Tips on songbirds century ago

A goldfinch
A goldfinch

WHAT would you do if your nightingale became constipated?

This, I have just discovered, was a serious question for caged bird enthusiasts a hundred years ago. Every bird in the UK was a possible subject for taming and caging in those days.

Elegant aviaries of seasoned oak and galvanised wire, decorated with ornate clippings and tooled barged boards were delivered and erected for just £10.

Here your nightingale, reared as a nestling, might well live for 12 years, four times longer than the expected lifespan in the wild, despite the fact that it was normally migratory.

You would feed it on raw meat and mealworms,and avoid cake, as this stuck in the corners of its mouth and caused constipation.

Then you would administer a teaspoonful of Dinnefor’s fluid magnesia and your songster would soon perk up again.

You should also allow the bird to have a nap after lunch.

Another pretty pet could be a tame kingfisher.

Because so many were being shot by taxidermists a century ago, aviarists considered this to be the best way of conserving the species from extinction.

When today, so many kingfishers are taken by sparrowhawks, it makes you wonder whether they had a point.

However, your pet would need a running stream through the aviary, a bank of sand and also several perches.

Therein he would, with a mate, rear young quite successfully, but only if they had the aviary completely to themselves.

Canaries would not be tolerated. Apparently some folk tried keeping kingfishers in small cages.

Hard to understand now, but they may have thought that if goldfinches could so be contained, then so could other pretty birds.

Talking of which, goldfinches were becoming rare a century ago because so many were trapped and sold on as caged songsters.

Most died quickly as they were juveniles which had not become independent and were not able to feed themselves.

Even more unlikely pets in those days included the bearded tit, nowadays back from the verge of extinction and common enough in reedbeds in Sussex again.

Apparently it could be kept indoors provided a pot plant of aquatic origin was included in the cage.

“Beyond their quaint habits and pretty plumage, they have nothing to recommend them, for their song is only an insignificant twitter,” commented an expert.

“When exhibited at a show, the bearded tit should be put into classes reserved for foreign birds, for it is certain that it does not occur wild in Britain.”

Amazing to read such nonsense today, but who knows what people in a hundred years from now will make of what we think is normal today.