Tag Archive | aviculture

Teaching in the SCA: the class that taught me how to write the Legendary Women of World History Series

Many of you know that for over 20 years I was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval recreation group mostly centered in the United States and Canada that focuses on the time period between 600 and 1600 CE.  I was known at first as “Anne de Lyons” when I played as a student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (SCA chapter: Shire/Barony of Mag Mor, Calontir), but quickly shifted to a nuzhen persona once I took Asian history courses at UNL.

sands point demo 2009

As my life took shape I eventually took up my passion for birds and made it part of the SCA in 2006 while living in Brooklyn, New York. Now known as “Biya Saman,” I focused my research on both falconry and aviculture in medieval China, engaging in a four year long research project asking “what happened to the Derbyan parakeet” that were often talked about in some of the great poems of the Tang Dynasty.

In 2010 I completed my research and had the opportunity to present it in Chicago at the November “Royal University Midrealms” event.  Here is that course entitled “Talons and White Crests.”

Talon and White Crest class handout

Why is the class important?  Because ultimately it taught me how to organize my research into a smooth, easy to understand narrative.  It is the beginning of my narrative history approach and the way I approach and write each Legendary Women of World History book.

Not everything from my research made it into that class of course.  There was much I could not do. But the point was to teach students who had no background in Chinese history, language or culture; no background with parrots or the quirks of living with them; and no background in falconry as practiced in either medieval Europe or Asia.

When teaching students with absolutely no experience or background in your subject, I find it helpful to use a narrative method, to make it all about the story which is exactly what you find in the above course and in each Legendary Women of World History biography.

As I came to do with the appendices of my books, I deferred technical information to my class handout.  Open up the handout from the above link and you’ll find I really explain how parrots and birds of prey are different (and yes, people often don’t know even the most basic differences between them).  Deferring the technical stuff allows me to focus on the story and maintain clarity.

 

Talons and White Crests was an important step in learning how to write the Legendary Women of World History.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Frugal Parrot Food: How to Buy Bird Seed for Less

Originally posted January 25, 2012

I love my bird. Like most dedicated aviculturists and pet owners, I care a great deal about helping my birds live long, healthy, and happy lives. A well-balanced diet for most companion birds consists of fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and commercially available pellets. Most people feed pre-mixed diets from pet stores. But as with many cat and dog foods, these pre-mixed diets tend to be filled with low-nutrition fillers that add to the price, but not the health of your bird.

So what is the answer and how can you save money on bird food? Make your own healthy, well-balanced food mix. In this article, I will cover my best tips/tricks for buying the seed and nut portion of your bird’s diet.

1) Whole, natural format seeds and grains cost less and work better than their more expensive, bagged, counter-parts.

Find these at your local feed mill for a savings of 50-90%. Often what you want will not be marked as for birds, so instead look for these seeds/nuts fed to companion birds at your area feed mill:

Seeds:
oats
safflower seeds
wheat
white millet
spray millet (aka finger and/or foxtail millet)
cracked corn (select species)
sunflower seeds (bagged and sunflower heads)

Nuts (buy whole for larger species; chopped, sliced, and/or slivered for smaller species:
almonds
walnuts
pecans
brazil nuts (larger species)
peanuts

2) Shop the baking section of your area grocery store/fruit-nut store for nuts

Nuts are easily found at your local grocery store. Look for chopped and slivered choices for small to medium birds and whole versions for larger species. Large cockatoos and macaws should be fed nuts in the shell.
3) Utilize the “wild bird” sections of stores.

Foods fed to wild birds are often the same as those fed to companion birds. The wild bird section of discount department stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target often sell bagged single seeds at the same or lower prices than pet stores. This does not mean you will automatically save money at these stores–but it helps to include discount department store wild bird sections when comparison shopping!
4) Buy from farms whenever possible.

