Friday, 13 April 2018

Sightless songbirds for morose, sulky boys

Here's a nasty, but curious, slice of Victoriana from Wikipedia:
In 1882 the English publisher Samuel Orchart Beeton issued a guide on the care of caged birds and included the recommendation: "To parents and guardians plagued with a morose and sulky boy, my advice is, buy him a chaffinch." Competitions were held where bets were placed on which caged chaffinch would repeat its song the greatest number of times. The birds were sometimes blinded with a hot needle in the belief that this encouraged them to sing.
Just one of a very long list of needless cruelties that people once thought were OK.

More surprisingly, this sort of thing didn't die out with the Victorians. Apparently, competitive sing-offs between caged chaffinches (called vinkenzetting, or vinkensport) is still a thing in Belgium, although at least blinding the birds was banned in the 1920s (interestingly enough, as a result of a campaign by blind World War I veterans, it says here). Even so:
Modern animal rights activists, such as those from the Flemish Bird Protection Society, accuse trainers of "brainwashing" birds into singing more than is natural or healthy by playing looped recordings of finch calls, and that caging birds in the intentionally small and dark contest boxes is cruel.  
Of course, morose and sulky boys that they are, some of the owners still find bizarre reasons to criticise the songs of the birds they've imprisoned in the dark for their own amusement:
Some vinkeniers claim that finches from the different regions of Belgium sing in different dialects; with birds from the Dutch-speaking Flanders singing "in Dutch" and those from the French-speaking Wallonia singing undesirably "in French".