THE CARE OF PETS





Cats--Boxes for song birds--How to attract the birds--Tame crows--The

pigeon fancier--Ornamental land and water fowl--Rabbits, guinea pigs,

rats and mice--How to build coops--General rules for pets--The dog





In this chapter on pets, I regret exceedingly that I cannot say much

in favour of the family cat. Like nearly all children, I was brought

up to love kittens and to admire their playful, cunning ways. When a

kitten becomes a cat my love for it ceases. Cats will do so many mean,

dishonourable things, and will catch so many song birds and so few

rats and mice that it simply has become a question whether we shall

like the song birds or the cat. So many people do like cats that it is

unfair perhaps to condemn the whole race for the misdeeds of a few. If

a cat is carefully watched or if we put a bell on its neck, these

precautions will to a certain extent keep the cat from catching birds,

but most people have something better to do than to act as guardian

for a cat. The fact is that a cat is a stupid animal seldom showing

any real affection or loyalty for its owner and possessing but little

intelligence. It is very difficult to teach a cat even the simplest

tricks. We never know when a cat will turn on its best friend. They

have the "tiger" instinct of treachery. A cat which one minute is

contentedly purring on our lap may sink its claws into us the next.



The only way to force a cat to catch mice is to keep it half starved.

Then instead of catching mice, it will probably go after birds if

there are any in the neighbourhood. I have shut a cat up in a room

with a mouse and it is doubtful whether the cat or the mouse were the

more frightened. The cat does more damage to the song birds of this

country than any other enemy they have. If kept at home and well fed,

cats sometimes become so fat and stupid that they will not molest

birds but this is due to laziness and not to any good qualities in the

cat. In normal condition they are natural hunters.



The habits of a cat are unclean, its unearthly cries at night are

extremely disagreeable and altogether it is a nuisance. A famous

naturalist, Shaler, once said "A cat is the only animal that has been

tolerated, esteemed and at times worshipped without having a single

distinctly valuable quality."



A few years ago a quail had a nest under a rock opposite my house.

Quail raise their young like poultry rather than like robins or wrens

or the other song birds. As soon as the tiny quail chicks are hatched,

the mother takes them around like a hen with a brood of chickens. This

mother quail was my especial care and study. She became so tame that I

could feed her. Finally she hatched out ten tiny brown balls of

feathers. Our cat had been watching her, too, but not from the same

motives and one day the cat came home with the mother quail in her

mouth. She ran under the porch just out of reach and calmly ate it.

The little brood were too small to look out for themselves so of

course they all died or fell an easy victim to other cats. The mother

was probably an easy prey because in guarding the young, a quail will

pretend to have a broken wing and struggle along to attract attention

to her and away from her little ones, who scurry to high grass for

safety. I have never been very friendly to cats since I witnessed this

episode.



It has been estimated that the average domestic cat kills an average

of one song bird a day during the season when the birds are with us.

In certain sections a cat has been known to destroy six nests of

orioles, thrushes and bobolinks in a single day. The worst offenders

are cats that live around barns and old houses in a half wild

condition. Many people who say they "haven't the heart to kill a cat"

will take it away from home and drop it along the road. A thoughtless

act like this may mean the death of a hundred birds in that

neighbourhood. It takes less heart to kill the cat than to kill the

birds. So much for the cat.



[Illustration: A bird house]



Birds make splendid pets, but in keeping them in captivity, we must be

sure that we are not violating the game laws of the state we live in.

Nearly everywhere it is unlawful to keep in cages any native song

birds or those that destroy harmful insects--the so-called

"insectivorous birds." This includes thrushes, wrens, robins,

bluebirds, orioles or, in fact, practically all birds but crows,

blackbirds and kingfishers. It does not cover canaries, parrots, or

any birds that are not native. It is an excellent law and every boy or

girl should act as a special policeman to see that his friends and

companions do not molest either birds or their nests. It is cruel to

cage a wild bird anyway for a cage is nothing but a prison. There is

no law against taming the birds or making friends of them and after

all this is the most satisfactory way.



