Tag Archive | parrots

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.

A Parrot Thanksgiving

2004-christmas-mithril-and-aragorn-in-tree

December 2004. Mithril (left) and Aragorn (right) sit in my Yule tree.  That year Mithril’s hobby was throwing the collector ornaments out of the tree — especially my Princess Leia from the original Star Wars.

Way back in 2004 the following circulated on social media.  I always call it “A Parrot Thanksgiving” but its original title was “How to Stuff Your Turkey On Thanksgiving.”

Whatever you call it, this is what nearly all of us with birds experience over the holidays.
————————
HOW TO STUFF YOUR TURKEY ON THANKSGIVING

Ingredients:
1 Turkey
Stuffing
Sweet Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
Green Beans
Cranberry Sauce
Hot rolls and Butter
Relish tray
Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream
Hot Coffee

Get up early in the morning & have a cup of coffee. It’s going to be a
long day, so place your Parrot on a perch nearby to keep you company
while you prepare the meal.

Remove Parrot from kitchen counter and return him to perch.

Prepare stuffing, and remove Parrot from edge of stuffing bowl and
return him to perch.

Stuff turkey & place it in the roasting pan, and remove Parrot from
edge of pan and return him to perch.

Have another cup of coffee to steady your nerves.

Remove Parrot’s head from turkey cavity and return him to perch, and
re-stuff the turkey.

Prepare relish tray, and remember to make twice as much so that you’ll
have a regular size serving after the Parrot has eaten his fill.

Remove Parrot from kitchen counter and return him to perch.

Prepare cranberry sauce, discard berries accidentally flung to the
floor by Parrot.

Peel potatoes, remove Parrot from edge of potato bowl and return him to perch.

Arrange sweet potatoes in a pan & cover with brown sugar & mini marshmallows.

Remove Parrot from edge of pan and return him to perch. Replace
missing marshmallows.

Brew another pot of coffee. While it is brewing, clean up the torn
filter. Pry coffee bean from Parrot beak.

Have another cup of coffee & remove Parrot from kitchen counter and
return him to perch.

When time to serve the meal: Place roasted turkey on a large platter,
and cover beak marks with strategically placed sprigs of parsley.

Put mashed potatoes into serving bowl, rewhip at last minute to
conceal beak marks and claw prints.

Place pan of sweet potatoes on sideboard, forget presentation as
there’s no way to hide the areas of missing marshmallows.

Put rolls in decorative basket, remove Parrot from side of basket and
return him to perch. Also remove beaked rolls, serve what’s left.

Set a stick of butter out on the counter to soften – think better and
return it to the refrigerator.

Wipe down counter to remove mashed potato claw tracks.

Remove Parrot from kitchen counter and return him to perch.

Cut the pie into serving slices.

Wipe whipped cream off Parrot’s beak and place large dollops of
remaining whipped cream on pie slices.

Whole slices are then served to guests, beaked-out portions should be
reserved for host & hostess.

Place Parrot inside cage & lock the door.

Sit down to a nice relaxing dinner with your family accompanied by
plaintive cries of “WANT DINNER!” from the other room.

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.