Many years ago I inherited 2 books from my granddad and have never really looked at them properly. I have recently been reading the odd chapters and am amazed! The books are:
Birdroom and Aviary by Rev. C. D. Farrar
Foreign Birds for Garden Aviaries by Alec Brooksbank.
Both written before or about 1900.
They are both about bird keeping, rather than bird watching, and it seems you could buy pairs of just about any sort of bird, British or foreign, from dealers in order to breed from them. This includes Jackdaws, robins, finches, blackcaps, nuthatches, starlings, sandpipers and so on
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How fascinating! Do let us know anything you discover...
Make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games [Robert Falcon Scott]
Sounds really interesting. I imagine these titles are a great look into the history of birding and our general attitudes to birds.Paul
Warning! This post contains atrocious spelling, and terrible grammar. Approach with extreme edginess.
I am just reading a chapter on breeding Robins. Here are a few quotes from the story.
"There is a tradition that has grown up around the robin which I think is quite undeserved. Everyone has a good word to say for him, unless they have actually kept him in an aviary, and then they have another story to tell. For years I wanted to keep robins and breed from them and thought nothing would be easier. I forgot his vile temper and irascible disposition. The robin is always ready for a fight and he does not always stick at murdering his wife"
He bought a pair, and continues:
"I turned them out into a big covered aviary with plenty of cover. In the aviary were a whole lot of other birds including bearded tits, a pair of white throats with their 5 youngsters......
I began to find birds maimed and dying. I couldn't understand what was the matter and at first put it down to mice, but then I had never seen any about.....
One day I was quietly watching, myself unseen, when I saw the cock robin make a most unprovoked and murderous attack on a big white throat, who was of course quite helpless to resist his onslaught......"
The author goes on to say that he separated his pair of robins from the rest of his birds, but they wouldn't nest. He was advised they make good foster parents, so tried them with some orphaned baby "softbills" (Wrens I think), which the robins reared successfully, feeding them and taking the greatest care and interest in their welfare. he finishes by saying:
"I can't help liking the robin; he is so bold and tame and confiding. But, alas! he is not to be trusted - not for a single day.
That's absolutely fascinating... Makes me wonder how much of our current knowledge about bird habits are based on observations of this type (in captivity) rather than in the wild, and whether the birds would behave differently in this situation.
I think it is very likely our current knowledge is based on observations of birds in captivity. If we think about it, any equipment such as binoculars and cameras would be fairly primitive, and people had far less leisure time to spend on nature trips. Ready made bird food was unlikely to be widely available, so ordinary folk wouldn't be encouraging birds to their gardens with sunflower hearts! The author of one of the books fed his insect eaters on mealworms and maggots.
From what I can gather from these books, there were dozens of wild bird shops in the big cities where enthusiasts would go to purchase birds. They seemed to range in price from 7s.6d for a pair of nuthatches to 12s.6d. for a pair of starlings, and up to £5 for a pair of foreign birds.
I love his comments on his starlings:
"As I expect most of my readers know, starlings are great chaps at bathing, so I made them a capital bath out of an old kitchen sink, and in this they would disport themselves for hours, and many times a day." This sounds just like the ones who visit my garden!
These are quotes from the book about feeding birds. Hillarious ...
"Here is my recipe:
Buy 6lbs of tea biscuits from your grocer.
Add 3lbs of dried flies and 2lbs of the best ants eggs, then 1lb of cressel.
Pound up 3 cuttle fish bones and mix up with the other ingredients. You will of course pound up the biscuits. Then go to your cook, if you have one, and borrow her best bread bowl, and mix all the ingredients well together.
Next get 1lb of the best beef dripping - mind it is quite fresh. Melt it in the oven, and when it is properly liquid, pour it on the mass and thoroughly mix it until it is just evenly damp. It is a dirty job, so if you are careful about your nails, get cook to do it for you. To her it is nothing.
Next get half a pound of the best honey, liquefy it and add it to the whole, thoroghly mixing it and leaving no lumps.
Place the mixture in big biscuit tins and it wwill keep for years in a dry cupboard. All birds eat it eagerly and thrive on it. "
Don't you just love the Victorians!!!!
Sparrow, very amusing. First, I need to employ a cook as I don't want to damage my nails. Then I have a big problem. Where do I buy the DRIED FLIES and ANTS EGGS?
Seriously though, they did take a lot of trouble to look after their captive birds, even though we don't agree with what they did. I think I will continue to buy my bird food !
You don't buy ants eggs. He says:
" I mean of course, fresh ants eggs, not the dried up withered things that come from shops. For preference, give ants eggs out of the woods. It is painful work for you, but a joy to the birds.... all you want is a spade and a stout canvas bag, and a good stout pair of legs that can't feel much. You enter the wood and find a nest. You insert the spade and the ants are soon on the move, enraged at being disturbed. After a few seconds the wood seems full of them, and you feel how keen they are to explore your person. Still, you try not to mind. You forget your agony and think only of the birds...when you have got your bag full of ants and sticks and earth, tie it up tightly and get home. "
He also recommends wasp grub as a food for your birds. He says:
"To get it is a bit risky as it means taking a wasps nest, a somewhat dangerous task. I should say, first find your wasps nest. There are lots about in August, and a small boy will think nothing of the danger, and if he gets stung, you won't feel it. For a few pence he will gladly incur the risk, and all you will have to do is fork out a few pence."
Brilliant stuff! Social Service would have a field day.
Good grief Sparrow! I'm glad I don't have to go to those sorts of lengths for my birds!! Lol!
"All weeds are flowers, once you get to know them" (Eeyore)
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This is wonderful stuff - I have a picture in my head of the look on the cook's face when her best bread bowl comes back full of the remains of dried flies and ant eggs!
You are right, it is wonderful stuff !! I shall certainly continue to buy my bird food and not attempt to catch ants, wasps or flies. Mind you, I have been known to make my seed, suet and nut mix in one of our pie dishes. But there again, we have a dishwasher!
What a great find those books were and thanks for sharing them with us. Very entertaining! It's interesting to see how things were done in the 'old days' but thank goodness we've come on a bit since then. I'll stick to buying my birdfood as I wouldn't want to inconvenience cook!
There is something new to learn everyday...
Ooo SB, you're sooo posh! lol!
Hello.Reading all this information about getting birdfood in the Victorian era, makes me so glad that I only have to go to a shop or online to get my bird food.