Farms charge less than any other retailer for their products. As a rule, the more steps between the farm and you, the higher the price. Farmers markets, road-side stands, feed mills, and local markets help you buy direct. Farms offer everything from sunflower heads (my birds prefer sunflower heads over loose sunflower seeds) to nutritious spray millet and beyond. Many farmers have their own websites and eBay stores, so it pays to search these sources.

By using these four tips, you will save somewhere between 50% and 90% every time you buy seeds and nuts. That leaves you more money for pellets, fruits, and vegetables for a healthier bird and heavier wallet.

Bon appétit!

Psittacosis: Not a Death Sentence for Your Bird

In May 2011 I bought a beautiful whiteface pearl cockatiel I named Elendil (not realizing the bird was female) from a pet store on Kings Highway near the Kings Hwy N train station — not knowing the cage was filthy and that yellow on her tail was excrement.  Elendil flew away upon my move to Johnstown Pennsylvania in October, 2012 — but her life and the lessons learned about Psittacosis — lives on.

Psittacosis: Not a Death Sentence for Your Bird

Successfully treated for psittacosis, Elendil loved to sit on her multi-branch java wood perch and play with her toys.

Successfully treated for psittacosis, Elendil loved to sit on her multi-branch java wood perch and play with her toys.

Originally posted February 1st, 2012

 

It is no secret I love my birds and do absolutely everything I can to provide the best housing, food, toys, and enrichment opportunities for them. When it comes to successful aviculture, regular visits to an avian veterinarian are an important but often overlooked part of keeping healthy birds. Many expert sources advise a physical for all new birds to one’s home, before allowing the new bird(s) to interact with any other birds or pets you are keeping.

This simple piece of advice saved the lives of all my birds when, in late May 2011, I brought home from a Brooklyn pet store a new flock member, a whiteface pearl cockatiel cock I named Elendil . What my sight loss and the placement of the pet store cage prevented me from seeing at first was a tail encrusted with runny yellow feces-and a crippled left foot. A few hours after settling him into his cage, the foot issues manifest. I called the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine (88th & Columbus Ave, New York, NY) for the next available appointment for him. Two days later, my vet looked at Elendil and told me the meaning of these abnormal feces: PSITTACOIS, also known as “parrot fever” and scientifically known as Chlamydia psittaci or Ornithosis. Psittacosis is highly contagious-not only between birds, but between birds and humans. For this reason, our ancestors dealt with the disease by slaughtering affected birds.

Fortunately for Elendil, today’s avian veterinarians now have an antibiotic solution to this painful and lethal disease. The treatment is far from cheep, but for parrots, with their expected life spans in the decades, it is an investment worth making.

If your bird contracts Psittacosis, your veterinarian will most likely prescribe doxycycline. My vet administered Elendil’s doxycycline in weekly shots for six weeks. Depending on your bird’s specific situation, additional medication, administered by you orally once or twice per day at home, may also be required. Elendil’s treatment involved a total of three different oral medications. In addition, I had to purchase a hospital cage, special perches, stainless steel food dishes, a small aquarium to weigh him in, and a gram scale for twice daily weightings. These are the standard expenses you should expect. Like Elendil, your bird may need a few days in ICU during the early part of treatment.

Today, Elendil is a happy, healthy young bird almost one year old, still very much a toddler. Despite the crippled foot, he is doing very well.

Psittacosis used to be a death sentence. Today it is treatable…and well worth the expense!

Parrots and Popinjays: a Brief Look at the Role of Companion Birds in Medieval Europe

This next article about medieval aviculture comes from my years as Society expert on medieval aviculture in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

 

Parrots and Popinjays: a Brief Look at the Role of

1310s illumination from the Queen Mary Psalter showing a popinjay (Psittacula parakeet) at Christ's right hand and opposite a falcon.

1310s illumination from the Queen Mary Psalter showing a popinjay (Psittacula parakeet) at Christ’s right hand and opposite a falcon.

Companion Birds in Medieval Europe

An Overview to the Role Parrots, Finches, and Doves Played in Medieval History

June 7th, 2012

Medieval illuminations rarely depicted species- specific details as this 1236 illumination of a popinjay shows.

