Monday, February 09, 2015

Bird in a cage

Last year a friend asked if my kids would like to take care of his 2 budgies Kelvin and... I forgot the other birds name, she's gone now.
We were reluctant to take the birds but wanted to help him out and I thought it would be good for the kids to have first hand experience of taking care of a bird.

As a teenager I didn't really relate to people very well and preferred to spend time in the wild, watching birds, fishing and that sort of thing. At some point I managed to convince my parents to let me keep some birds and before long I had completely overwhelmed them. From the age of about 14 I started to breed various species of birds, then by the time I was 20 I'd practically turned half my parents back yard into a network of aviaries and cages. I always wanted to create as close to as natural and diverse space as possible... but in fact all I did was keep a whole lot of birds in a big cage! 

I preferred native species but I remember having a pair of Cuban finches which were so small the male would continually get out of the aviary, but his bond was so strong to the female that he'd always stick around and fly back into the aviary when I opened the door. In my fantasy world this is exactly how it would be. I would keep the birds but they'd be free to fly around the unfenced boundary of our yard... I remember at the beginning of High School I read a book called Birdy by William Wharton (A good read for a maladjusted teen)....  The main character in the story, who had been kind of obsessed with birds, became psychologically unhinged when he served in the second world war and regressed into an imaginary world. Some how I related to this kind of disturbing story and have to admit I often retreated into a similar fantasy world with the birds.

Calvin and Crystal in a cage
When I left home my parents gave the birds away and had the aviaries removed. I didn't mind, it was a hobby which got out of control and actually at the time I was kind of ambivalent about keeping the birds locked up but had not devised an exit plan and the poor creatures just kept breeding.

Something inside me knew it wasn't right but I just kept making the space bigger and the birds kept breeding and so on. I never really got that much appreciation of just sitting and watching the birds. I had 'collected'.

These days I have no interest in keeping any creature in a cage! I can't stand it on multiple levels. Firstly to see an animal reduced to complete dependance on human beings for their basic survival is not at all inspiring to me. Maybe when I was younger I liked the idea of them relying on me, at least in the life of a budgie or cockatiel waiting to be fed my life had some bearing. Maybe it helped me through a difficult time in my life or even taught me some lessons about responsibility etc...

I won't go into the trials and dramas of keeping the birds, but we did lose one bird and ended up replacing her with another from the pet shop rather than see Kelvin be completely lonely. Then Yesterday the Krystal (Kelvin's new partner) got out of the cage while I was trying to transfer her. That's when I realized I actually can't do this. I have no business keeping these creatures in cages! I'm feeling like to keep animals now is just a bit too close to playing God right now it's not something I really want to be playing at.

If you have a bird in a cage I bet you've got a few photos of the bird. Have you ever wondered why the photos look so drab? I was looking at Calvin alone in his cage and it dawned on me. We love these animals, we are fascinated by their antics and watching them go about just being themselves, inside the cage... But when we watch them we rarely consider their containment, only the joy we get from watching them and we like to think they are happy. But the camera catches the moment without the subjective lens of the human imagination, often focusing on the wire rather than the bird.

When Crystal got out she flew away, she would have had no idea where she was going, how to find food or even how to get back to the 'safety of her cage'.

Wild birds I sometimes see

These days I hate visiting zoos or places where animals are held on display. I am surrounded by wild creatures and love to watch them in their natural habitat, fully alive and free.


Chandra said...

What a lovely post! Thanks for sharing.
I particularly enjoyed reading this post, having had a few pet birds both as a young man and at a later stage in my life. I find keeping a bird captive, now, distasteful/cruel.

As a young man I had a pair of love birds and I released them one day and they flew away - hopefully to a free, happy life.

Of the birds I had later, my cockatiel flew away one day. And, I gave the 2-4 parakeets to my friend.

Have you watched the documentary, "Parrots of Telegraph Hill"?

May freedom for all reign, Peter.
Peace :)

David J said...

Thanks Chandra,
Yes I suppose it's something that happens to us as we gain a better understanding of our place in the world and learn the differences between our personal desires (self interest) and true care for others.
I have spent time over the past few years visiting people who have been locked up for various reasons (some of them for no other reason than being political pawns!) which has made the whole concept of containment and cages abhorrent to me.
Yes I have a copy of 'The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill'. This is one of my favorite films ever! I could go on for ever about what that film means to me. It was absolutely brilliant for various reasons!
The whole argument about the release of exotic species and displacement of endemics is one I've gotten heavily into from time to time. But these days I take a much simpler view and prefer to consider the well-being of those individuals which are right in front of me. Over the bigger picture I am to a large extent, powerless.

Trevor Woodford said...

A first class post David...

Like you I used to keep birds in an aviary as a youngster.

Aside from cycling, breeding birds was my first real hobby and I think that I learned a lot from my interest...
However, again like you I would never want to keep any living thing caged up nowadays.....

Looking at the way most people live their lives these days I would suggest that the majority of people are 'caged' to some extent by the very society that they subscribe to...
Freedom is a valuable thing...

David J said...

Thanks Trevor,
I think it can take us a long time to break free of a lot of our shackles. I'm sure I've still got a lot I could stand to lose.