Parrots as Pets in the 1700 and 1800s

Birds have been kept as pets as for thousands of years, and, parrots, in particular were one of the most prized of all the caged birds because of their colorful plumage and their ability to imitate human speech. In fact, parrots magnetized people of the 1700 and 1800s to the point, they wanted to capture and subjugate them to their will. The more exotic and rarer the parrot, the greater the desire by bird fanciers to possess them.

Parrots: Top to bottom: Leadbeater Cockatoo, Scarlet Lory, Green Parrot,and African Parrot

Top to bottom: Leadbeater cockatoo, scarlet lory, green parrot, and African parrot. Author’s collection.

Among those who kept parrots and had a great passion for them in the 1700s was Madame du Barry, mistress to Louis XV. There was also a friend of the princesse de Lamballe, marquise de Lage de Volude, who could be found promenading in a portrait by French painter Louis Carrogis Carmontelle that showed her “in a beautiful garden with her pet parrot, then a fashionably exotic accessory and symbol of fidelity.”[1]

The marquise de Lage de Volude by French painter Louis Carrogis Carmontelle. Public domain.

As parrots became more available, bird fanciers came to desire the birds for more than their plumage or speaking skills. Author Alfred Edmund Brehm, who wrote Bird-life, noted that the caged bird’s popularity occurred because its owner “experiences the deepest pleasure … a pleasure which reaches his inmost soul. His only object in keeping his little friend in confinement is to be thoroughly and intimately acquainted with it.”[2]

Another advantage to having a caged parrot over other birds in the 1700 and 1800s was there were numberless varieties of these birds. Varieties introduced into Britain in the 1700s and 1800s included the African (Grey) parrot, Amazon parrot, cardinal parrot, green parrot of Trinidad, Illinois parrot, king parrot, Lory, and Morton-bay parrot. Some of these parrots go by different names today. For example, the Variegated or Ceram Lory is now called the Blue-Eared Lory and the Moreton-Bay parrot is now known as a Pale-headed Rosella.

One similarity of all the caged parrots was the wide variety of foods they ate. Diets of captive parrots in the 1700 and 1800s consisted primarily of “nuts, grains, and seeds … [and] now, and then, white bread well soaked with fresh boiled milk.”[3] Moreover, parrots were long living birds. One book on keeping pets parrots in 1851 reported:

“[S]ome of them have been kept tame about forty years, and instances have been known of domesticated parrots attaining to the age of eight years. Le Vaillant, the African traveller, mentions having seen a grey parrot ninety three years of age; but the poor bird was quite feeble, and had lost both sight and memory.”[4]

However, just as there were many similarities in parrots, there were also a few prominent differences. These differences are listed below:

African (Gray) Parrot – The nine-inch long African parrot was a pearl-gray or slate-colored bird whose “head, neck and under parts … [were] edged with … greyish white [feathers].” It was a native of Guinea or Africa and sported a short tail “of fine vermilion … [and] superior powers of articulation.”[5]

African (Gray) Parrot, Author's Collection

African (gray) parrot. Author’s collection.

Amazon Parrot – The Amazon Parrot was a New World bird and one of the most common and popular parrots. This was because the Amazon could be easily tamed and was adept at speaking. Additionally, it required less attention than other parrots. It had a green body, “with a yellowish tint on the back and belly.”[6] Its beak was black, its iris golden-yellow, and between its eyes it was bluish colored with the throat feathers edged in cerulean green.

Cardinal Parrot – There were several varieties of this parrot in England but one of the better known varieties was about twelve inches long and described has having a violet colored head, “intermixed with a blue and red tint: the throat is black, and the neck is encircled with a black collar-like band. The back is of a peach colour; the upper part of  the body of a dark green, [and] the under parts being of a much lighter tint.”[7] This parrot was not the easiest to train and usually never spoke more than a few words.

Green Parrot of Trinidad – Of all the parrots mentioned, this parrot had the greatest difficulty in the cold and bird fanciers were cautioned to keep it warm. It was a colorful parrot with a dark green body, small red head, and pinion feathers of red and blue.

Parrots - Rosille or Purple Parrot

Rosille or purple parrot. Author’s collection.

Illinois Parrot – The Illinois Parrot was a somewhat intelligent and well-known bird. It was a colorful golden green bird with cheeks, forehead, and throat of brilliant orange. It also sported a light grey beak, an eye encircled with grey tinted skin, and an orange iris. Females could be identified by their deep yellow foreheads, and, although not a good talker, this bird was very social. It was also noted to thrive in pairs and to develop a deep attachment to its mate, so much so, that if any accident happened to one of the birds, the other rarely survived long afterwards.

King Parrot – This parrot was one of the largest species of parrots in the British Isles and endemic to Australia. It had green wings that were lighter towards the center and a red colored body. It could be easily taught to imitate the human voice or whistle, and, similar to the green parrot from Trinidad, it needed to be sheltered from the cold.

Lory – This bird came in four varieties: Variegated or Ceram Lory, Blue Mountain or Blue-Capped Lory, Rosille or Purple Parrot, and the Shelly Lory or Shell Parrot. The Variegated Lory, about ten inches in length, was best known for its beautiful plumage. The Blue Mountain Lory was larger and finer than the Variegated Lory. It was also a docile and easily tamed bird that was a fluent talker and highly delicate requiring more care than most parrots. The Rosille Parrot had a wild nature, an unusual chirp, and was difficult to train. It was also about the size of a dove, came from New South Wales, and was delicate, similar to the Blue Mountain Lory. The Shell Lory was a new species in the 1800s and described as “exceedingly beautiful.” It was best kept in pairs and was noted to develop a strong attachment to its mate.

Parrots - Variegated or Ceram Lory, Author's Collection

Variegated or ceram lory. Author’s collection.

Moreton-Bay Parrot – This bird was a scare, moderate sized parrot that could not be missed as it had a “rich golden hue, and … a peculiarly splendid appearance.”[8]

References:

  • [1] Grant, Sarah, Female Portraiture and Patronage in Marie-Antoinette’s Court, 2019, p. 62.
  • [2] Brehm, Alfred Edmund, Bird-life, 1874, p. 458.
  • [3] The Parrot-Keeper’s Guide, by an Experience Dealer, 1851, p. 16.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 9-10.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 17.
  • [6] Ibid., p. 18.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 19.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 20.

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