Medieval illuminations rarely depicted species- specific details as this 1236 illumination of a popinjay shows.

When most of us think of companion animals, a dog or cat probably is the first animal to come to mind. What few people realize is just how recently our canine and feline obsession really is, dating back only about three hundred years or so. In the middle ages, nearly all the animals in our lives were kept for practical reasons. Medieval Europeans distrusted cats as agents of Satan. Dogs were raised for specific jobs such as herding, guarding, vermin control (the terriers in particular were bred to kill rats and mice), hunting, and even transportation in icy and mountainous regions. Horses were transportation. Oxen pulled plows and were slaughtered for food. Chickens provided eggs and meat. Sheep were shorn for wool and slaughtered as veal or mutton. Even birds of prey served humans as hunting companions.

But three orders of birds were raised primarily for their companionship qualities: Passeriformes (includes sparrows, canaries, and finches), Columbiformes (pigeons and doves), and Psittaciformes (parrots). These were the primary “pets” of the Middle Ages and Renaissance adored by all levels of society — from the poorest to the richest, and royal down to the poorest peasant.

Birds served many companionship functions in medieval life. Among the most humble in society, the family bird kept women in the household company while engaging in the labor-intensive needs of the home. Whether it was spinning, weaving, cooking, laundry, or cleaning — the family bird broke up boredom by providing beauty, song, and social interaction.

Nobles too kept birds, especially parrots (called “popinjays” before 1500). Noble women and noble men kept birds for very different reasons which are perhaps somewhat predictable. For the men, exotic species of birds were prestige animals through which to display wealth and power. Every royal and every noble man wanted the most rare and most expensive parrot, finch, or pigeon/dove that money and aviculture could produce. By contrast, their wives and daughters kept and demanded these birds for their species-specific social and verbal abilities.

In between, the emerging bourgeoisie pursued parrot aviculture as a means of improving and displaying social standing and wealth. As trade and crafts people flourished in cities, so did their need to show poor and very rich alike that they themselves had risen above poverty; possessing parrots served that function quite nicely, particularly as the dietary and shelter needs of the parrot species kept (in Europe, the available parrots were all from genus Psittacula, aka Asian parakeets, birds adapted to Asian rain forests) required consistent warmth and access to fresh foods and grains.

Medieval Europeans raised four species of Psittacula parakeets before 1500: the African ringneck parakeet (Psittacula krameri krameri), the Indian ringneck parakeet (Psittacula krameri manillensis), the plum-headed parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala) and the Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria). The highest echelons of society had access to African grey parrots (Congo and Timneh subspecies). England’s Henry VIII notoriously kept an African grey.

But the rarest parrot of the European Middle Ages belonged to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (von Hohenstaufen). In 1229, this noted lover of falconry received as a gift a rare bird indeed — at least to Europeans: a white cockatoo from genus Cacatua. Many believe the bird was an umbrella cockatoo, but my reading of Frederick’s “De Arte Venandi cum Avibus” (Art of Falconry) leads to a different conclusion. Nowhere does Frederick provide any detail regarding his cockatoo that applies only to the umbrella cockatoo; details like white and having yellow under the wings applies to nearly all members of that genus. He does not even tell us if the bird had a recursive (curling away from the head) or a recumbent (crest laying flat against the head) crest nor are the illuminations in the book particularly detailed in that respect. So while many believe his cockatoo was an umbrella cockatoo, I don’t see enough in primary sources to identify exactly what kind of white cockatoo it was.
The story of companion birds in our lives is long and deeply entwined with our own histories, shaping our world in subtle ways few people understand. Yet these beautiful and special birds have, indeed, been part of our lives for millennia in symbiosis with us. For our fates and fortunes are deeply intertwined with theirs; when they suffer, so do we.

This story of birds in the middle ages has just began. But one thing is certain: we must stop poaching them from the wild, destroying their habitats, and mistreating them in our homes. Only then may we all find peace and harmony.