I don’t often write about me. But the word web brought back a cascade of memories.
When I was a teenager, a canary flew into our garage. It was a bright yellow pretty little bird. My Dad managed to catch it, and we put it in a cage. I don’t remember where the cage came from but that’s not important. We did all the usual responsible stuff, placing cards in all the local shops saying “Found: yellow canary” where and when etc, all the usual actions people took before social media. We had no response so it lived in the cage in the dining room of the house. My brother Simon, who is several years younger than me, named it Freedom.
I don’t remember how long it lived after it came to us, but I think it was a good while. When Freedom died my dad bought another canary which my brother named Mushroom, as the little bird was various shades of brown and white.
None of us were overly happy about keeping a little bird on its own in a cage, so my Dad decided to build an aviary in one of our garages. With Simons help he blocked the main door off so it couldn’t be opened and built some flights for the birds inside the garage and some outside too.
Once everything had been built Dad bought another little canary to go with Mushroom and placed them together in a flight. They settled in quickly. Between them, over time Dad and Simon kept a variety of birds. Starting with the original canaries, Mushroom and partner, who surprised us one day when Mushroom started making a nest in the food bowl. We quickly put out a proper nest box for her and she became a very good mum to a number a of chicks. They were weird looking tiny bald creatures with huge eyes but they were beautiful. It was amazing to watch as she fed them the special egg food, we had to make sure they had plenty of this throughout the day and that the little chicks crops were full when feeding time finished.
Then the Chinese painted quail, with their reddish-brown plumage on their undersides and mottled brownish feathering on their backs were really small and scratched about in the sawdust looking for food for most of the time. They also had a nest box placed in the aviary when the little female started laying eggs on the floor! There were several pairs of cockatiels, of various colours including the standard greys, pearled, cinnamon, lutino and pied. I know there were others but I can’t remember them all. The colour genetics of cockatiels is complicated and I never really fully understood it, I left that to my Dad.The diamond doves were small beautiful birds, with white spots and black edges on their wings, orange eyes and red eye-rings. The female’s eye ring was less vivid than the males and she had more of a brown colour to her plumage. Also in the aviary were Java sparrows, Bengalese finches, and Zebra finches, which were my favourite with their little cheeping sounds, all of these are smaller birds and easy to keep.
At one point my Dad bought a pair of Blue Throated Conures for which you need a CITES certificate to legally keep. CITES entered into force to control the trade in endangered or protected animal or plant species. It now has 180 signatory countries, including the UK and all other EU countries. All signatories must abide by these internationally agreed rules that regulate the import, export and transhipment of protected flora and fauna. I remember there was pair of African Grey parrots for a period of time but they unsettled the rest of the birds so they didn’t stay. Also the pretty rainbow lorikeets who looked so beautiful, so vibrant in colour, feathers of orange, blue, green and yellow, with their bright red beaks but they squirted poop everywhere so didn’t last too long. Neither did the only bird that was mine, a pretty green ring neck parrot but he was so noisy if he was in an outside flight you could hear him down the road. Dad said he couldn’t stay as he was upsetting all the other birds who were trying to incubate their eggs. This could mean a disaster so I let him go a local pet shop we knew through buying birds. The owner Graham was a helpful chap who enjoyed what he did. All of the birds we ever bought were bred in the UK. My Dad refused to buy anything that had come into Britain from abroad. During the time we spent at the pet shop I saw they also sold various other unusual pets. And I wanted one of them. In time we ended up with a big tank in the house with one in.
The first one I ever held needed both hands to hold it. Initially I was a bit scared but I pushed that to one side while I concentrated on safely holding her, a Mexican red knee tarantula. This belonged to Graham and he said she wasn’t for sale. That wasn’t a problem, she was far too big for me anyway! I had seen a small Chilean red tarantula with a large suitable tank.
Once we were home I set her tank up, with large cork pieces that she could climb over, hide behind, sleep under and spin her beautiful silken web all over. She was a light brown colour, with a shade of pink to her. I called her Scarlet. She wasn’t exactly a cuddly pet but she could be taken out of the tank although I didn’t like holding her as I worried about her being fast in my hands and falling to the floor. This could’ve killed her as spiders don’t have haemoglobin in their blood so if she had been hurt she could have died. Or, as was her favourite trick, she would become fed up and to let me know she would rub one of her legs across her abdomen. This in turn released the Urticating hairs (Urtica is Latin for “nettle”),and can refer to certain types of barbed hairs that cover the dorsal and posterior surface of a tarantula’s abdomen. Many tarantula species eject hairs from their abdomens, directing them toward potential attackers. These hairs can embed themselves in the other animal’s skin or eyes, causing physical irritation, usually to great discomfort. And this is what Scarlett would do to me, in the palm of my hand, she didn’t do it to my Dad though and Simon wasn’t interested in or allowed, to get her out. It would take several hours before it stopped irritating no matter what I tried. She appeared happier left alone to spin her webs to catch the crickets we fed her. I remember one time we had a small box of crickets and the weather was warm and humid. Even though they were kept in a cupboard in the dark they bred and several of the smallest ones managed to escape. It was hilarious, when weeks later we would be watching television in the living room and out the corner of your eye you would see the carpet move.
Cricket!CITES, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Urtica is Latin for “nettle” (stinging nettles are in the genus Urtica)