Aviculture

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The study of companion birds. In SCA usage, "aviculture" refers to medieval aviculture which is the study of companion birds in the SCA period.

Companion birds are almost always members of one of these three orders of birds: Psittacines, Passeriformes, and Columbiformes. According to Biya's "Aviculture in the Middle Ages and Current Middle Ages," "Passeriformes includes finches, canaries, sparrows, and most song birds (but also includes crows and ravens). Columbiformes are pigeons and doves, the distinction between has more to do with the beak than shape of body or size. Whereas Psittacines are better known as parrots—or popinjays as they were called in Europe until the early Renaissance when the word “parrot” came into use."


In medieval Europe, the popinjays kept in aviculture and available to the most people all belonged to genus Psittacula: Alexandrine parakeets, African ring neck parakeets (from Egypt), Indian ring neck parakeets, and plum head parakeets. Except for the African ring neck parakeet, all of these birds originate from India. More rare were African grey (Congo and/or Timneh) parrots. The most famous African grey in medieval Europe belonged to Henry VIII.

Rarer than the African Grey to Europeans was the Indonesian cockatoo received by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1229 as a gift from the sultan of Babylon and described in detail, but not accurately illuminated in his "Art of Falconry". Frederick attributed his prized parrot to Indian origin since it was common knowledge that "all parrots" come from India.

What he was not aware of and could not know was that from as late as the Tang dynasty (618-960 CE), Chinese sailors had explored the south pacific, bringing the treasures of animals, plants, and spices back to Chang An (modern Xi An) to the great capital for the glory of the Chinese emperor. In Indonesia, the Chinese found parrots--feathered gold. Eclectus, palm cockatoos, sulfur crested cockatoos of all sizes and many species, Goffin cockatoos, Moluccan cockatoos (named for the Indonesian islands they call home), and of course, the beautiful umbrella cockatoo that might have been the species Frederick received.

The Chinese brought these beautiful parrots back to China and, with time, brought many of them into Chinese aviculture. Almost immediately, white cockatoos (which describe many of the cockatoo species listed) became sacred birds in Buddhism. Neo-confucian and Buddhist stories transformed to include the noble cockatoo. A culture was changed!

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