Scanning Around With Gene: Birds of a Feather

The world seems to be divided into two types of people: those who like pet birds and those who find them creepy, sad, or unnatural. I always put myself in the latter category, but in recent years I found myself sharing a living space with two parakeets and a cockatiel. This, while not exactly turning me into a bird lover, made me realize that they can be sweet little pets.

So today I thought I’d look at some pet-bird advertising and art, mostly focusing on the smaller varieties such as canaries and parakeets. Click on any image for a larger version. These first three images are from 1953.

Perhaps my early attitude toward pet birds was influenced by my first introduction: a friend’s wife who had seven parrots. These rather large birds made a little too much eye contact for my liking, and every once in a while one of them would let out a blood-curdling scream that shook the entire house. Plus I was always told to be careful around them and that yes, they could in fact take off a finger, though the likelihood was slim.

But as I said, I ended up with a couple of parakeets and a little cockatiel named Zagnut who had a lot of charm and personality. And all of them seemed happy to be alive, even caged, and spent the day singing and playing with each other. Not bad pets all around.

In the 1940s there were many ads promoting birds as pets, including a series from a birdseed company that featured Hollywood celebrities and their feathered friends. These ads are from 1942.

Birds have been kept as pets for as long as people were able to catch and cage them, and some birds seemed naturally inclined toward people and don’t even need the cage. Here is a Currier and Ives print from the turn of the previous century, and a photo of a woman and her pet parrot from 1924.

At first I felt really bad about having birds in a cage. But I became convinced that in a relatively large cage the birds had a good life, free of the predators, extreme temperatures, and daily hunt for food that wild birds contend with.

Was Gene able to train his birds to talk? Go to Page 2 to find out.

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