Strawberry Finch

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The tiny male STRAWBERRY FINCH, natty in red vest with white polka dots, seasonally assumes a drab garb (bird at extreme left, above) resembling, though darker than, the plumage of the female (perched, right wing extended, and flying). The domesticated BENGALEE, of uncertain origin, has been bred in three forms-dark brown and white, fawn and white, and pure white. The first two are shown here (center, perched and flying). A native of the Netherlands Indies and the Malay Peninsula, the JAVA SPARROW (lowest pair, normal and white forms) is a large and hardy breed.

By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

Next to the canary, the weaver birds, or weaver finches (Family Ploceidae), are among the most popular of aviary birds, though here we deal with a great variety instead of a single kind. This is an Old World family of many species that are handled easily in captivity. Weavers range in size from small to tiny, and are often of beautiful and striking plumage. Like the sparrow tribe, they live on seeds and so are easily maintained.

Enter the birdhouse in any extensive zoological garden, and soon you are certain to find an aviary with a swarm of little birds that fly continually from food trays to perches or from place to place about the enclosure in vivacious activity. These are weaver finches, the group ordinarily consisting of several kinds confined in company. In separate aviaries, where they are not too much disturbed, they often nest and rear young. The species in this group, in the wild state, are most abundant in Africa and in the Indian and Malayan regions.

Many years ago I saw in a bird store a pair of handsome but tiny birds that the dealer told me were strawberry finches (Color Plate IV). They so intrigued my fancy that they soon were mine.

The birds were sent home in the usual little wicker cage wrapped carefully in paper. A peep through the wrappings showed them rest-ing quietly, and a spare canary cage was soon ready for their reception.

Great was our consternation when the tiny strawberry finches in an instant darted into the cage and out between the wires on the other side, to take refuge like two little mice beneath a table.

With some maneuvering they were captured and placed again in the cage more carefully, then left undisturbed for a time. Before long they adopted the new home and from then on made no attempt to leave. In fact, when startled, they usually took refuge in the bottom, where they seemed to feel secure in the shelter of the muslin screen around the lower section of the wires.

Until the death of the female from some obscure cause a few months later, the two were tractable but timid; from that time on the male seemed to enjoy human attention and remained a household pet for years. His beautiful warbling song. heard when all was still about him, was unusually attractive, the more so, perhaps, because it was not repeated constantly.

In aviaries scores of strawberry finches may live together, perching in pairs or little groups and nestling against one another contentedly. Sometimes they fill a foot or more of a branch or perch, chattering and preening, or resting quietly. Newcomers to the line often light on the backs of their companions and push and crowd their way down to the perch.

The females remain plain in color always, but the males change plumage twice a year, the white-spotted, red feathers of the nesting period being replaced for several months by a plain, dull dress much like that of the female.

In its native home, from India to Java, the strawberry finch, or amadavat (Amandava amandava), ranges in thickets and grasslands as well as about villages. The nests are small, neatly made balls of fine grass suspended in grass and bushes. The families are surprisingly large, each nest containing from five to ten white eggs. The species is naturalized about Pearl Harbor on Oahu. in the Hawaiian Islands.

Bullfinch

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Though in the wild state it is no mimic, the engaging BULLFINCH (upper pair, male left) in captivity may easily be taught while young to whistle simple tunes. The LINNET, pleasing vocalist of the European finches, bobs on a twig (right), awaiting its turn at the bath. Eating out of the hand quickly becomes a habit with the pert little EUROPEAN SISKIN (lower left). The gay, sweet-voiced EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH (center, below) is far more brilliantly colored than the familiar American species. These four birds, like most of our smaller feathered pets, come from the Old World.

By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

The finch, or sparrow, family has many species that are kept in cages or aviaries, since their small size, tameness, and trim, pleasing form give them definite attraction. Finches are distributed abundantly throughout regions where the keeping of small birds has long been an interest, and, as they are easily obtained, numerous kinds have become highly popular. Most of them thrive in captivity, as they are seed eaters whose care is not difficult.

Of the considerable variety only a few may be mentioned here, as there is not space to describe many common kinds, such as the greenfinch, brambling, chaffinch, yellow bunting, saffron finch, grassquits, red cardinals, and many others that are prized by bird keepers.