If we build houses for the birds to nest in, provide feed for them and

in other ways do what we can to attract them, they will soon learn

that we are their friends. We must study their habits and always avoid

frightening them. Next to a cat, the worst enemies of our song birds

are the English sparrows. A sparrow is always fair game for the boy

with a slingshot or rifle. In many places these sparrows have driven

practically all the other birds out of the neighbourhood, have robbed

their nests and in other ways have shown themselves to be a public

nuisance. Until 1869 there were no sparrows in this country and now

they are more numerous than any other variety of birds, and sooner or

later, the Government will have to take steps to exterminate them or

we shall have no song birds at all.



The usual size of a bird house is six inches square and about eight

inches high. It should always be made of old weather-beaten boards in

order not to frighten away its prospective tenants by looking like a

trap of some kind. The chances are that the sparrows will be the

first birds to claim a house unless we keep a close watch and drive

them away.



One way to keep them out is to make the entrance doorway too small for

them to enter. A hole an inch in diameter will admit a wren or

chickadee and bar out a sparrow, but it will also keep out most of the

other birds. The usual doorway should be two inches in diameter. It is

surprising how soon after we build our bird house we find a tiny pair

making their plans to occupy it and to take up housekeeping. Sometimes

this will happen the same day the bird house is set up. Always provide

some nesting material near at hand; linen or cotton thread,

ravellings, tow, hair and excelsior are all good. Of course we must

not attempt to build the nest. No one is skillful enough for that.



Nearly all of our native birds are migratory, that is they go south

for the winter. The date that we may look for them to return is almost

the same year after year. Some few birds--bluebirds, robins, cedar

birds and song sparrows will stay all winter if it is mild but as a

rule we must not expect the arrival of the feathered songsters until

March. The phoebe bird is about the first one we shall see.



In April look for the brown thrasher, catbird, wren, barn, eave and

tree swallows, martins, king birds and chipping sparrows. In May the

principal birds of our neighbourhood will return--thrushes, vireos,

tanagers, grosbeaks, bobolinks, orioles. The game birds--quail,

partridge, meadowlarks and pheasants do not migrate as a rule. At

least they do not disappear for a time and then return. When they

leave a neighbourhood, they rarely come back to it.



All the song birds begin nesting in May. Consequently we should have

our bird houses "ready for occupancy" May 1st. It will take about

twelve days for most birds to hatch their eggs. Some varieties will

hatch three broods in a season, but two is the usual rule.



We shall require a great deal of patience to tame the wild birds. Some

bird lovers have succeeded in teaching birds to feed from their hands.

A wild bird that is once thoroughly frightened can probably never be

tamed again.



A crow is a very interesting pet. Crows are especially tamable and may

be allowed full liberty around the dooryard. We must get a young one

from the nest just before it is ready to fly. Crows are great thieves

and are attracted by bright objects. If you have a tame crow, and if

any member of your household misses jewellery or thimbles you had

better look in the crows' nest before you think that burglars have

been around.



The chief difference between tamed wild animals, such as squirrels,

birds, owls, foxes, crows and so on, and the domesticated animals and

birds, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigeons and chickens, lies in

the possibility with the latter of modifying nature and breeding for

certain special markings, colours or size. All breeds of chickens from

the little bantams to the enormous Brahmas have been bred from a wild

species of chicken found in India and called the jungle fowl.



All the great poultry shows held throughout the country annually are

for the purpose of exhibiting the most perfectly marked specimens of

the breeders' skill. This is decided by judges who award prizes. The

competition is sometimes very keen. In barred Plymouth Rock chickens,

for example, there are sometimes a hundred birds entered to compete

for a single prize. The breeders are called fanciers. The principal

breeders of certain animals such as rabbits, pigeons or poultry, form

an association or club and agree to an imaginary type of the animal

called the ideal or "Standard of Perfection."



