Princess; quarrelling and "kissing." George sings loud!
July 13, 2003
Princess; quarrelling and flirting
Aug. 14, 2003
Princess; Tweety moved in.
Oct. 6, 2003
Princess; George molting, not singing.
Nov. 4, 2003
Princess; Tweety died Nov. 9
Dec. 3, 2003
Dec. 25, 2003
Princess; George resumed singing!
Feb. 1, 2004
Princess; new nest on spider plant
Feb. 29, 2004
Princess; our trip to Peru!
Mar. 23, 2004
Princess; George sings loud!
Apr. 16, 2004
Princess; George sings loud!
May 8, 2004
May 31, 2004
Princess; George sings loud!
June 27, 2004
Princess; Adopted baby died. George molting, not singing
Oct. 8, 2004
Princess; some molting, some singing
Nov. 25?, 2004
Princess; One egg broke. Hawks! Some singing.
Dec. 30, 2004
Princess; George sings some, mischief "exploring."
Feb. 5, 2005
Princess; trip to Costa Rica.
Mar. 7, 2005
Princess; new nest in spider plant.
~ Apr. 3, 2005
Princess; George sings more.
May 14, 2005
Princess (hurt leg); new nest on shelf.
June 25, 2005
Mar. 17, 2006
Princess; 3rd egg lacked shell
Apr. 14, 2006
Princess; 3rd egg lacked shell
May 13, 2006
June 16, 2006
Princess, in 4 days. George sings loudly.
Nov. 26, 2006
Princess; one broke. George more subdued.
Total eggs laid:
158½ None of the eggs have hatched. In almost every case, Goldie and Princess laid one egg each on the successive days following the first date listed above. A few times they skipped one or two days. Some of the numbers of eggs are guesstimates; "~" means approximate date.
"Goldie" was our first pet canary, a delightful companion who brightened our daily lives for more than seven months. She was a stray who in effect "adopted us" in July 2000; otherwise, I doubt we ever would have bought a pet bird. What happened was that she flew into Jacqueline's sister's house through an open patio door one day, and no one ever came to claim her. For all we know, she could have been "in the wild" for several days or even weeks. Anyway, after a weekend visit to see her family, Jacqueline brought her home to our apartment, to my utter astonishment. I was a little apprehensive but quickly felt attached to the poor little thing, who not only had a misshapen beak (the lower half was twisted and virtually useless for chewing) but did not even have a right foot. Thus, she had to hop around awkwardly and sometimes struggled when trying to perch or scratch herself. We never were able to determine whether her deformities were genetic or the result of being mauled while in the wilds. We put her in a large cardboard box with sticks for perching and a nylon mesh covering the open side to keep her confined. We let her out to fly around once in a while, and before long dispensed with keeping her confined at all. Then she started hunting for scrap fibers from the sofa, etc. and we soon realized she was building a nest in one of our potted plants. How cute! We helped her out by tossing bits of cotton balls on the floor, which she used to great effect. Little did we realize how determined were her reproductive instincts. It happened that we were just about to leave on a five-day vacation to Niagara Falls, and to our amazement after we returned she was brooding on the nest, having laid an egg. This despite the fact that she had no mate. (Actually there WAS a male goldfinch on our back porch who came to court her a couple times, but he gave up trying to get inside the door.) She laid three more eggs, one every morning, but of course none of them hatched.
Goldie was a source of constant amusement as she got used to living in our apartment. Sometimes she would perch tranquilly for an hour or more, and sometimes she would get excited and start flying repeated oval patterns around or living room / dining room. Sometimes she would go exploring to other rooms, but she almost always kept close to her box, which was next to the back sliding door. She loved to sit in the sunlight for extended periods, watching all the wild birds who came to our feeder on the back porch. One time I heard a loud thump on the back door, ran over to see what it was, and just caught a glimpse of a hawk (probably a sharp-shinned) flying away. It was most likely a juvenile who lacked experience and had not yet learned not to avoid windows while chasing prey. Goldie was frightened by the attack, but soon got over it. Later that day Jacqueline saw what was almost certainly the same hawk flying over the parking lot; it seemed sick or disoriented. I hope it wasn't hurt too bad.
Goldie was remarkably tame; one time she flew into the palm of my hand to get some food I offered her. Another time she landed on my arm in order to pluck a few strands of wool from my sweater. One of her cuter habits was looking at herself in the mirror. She probably thought it was another bird, but eventually got tired of the charade. In October she laid another clutch of eggs, again in vain. While Goldie was brooding on her nest, Jacqueline and I would often feed her bits of bread soaked in milk, as a way of replenishing the calcium her little body lost in the process of producing eggs. Following the advice of a pet bird book we bought, we also fed her bits of apple and other fruit. It was about this time (early November) that we learned that we would be moving to Blacksburg in January, and we decided we would buy a male companion for her after we moved: George. (See below.)
The more George sang, the more affectionate Goldie became toward him. I vividly remember one occasion when George began singing louder than ever, and Goldie accompanied him in a kind of duet that was about the sweetest thing I had ever seen. Just when we were getting our hopes up, however, something terrible happened: In March Goldie came down with an infection, fluffing up her feathers and just sitting there lethargically. She seemed to get better after a couple days, flying around again, but then she got worse so we called a veterinarian, who injected her with strong antibiotics. It was apparently too late, as Goldie died later the same day, when we were both out of the house at work. It was March 15, the ominous Ides of March. Silly though it may sound, it was a real heartbreak for us. Goldie had a special personality and was very trusting toward us.
