood lines as good dog breeders know about their own animals.
Most authorities seem to be in general agreement that the first canaries reached Europe some time in the 16th Century. But once off their home grounds, the canaries spread like a new fashion over Europe-so much so that about 150 years after the first importation, England's Oliver Goldsmith was moved to remark:
"The canary bird is now so common, and has continued so long in a domestick (sic) state, that its native habits as well as its native country, seem almost forgotten." Somewhere along the line of domestication, the original birds were either selectively bred to bring out the predominant present-day yellow, or possibly the descendants of the original wild birds were crossed with some other species to bring about the change from what must have been a greenish, greyish, yellowish feathering. However, whenever a breeder crosses up a canary with a bird of another breed the resulting hybrids are almost always sterile. So it seems no more than reasonable to guess that our yellow birds are a result of long and patient breeding from original stock that showed traces of yellow.
VARIETIES OF CANARIES: Speaking generally, there are two kinds of canaries.
1. ROLLERS-bred chiefly for singing characteristics, with form and size a secondary consideration. These birds come in a variety of colors, chiefly yellow, but are graded and spriced on their ability to accomplish various "tours" of song.
2. TYPE BIRDS-bred chiefly for form and size with singing a secondary consideration. This is primarily a "showman's bird" in the sense that breeders strive to raise birds that meet an ideal show standard. The Yorkshire and Norwich are two of the best known. Other type birds include the Border Fancy, Lizard, Scotch Fancy, Dutch Frill, Belgian Fancy and several more. England has been the chief source of type birds for many years.
Falling into a possible third class are the "mules"-hybrid birds that result from crossing canaries with finches or other birds to achieve a particular shape, size, color or voice characteristic.
Which variety of canary shall I choose?
That depends on what you want the bird for. For songchoose a roller; for color and form-choose a type bird.
Where shall I buy the bird?
From a reputable dealer only. Chances are good that your community has at least one cage bird club. The secretary of the club will be glad to give you a list of reputable dealers and breeders. This way you will assure yourself of getting a good, healthy bird.
How much should 1 pay for the bird?
More than you start out to pay! With birds as with dogswhen dealing with a reputable breeder you get exactly what you pay for. Since it is to your interest to buy a bird from healthy, strong stock, you should expect to pay a price that is commensurate with what it cost the breeder to produce the bird in the first place. Don't start out with the idea of buying a poor bird. Buy a good bird. There is satisfaction in knowing that its breeding is right and, if it's a roller, its added range of perfect song will repay the additional investment.
What should I look for when buying a bird?
To a great extent, if you do not know canaries very well, rely on the judgment of the dealer or breeder. Birds from a reputable dealer must make good or he will replace them. However, here is a general guide for canary buying:
1. ROLLERS: Song is the first consideration, so don't be too concerned about color. Rollers with fine voices come in a variety of shades ranging all the way from green to white. There are grey rollers, cinnamon rollers, yellow rollers, buff rollers, etc. Don't make the mistake of passing over a good singer merely because you don't fancy the color of his waistcoat. The bird should be slim and lively; feet clean-not scaly; eyes sharp and bright; feathers have a well-groomed look (scrubby looking feathers are generally a sign of an unhealthy bird).
Picking a bird for its song characteristics is apt to be a difficult job unless you have some expert help. A fairly good singer will develop at least a half-dozen "tours"-there are about twenty recognized tours, including the Glucke, Hollow Roll, Bell Roll, Bell Tour, Bass Roll, Flute, Water Roll, etc.
Since the nomenclature of roller song is sometimes at variance with accurate description, you will need to have the various tours pointed out to you so that you may pick the sounds that are most personally satisfying. Interestingly enough, the perfectly behaved roller sings with his mouth shut-or nearly so. This accounts for the muted, rolling tone of the bird. If the bird's mouth opens to sing, the chopping motion of its beak gives another name to this open-throated type of singing and the bird is referred to as a "chopper:" No dyed-in-the-wool roller addict will tolerate chopping, but there are many enthusiastic chopper owners and other happy bird fanciers whose pets may either roll or chop as the mood fits. Ability to do both generally classifies the bird as a "warbler."