For example, the breeders of white fantail pigeons agree that perfect

birds shall be of certain shape and size, with the head resting on the

back just at the base of the tail; the tail should be spread out like

a fan and contain at least twenty-eight feathers. These feathers

should be laced on the ends. The model fantail should have a nervous

jerky motion and never be at rest. Each of these points is given a

certain value on a scale of marking and in judging the birds they are

marked just as you may be in your lessons at school. The fancier tries

to breed a bird that comes the nearest to this model. The prizes are

sometimes of great value.



There is an enormous list of breeds in nearly all varieties of animals

and poultry. In pigeons alone there are carriers, pouters, tumblers,

baldheads, beards, dragoons, barbs, jacobins, Antwerps, turbits, owls,

orientals, damoscenes, capuchins, fantails, trumpeters, swifts,

Lahores, Burmese, Scandaroons, magpies, nuns, Archangels, runts and so

on.



These birds are very different in appearance, the pouter, for example,

has the power of inflating his crop until it puffs out in front as

large as a baseball. Jacobins or as they are commonly called,

"ruffle-necks," have an immense ruffle of feathers like a feather boa.

Dragoons have a huge wart on the bill as large as an almond. The

tumblers are so named from their habit of turning backward

somersaults during flight.



Almost every one who starts keeping domestic pets either soon tires of

the sport or becomes a fancier. The care of common pigeons is a very

simple matter. The principal thing is a good loft or cote for them in

the top of a barn or house. They will practically take care of

themselves and after a few years greatly increase in numbers.



A model pigeon house for breeding fancy pigeons requires separate

mating boxes, nests and other appliances. It would be impossible to

make much of a success with fancy pigeons if they are allowed their

liberty to fly about and mate at will.



The best nest boxes for pigeons are rough earthenware pans, eight

inches across, which may be bought cheaply at a bird store. The floor

of the cote should be covered with sawdust or gravel to the depth of

half an inch. Pigeons that are confined should be fed regularly on a

mixture of small grains and cracked corn. They should also be given

cracked oyster shells, grit and charcoal occasionally. A pigeon loft

should be rat proof and clean.



It is very doubtful whether there is any money in raising pigeons or

squabs for market. Fanciers never sell their output for market

purposes unless it is to get rid of surplus or undesirable stock. A

breeder who is successful in winning prizes with birds of his "strain"

as it is called will find a ready market with other breeders for all

the birds he cares to sell. Prize winning birds sometimes bring a

hundred dollars a pair. It is by no means easy to breed prizewinners

and the chances are that the beginner will be a buyer of stock rather

than a seller.



Homing pigeons or as they are commonly called, carriers, are not bred

for special markings like fancy pigeons but because of their power and

speed in flight. A carrier has the "homing" instinct more fully

developed than any other animal. In some homing pigeon races, the

birds have made speed records of over a mile a minute for many hours

and have flown over a thousand miles. If a well-bred homing pigeon

fails to return to his home loft it is almost a certainty that he is

either forcibly detained or that he has been killed by hunters or

hawks. Never try to capture a pigeon that may stop for a rest at your

loft. He may be in a race and his owner may be waiting for his return

five hundred miles away when every minute counts in winning a prize.



Another large class of birds that make fine pets although they are not

strictly in the class of birds bred by the fancier are the ornamental

land and water fowl. The chief objection to these birds as pets is the

expense of buying them. The list of birds in this class is very large.

In swans the leading varieties are mute, American whistling, black

Australian, white Berwick and black-necked swans. The largest class

are the pheasants. They are exceedingly beautiful, especially the

golden, silver, Lady Amherst, Elliott, Reeves, green Japanese,

Swinhoe, English ring neck, Melanotis, and Torquatis pheasants. The

common wild geese are Egyptian, Canadian, white-fronted, Sebastopol,

snow, brant, bar-headed, spin-winged and many others. In ducks, there

are mallards, black, wood, mandarin, blue and green winged teal,

widgeon, redhead, pin-tail, bluebill, gadwell, call and many others.