Only a few days after moving to Blacksburg, January 20 to be exact, we bought our second canary, "George", who is bright yellow and sports a handsome greenish crown that looks like a Beatle hairdo. It was mostly because it was Inauguration Day that we named him in honor of our current president, George W. Bush, but also partly because of the late Beatle George Harrison. Following the advice of the people who sold him, we kept George isolated in the box for a couple days so that he and Goldie could get to know each other and not start fighting over territorial issues right away. It seemed to work, because they got along fine after we let him out. It was funny, because he had been in a cage his whole life, and didn't know how to fly. He would flap furiously without gaining much altitude, but after a few days of practice he was fine, and the two of them would fly around the apartment in contented harmony.
We learned when we bought George that canaries love to eat kale, which also makes a healthy snack for humans. (I always thought kale was purely ornamental on serving trays.) Goldie sometimes munched on our house plants, but George did so much more often. Goldie probably missed the sunlight, since all the windows in our Blacksburg apartment faced north. George was about a year old at the time, that is, just reaching maturity. Lacking in patience, Goldie went ahead and built another nest (tearing the corners of our sofa to shreds in the process), even though George was not yet ready for mating. Thus, the THIRD clutch of eggs she laid was not fertilized, leaving us disappointed again. After a couple weeks he began doing what male canaries are famous for -- singing his little heart out as a way of asserting his territorial dominance in preparation for the breeding season.
Goldie's untimely demise left George all alone, just as he was getting comfortable in our apartment. We were so distraught that we considered giving George away, but I'm glad we didn't. After a couple weeks we started looking around for a female canary to keep George company, and were surprised that no pet shops in southwestern Virginia had any in stock. Finally, we found Princess; see below.
George is, or was, particularly inquisitive and prone to explore (behind the sofa, etc.), much like the monkey named "Curious George." In January 2008, to our immense sorrow, George died rather suddenly while I was out of town. Thanks to the miracle of digital audio, however, we can still hear George sing as if he were still with us.
George's song (NOTE: This is a 316K MP3 file, which can be downloaded.)
In early April, while in northern Virginia during a trip to exercise democratic obligations in the Peruvian elections (there are only a few voting places for Peruvians living in the United States), we finally found a pet shop that sold female canaries, and bought a cream and gray colored one. The shop was all out of the regular little boxes for pet birds, however, so the guy rigged up a small corrugated box (that was labeled "Tomatoes"), punching some air holes in it. I was a bit apprehensive about this expedient measure, but figured he must have known what he was doing. NOT!
Tragically, the poor little frightened bird (whom we later named "Princess") got herself badly stuck between the flaps of the box while trying to escape on the way home from the pet shop. After we got home we found that her leg was twisted and unusable. We called the bird shop, but by the time they answered the phone it was too late as they were about to close, and we had to go back to Blacksburg. So, we took the new canary to a veterinary clinic in town the first thing on Monday morning. The vet put a splint on her leg (see photo), and told us to keep her confined in a box to prevent her from flying around or perching, but doing all that still did not succeed in restoring the leg to its normal function. I can imagine that trying to do surgery on such a tiny, delicate animal would be extremely difficult.
Since Princess was obviously going to be crippled for life, we wondered whether it would be safe to let her out, but eventually we decided "yes." She then began an awkward adaptation to the free world and gradually got used to flying, just as George had experienced back in January. Nevertheless, she still has a hard time landing once in a while. The two birds often fly around together, but George can perch on top of picture frames and other places where Princess just can't manage. However, George often gets aggressive toward her when his reproductive instincts kick in. (Singing is always the best clue as to his mood.) To our surprise, Princess began nesting activity by June, not long after she got accustomed to her new surroundings. Just like Goldie, she relied heavily on scraps of cotton we gave her, but picked at almost any carpet or fabric she could find. She and George mated several times during the summer and early fall, and she laid three separate clutches of eggs (almost a dozen eggs altogether), but none of them hatched.
About two weeks after George died, we were fortunate to find a male canary in a local pet store. He seemed enegetic and healthy, and bore a strong resemblance to George, though without the crown feathers. We kept the new bird semi-isolated in the cage for a few days so that he and Princess could get to know each other. Little by little we opened the cage door so he could step outside when he wanted, but still retreat to safety. As with George and Princess, it took him a while to get the hang of flying, because he had been in a cage his whole life. We waited a while before we finally settled on a name for him: Luciano, out of respect for late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who passed away in 2007.
Luciano's song (NOTE: This is a 544K MP3 file, which can be downloaded.)
It is easy to anthropomorphize animal behavior and interpret mating rituals as though they signify romance. Whatever degree of consciousness birds may actually possess, there has to be SOME underlying parallels between the bonds of love that we human beings feel for each other and the obvious affection that bird pairs show to one another. Just as we birdwatchers get a glimpse of divine purpose in the midst of our seemingly chaotic, violent world when we watch wild birds go through their daily routines of looking for food and mating partners, so too can we see our own frail human passions and longings mirrored in the tiny eyes of our fine feathered companions who live with us at home.
Being free to fly around our apartment, our birds are (we think) as content as captive animals could possibly be. (You may be wondering about the downside of letting pet birds fly free around the house: digestive waste byproducts. There are of course some cleanup chores, but for the most part the birds stay in their own room, and we keep the floor covered with newspaper over there, and that takes care of most of the problem.) We do have to be careful where we step, however, because you never know where they might be hopping about.
As you can see, caring for pet birds is quite an emotional roller coaster, somewhat like raising kids, I suppose, but obviously with much less commitment of time, energy, and money. I hope this page has awakened your spirits at least a little bit, as we really wish we could share the joys as well as the occasional sorrows that come with INDOOR birding.