A young bird, probably under a year and over six months, is to be preferred. These acclimate themselves to your household better, and they are young enough so that you can do something yourself about teaching them to sing.
2. TYPE BIRDS: This book does not give a detailed outline of show standards. All it will attempt is to present some idea of how the various "type" canaries look. I won't even try to describe all of them, because there are several breeds that you probably will never see. The object here is to give an outline of some you might see any day. Originally concentrated in England and parts of Europe, the breeding of type canaries occupies many an American fancier today; the Japanese are also active in the fancy.
YORKSHIRE CANARY: This is a slim, tall bird that stands nearly upright. Over-all length is 6 1/2 to 7 inches; head is round and small, set on a longish neck; legs are long and thin; feathers should be smooth and tight; colors have been bred to range all the way from green to white. Deep yellow is preferred.
NORWICH CANARY: This bird comes in two varietiesplainhead or crested. A stocky bird with a broad chest, it stands with body well forward on the perch; head is neat, set on a short neck; skull is broad; length over-all is somewhat less than a Yorkshire.
BORDER FANCY: This is the so-called "wee gem" among type birds. A big one may be five and a half inches long. In posture and shape it might be considered a downward refinement of the Norwich; feathers are smooth; head is neat without the "browiness" visible in many Norwiches. Among type birds, more thought seems to have been given to the voice quality of the Border Fancy than some other varieties.
LIZARD CANARY: A somewhat uncommon bird not so long ago, the Lizards are staging something of an advance in popularity. More the size of the Border Fancy, the Lizard gets its name from the reptilian pencil marking in its feathers. The base color is usually brown, green, or brownish-greenish; the bird has a "clear cap" of either white or yellow feathers-hence the names "Silver Lizard" and "Gold Lizard;" feather ends are spangled.
LANCASHIRES: This bird is the giant of type canaries, and sometimes will measure as much as eight inches from tip to tip. You can find it in plainhead or crested styles.
Everything included, colors, song tours, types, etc., there sare about eighty varieties of canaries, all with their special value to the owner. Whatever the variety chosen, the bird should be in good feather, its eyes and nostrils should be clean and free from discharge, its feet and legs smooth and free from scales and, if you plan to go in for breeding, you should know something about the bird's genealogy.
3. MULES: Canary hybrids, crosses between regular canary varieties and wild birds, are called mules for the reason that the offspring of the cross are generally infertile. The mules are bred to produce interesting color variations or song characteristics. Since mules result from the mating of any regular canary variety with wild finches or other birds, there are of course no general rules about size and shape. However, don't buy a mule with the idea of establishing breeding stock-the mule may be a colorful delight or a joyous singer, but it won't be a parent.
GENERAL NOTES ON CHOOSING A PET BIRD: The appearance of ~r~ the bird shop is generally a good index as to the quality of the bird you buy. While the rule is certainly not absolute, you will often find that a dealer who keeps his breeding and stock rooms ship-shape sells birds that are ship-shape. The careful dealer has a decent regard for the welfare of his stock. This is good commercial judgment. The dealer would rather have his birds "stay sold" than be returned because they were out of condition at the time of purchase.
Don't expect your bird to sing the year around. During the fall moulting season the bird will generally cease to sing. Don't let this worry you. A good singer will regain his voice after the new feathers are in, unless there is something organically wrong.
For the benefit of bird buyers, it would be to the advantage of bird dealers to provide a few sound-proof rooms so that the prospective customer could listen to the song of one bird at a time. The general uproar of bird song in the average shop defeats the intelligent selection of a bird for voice. Often the customer doesn't really know what he has bought until he hears its song at home.