Scanning Around With Gene: Birds of a Feather

The world seems to be divided into two types of people: those who like pet birds and those who find them creepy, sad, or unnatural. I always put myself in the latter category, but in recent years I found myself sharing a living space with two parakeets and a cockatiel. This, while not exactly turning me into a bird lover, made me realize that they can be sweet little pets.

So today I thought I’d look at some pet-bird advertising and art, mostly focusing on the smaller varieties such as canaries and parakeets. Click on any image for a larger version. These first three images are from 1953.

Perhaps my early attitude toward pet birds was influenced by my first introduction: a friend’s wife who had seven parrots. These rather large birds made a little too much eye contact for my liking, and every once in a while one of them would let out a blood-curdling scream that shook the entire house. Plus I was always told to be careful around them and that yes, they could in fact take off a finger, though the likelihood was slim.

But as I said, I ended up with a couple of parakeets and a little cockatiel named Zagnut who had a lot of charm and personality. And all of them seemed happy to be alive, even caged, and spent the day singing and playing with each other. Not bad pets all around.

In the 1940s there were many ads promoting birds as pets, including a series from a birdseed company that featured Hollywood celebrities and their feathered friends. These ads are from 1942.

Birds have been kept as pets for as long as people were able to catch and cage them, and some birds seemed naturally inclined toward people and don’t even need the cage. Here is a Currier and Ives print from the turn of the previous century, and a photo of a woman and her pet parrot from 1924.

At first I felt really bad about having birds in a cage. But I became convinced that in a relatively large cage the birds had a good life, free of the predators, extreme temperatures, and daily hunt for food that wild birds contend with.

Was Gene able to train his birds to talk? Go to Page 2 to find out.

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Posted on: March 5, 2010

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. After a decade in commercial typesetting and design services, he chronicled the desktop-publishing revolution from his post as publisher and president of Publish magazine. With nine international editions, Publish became the leading global resource on the use of digital technology for print and Web production. Gable served on the operational boards of International Data Group's PCWorld, The Web and PC Games magazines and was earlier publisher of Sporting Times magazine. During his tenure at Ziff-Davis Gable was on the executive team responsible for major business events such as Comdex, Networld+Interop and JavaOne. As president of Seybold Seminars and publisher of The Seybold Report, Gable managed a global slate of conferences, trade shows and other graphic-arts educational products. During his leadership Seybold events featured prominent speakers such as Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises, Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems, and Daniel Carp, CEO of Eastman Kodak. Gable has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. His clients have included A-list brands in technology and financial services. Gable's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on CreativePro.com. Follow Gene on Twitter

7 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: Birds of a Feather

  1. I have two parrots: Basil, a male Red-sided Eclectus (a medium sized parrot); and Jadey-Jade, a green-cheeked conure (roughly 50% larger than a budgie/parakeet) that I have declared a female although I have no proof of that.

    Their antics and interactions are a source of creative inspiration for both writing and graphics.

    So, yes, some of us creatives out there are part of an avian flock. Parrots are extremely perceptive and insist upon fairness for all flock members, human and avian.

    What a delight to see this article about pet birds.
    Thanks, Gene.
    Blessings,
    Terre

  2. I’ve got a couple of studio dogs, and the Corgi DOES talk, but only before breakfast. A parakeet might be a good addition. Had a couple when my brother, sister and I were kids. and they’re pretty cheerful around the house.

    Great scans, by the way, as usual…. thanks.

  3. My grandmother had a parakeet named Petie when I was little, in the early 60’s. She lived in an apartment in Chicago, and she kept his cage in the dining room and would let him out regularly to fly around (that didn’t bother me when I was 5, but now it’s a little disburbing). Petie didn’t like anyone but my grandmother, so we all cowered in fear as he flew around her apartment. My mom, in particular, was terrorized because she had one of those 60’s beehive hairdos, and Petie would land on her head everytime.

    The article brought back great memories, Gene, thanks!

  4. When I was a kid, they used to sell budgies and canaries at the five and dime, along with little turtles, At Easter time they would sell dyed chicks and ducks. This brings back the memories. You would think that I am in my seventies, but I am only 51. Seems like a century ago though. Thanks Gene.

  5. As a parrot enthusiast (I’ve had companion parrots for 10 years now) and a graphic designer by profession I got a pretty good kick and giggle at these old ads. Birds are definitely not for everyone, but those of use that love them are nuts for them. Thankfully our knowledge of caring for them has grown beyond the basic seed in a dish and a canary kept in a way too small cage ideals.

    Enjoyed the imagery though!

  6. I remember finding a record like the one shown in the third picture at my grand parents house. My grandmother explained that my aunt had a parrot when she was a little girl (late 50s) and while she was at school she would leave the record playing all day on the record player for the parrot to hear. Apparently, the bird never learned to talk but after a week of this my work-at-home grandfather had his fill. The bird went but for some reason they kept the record……

  7. My grandmother had a parakeet named Petie when I was little, in the early 60’s. She lived in an apartment in Chicago, and she kept his cage in the dining room and would let him out regularly to fly around (that didn’t bother me when I was 5, but now it’s a little disburbing). Petie didn’t like anyone but my grandmother, so we all cowered in fear as he flew around her apartment. My mom, in particular, was terrorized because she had one of those 60’s beehive hairdos, and Petie would land on her head everytime.
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