"VERY FEW BIRDKEEPERS today would describe a species as bad-tempered, destructive, noisy or very vicious, but these were typical of the words used a century ago.” He’s quite right, is Willy Newlands (see page 14), though he might have included such “positive” epithets as sweet-tempered, tranquil, etc. The fact remains that our birdkeeping forebears were happy to ascribe human qualities to their birds in a broad-brush way, and we aren’t. Up to a point, that’s because we really do understand birds better, so we’ll see to the root of an inconvenient behaviour such as biting in a parrot, rather than writing the bird off as “vicious”.
That is a genuine advance both in our knowledge and our humanity. On the other hand, does it mean we’ve got to stop using all those “human” terms with our birds? What about “friendly”, or “sad”? Plenty of parrot-behaviour experts would defend those terms, I think. What about, say, “cunning”? A bit trickier, that one. Maybe we should distinguish here between stock and companion birds. With a companion bird, by definition, we look for companionable qualities, “human” qualities, not only the cuddly ones.
And the more of those we discern, the richer our companionship. Yet, you know, I’ve heard the most battle-hardened exhibition breeders refer to their stock as “my babies” on occasion, and who would deny their right to do so? No, on reflection I think I’d vote to keep a lot of those words in currency for our birds, and if that makes me old-fashioned, so be it. What’s your view?
■ Willy Newlands’s article, by the way, is all about the superb journals once published by the long-defunct Foreign Bird Club; the full title of the publication being The Journal of the Foreign Bird Club for the Study of All Species of Birds in Freedom and Captivity. There’s a wonderful inclusivity there: all species... in freedom and captivity. Since those days we’ve learned to specialise more; it’s one thing versus another, and all too often it’s birdkeeper versus wild-bird fan. That’s not an advance, it’s a step backwards.
■ Bully alert! After lots of brief lunchtime sessions lurking by the pond behind the car park, I can finally confirm: bullfinches have fledged by the C&AB office! Made my week, that has. I hope yours has been just as good.