A prime favorite of this family is the bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), which as a species ranges across Europe and northern Asia to Japan. Several varieties or subspecies are found through this vast region, differing slightly in color and size.

The most common one in captivity is the European bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula europaea). The male is beautifully colored in gray, black, soft red and white; the female is duller in hue (Color Plate III).

While wild trapped birds soon become tame, the most interesting are those that are taken from the nest and reared by hand, or those that are bred in aviaries, as they become entirely without fear and are easily handled.

The ordinary song is a low, warbling whistle, which, while pleasing, is not remarkable, but captive birds are often taught to whistle simple tunes, which they do most attractively. Often, too, they learn to perform little tricks, and become so tame that they may be allowed to go in and out of their cages at will.

Though bullfinches often are fed entirely on rape seed, it is better to give them a diet of mixed seeds, and they are very fond of berries and green food.

Serin Finch

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By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

The wild serin finch (Serinus canaries serinus), found from the Atlas Mountains in Africa north in southern Europe through Spain to Greece and Palestine, is a close relative of the wild canary, but is slightly smaller and somewhat darker, with heavy blackish streakings on back and sides (Color Plate I). It is kept commonly in aviaries, breeds in captivity, and frequently crosses with the European goldfinch, the canary, and other small finches.

Because of the widespread range of the serin in the regions where canary culture was first developed, it has been supposed to have furnished part of the parent stock of the domesticated canary, but it appears now that this indefinite belief is unfounded. The closely related form of the Canary Islands and near-by areas is considered to be the one that alone has produced our domestic bird.

LITTLE MISS AMERICA WELCOMES BIRDS FROM FOREIGN LANDS

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By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

At the third annual exhibition of the Bird Fanciers Association, held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in November, 1937, pretty Miss Ursula Reimer was snapped at an aviary while feeding Java sparrows (top) and other exotic species. An albino Java sparrow (left center) is a prize in any collection.
Photograph from Wide World

JAZZ TUNES INSPIRE A CANARY CHORUS

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By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

Rhythms hot from Tin Pan Alley set the pace for vocal outpourings of the dozens of canaries kept by a resident of Washington, D. C., in a one-room apartment. While a canary inherits the general character of its notes, it responds readily with lusty song to the music of many kinds of instruments. Fox trots, waltzes, tangos, and even popular “swing” tunes played on the phonograph, encourage the birds to greater (and better accented) efforts, according to this experimenter.
Photograph by Edwin L. Wisherd

“TAKE HOME A CANARY TO CAROL ON CHRISTMAS AND SING IN THE NEW YEAR”

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By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

At a limited-price variety store in Washington, D. C., imported roller and other canaries are offered for sale-as well as all the “fixin’s,” such as bird seed, bird medicines, perches, cage covers, and cages. In the last year this store alone sold 3,300 canaries.
Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart

FOR NOVELTY, WINGED WARES CAN’T MATCH THE “BIRDIE” IN THE CAMERA

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By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

With a troupial on his left hand, a veteran dealer (left center) in the outdoor bird market in Caracas, Venezuela, stands protectively beside his feathered stock in trade. Wicker and wire cages contain gaudy tanagers, honey creepers, native meadowlarks, siskins, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, and the ever-present canaries. “Every home that I entered in the city,” the author says, “had little aviaries standing in the patio, or small cages with birds hung in a window.”
Photograph by Alfed T. Palmer

A NATIVE BIRD FANCIERS’ CLUB MEETS TO MATCH PETS

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By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

At Fort de Kock, Sumatra, in the Netherlands Indies, a quorum of tribesmen squat on their heels around oddly shaped cages of wood and split bamboo. While wives trade chickens, ricecakes, candy, or baskets in the open-air market, the men gossip about their bulbuls and doves-and doubtless about the people next door! In Sumatra the dove is an emblem of luck, and therefore common in captivity.
Photograph by Maynard Owen Williams

A WEAVER BIRD DISPLAYS ITS LOOPS AND KNOTS

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By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

A sketch by a Geographic staff artist shows the craftsmanship with grass and pliant twigs which has given the weaver family its name. A live red-billed weaver in the National Zoological Park in Washington, D. C., “posed” for the drawing. In decorating their cages they sometimes undo their work and start over again until finally satisfied.
Drawing by Hashirne Murayama

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