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St. Helena Waxbill
“ Under the greenwood tree,
Unto the sweet bird's throat,
Here shall he see
“ Who doth ambition shun,
And loves to lie i' the sun,
And pleased with what he gets,
Here shall he see
O writes Shakespeare: yet to the sweet bird ” who
tunes his "merry note,” “ winter and rough weather” are direful enemies; and “under the greenwood tree” lurk many
murderous foes, such as foxes, weasels, stoats, and wild cats, while rapacious birds, ravens, hawks, and owls hover overhead, and human assailants wage war against him. Numbers of young birds are destroyed before they are fully fledged; and of those who arrive at maturity, very many perish during every inclement season from lack of the “pleasant food” they seek.
And while I deprecate the practice of ensnaring the feathered choristers of our woods and fields, who daily delight us with their harmony; while I rejoice in their “wood-notes wild,” and love to see them fitting hither and thither in the full and free enjoyment of their liberty I cannot but feel that those philanthropists who indiscriminately denounce all bird-keeping, look only at one side of the question, and take no account of the miseries which many wild birds undergo in “winter and rough weather.” Liberty is very sweet, but it has its drawbacks in the perils to which its enjoyment is exposed; and these should be well considered, before wholesale denunciations are fulminated against those who imprison their feathered neighbours. My outcry would be against those who keep birds without taking any trouble to make them happy; who are content to look upon them, not as sentient beings, but as ornaments to their rooms and appendages to luxury, and take no pains to inquire into their individual wants and tastes; who care nothing for their affection, lavish no tenderness upon them; in fact, treat them as servants and slaves, rather than as loving friends and companions. My indignation is excited by the sight of birds left for hours exposed to the burning sunshine or the chilling east wind, with their cages uncleaned, their water-glasses half full of dirty water, their seed-boxes choked with husks! I have heard more than once of birds being starved by the ignorance of servants, who declared that they had plenty of seed, when the boxes were full of husks and every particle of grain had been consumed; and of a cage full of canaries, discovered but just in time to save their lives, without seed or water. Birds should never be consigned to the care of forgetful children, or of servants too busy to attend to them. Some require far more looking after than others, but all can be made to suffer greatly from neglect and want of cleanliness.
Much cruelty, too, is unwittingly exercised every day by those who would shrink from the idea of causing suffering to any living creature, from sheer ignorance of bird nature. They would gladly make their birds happy if only they knew how to do so: they grieve to see them moping, observe their ruffled feathers with dismay, and mourn over their failing health and untimely death with entire sincerity, But they have not made themselves acquainted with the habits and necessities of their pets; they have not inquired whether they are hard-billed or soft-billed birds; whether, therefore, they require seed or insects for their food; whether they are natives of hot or cold countries; what kind of habitation suits them best. All this must be learned before they can be competent to be intrusted with the welfare of their little captives; and when they have acquired this general information, they ought to serve an apprenticeship to the individual bird, to find out its attractive qualities and peculiar tastes, in order to render it perfectly at home and happy in its imprisonment. Mr. Kidd has said, truly enough, that affection is only to be obtained by bestowing loving care upon the birds whose hearts we desire to win. Some bird hearts, as well as some human hearts, are much more easily won than others; but, as in the parallel case, they are not the less to be coveted when hard to win, and, once obtained, the attachment is generally more lasting and exclusive than that which is very readily given.
But if all loving wiles fail, and any bird's heart cannot be won; if, as Chaucer says,
“His liberty the bird desireth aye,"
“let him have it,” I would say,“ do not keep him in misery, fretting against his bondage: if he cannot be made happy by his attachment to his owner, and thus receive full compensation for the loss of his liberty, set him free.” Some birds are of such an active disposition and mercurial temperament, that it is positive misery to them to be confined within the limits of a cage: these it would be far better not to imprison, but to make them our outdoor pensioners, providing them with a store of fat and bread crumbs when their natural food fails them, and giving them the means of warmth and shelter in the winter. Many of these would live happily, when they became tame, in a large aviary or bird-room. But this is not the case with all birds; some are teased by the bustle and activity of a number of companions, and thrive better alone, or with a mate.
All this must be taken into consideration in the treatment of each species; and it is to assist those who earnestly desire to promote the health and happiness of their birds, to ascertain all that it is essential for them to know in order to accomplish this, that this little Manual has been undertaken. The difficulty in obtaining accurate information about many of the little foreigners more recently imported into England, and the impossibility of becoming intimately acquainted with the habits of those of whom I have had no personal experience, will, I fear, Cause it to fall far short of the completeness I desire for
and for all such shortcomings I would bespeak the kind indulgence of my readers.
BIRDS OF PREY.
Fashions change with the times about bird-keeping as well as other matters. In olden days birds of prey were the principal pets; and, when hawking was a common sport amongst all ranks, the smaller birds were only valued as game for the larger and more rapacious kinds. No one then cared to make pets of singing birds, but every one had his special and appointed Hawk: from the emperor to the peasant, each, according to his station in life, had his apportioned pet bird of prey. The emperor had his Eagle or Vulture; the king his Ger-Falcon; the nobles their Rock, Peregrine, and Bastard Falcons; the esquire his Harrier; the lady her Merlin; the yeoman his Goshawk;