Beside pheasants, ducks and geese there are also the various storks,

cranes, pea-fowl and herons in the "ornamental fowl" list.



These are all wild fowl. The commoner varieties will cost from six to

fifteen dollars a pair and the rare ones several hundred. To keep the

semi-wild birds from flying away they are usually pinioned, a process

of taking off the end joint of one wing. The colours of some of the

ornamental fowl are more beautiful than any birds in nature. Pheasants

especially are easily cared for and make interesting pets. They can

be tamed and if kept outdoors they will seldom be subject to disease.

Most of these birds are as easily cared for as chickens.



[Illustration: A home-made rabbit house]



Rabbits make fine pets for boys and girls. They are clean in their

habits, hardy and gentle. The common kinds are white rabbits with pink

eyes or albinos, and brown rabbits or Belgian hares. With rabbits also

there is a "fancy." The Fur Fanciers' Association recognizes the

following distinct breeds: Belgians, Flemish giants, Dutch marked,

English, Himalayan, silvers, tans, Polish, lops, and Angoras.



A rabbit hutch or coop is easily built from old packing boxes. One

third of the coop should be darkened and made into a nest, with an

entrance door outside and the rest simply covered with a wire front,

also with a door for cleaning and feeding. The hutch should stand on

legs above ground as rabbits do not thrive well in dampness. They

will, however, live out all winter in a dry place. A box four feet

long and two feet wide will hold a pair of rabbits nicely. Rabbits

will become very tame and may often be allowed full liberty about the

place if there are no dogs to molest them.



The drawing shows a standard type of rabbit hutch. A boy who is handy

with tools can easily build one. We can always dispose of the increase

in our rabbit family to friends or to dealers.



Guinea pigs or cavies are similar to rabbits in their requirements.

The chief difference is that guinea pigs cannot stand excessive cold

and will not do well if kept outside in severe winter weather. Rabbits

and cavies will eat almost anything and eat constantly. The usual feed

is hay, clover, wheat, corn, carrots, turnips, cabbage, lettuce,

celery, potato parings, or any green food or grains. Cavies are

especially fond of bread and milk.



The three classes of cavies are Peruvians or Angoras, with long silky

hair; Abyssinians, with coarse hair in tufts or rosettes, and the

common guinea pig or smooth, cavy. A pair of cavies will cost about

two dollars. A dry airy cellar is a good place to keep them as they

are cleanly in their habits. Neither cavies nor rabbits are especially

intelligent but they do learn to know their master or at least the one

who feeds them. Pet rats and mice are in the same class as rabbits but

they should always have a coop that they will not gnaw out of. There

is even a mouse club. It is in Europe and has over a thousand members.



An interesting example of skill in breeding is seen in Dutch belted

varieties of cattle, in hogs, rabbits, cavies and mice. In all of

these animals the same markings have been bred by careful crossing and

selection. In all lines of "fancy" it is important to stick to a few

varieties. We shall never make much of a success if we have half a

dozen kinds of chickens, pigeons or rabbits. By far the most important

"fancy" is with chickens, but this subject will be considered in the

chapter on the care of poultry.



Among other pets are tame squirrels, turtles, snakes, lizards and

toads. A tame gray squirrel makes a splendid pet. After a while we can

give our squirrel full liberty and find him back in his nest at night.

I once had a tame owl but I found that because of his habit of flying

and feeding at night he was a very stupid pet. Besides that his

powerful beak and sharp claws or talons were dangerous. I also once

had a pair of flying squirrels but they also only appear at night and

were consequently uninteresting in the daytime. We must always study

the natural habits of our pets and try to give them coops and food as

much like nature as possible. My flying squirrels were given soft feed

in place of the usual hard-shelled nuts. Consequently their teeth grew

so long that they were a positive deformity. We finally liberated them

but before they could get to a place of safety one of them was caught

and killed by a chicken. The poor little creature was so fat from

overfeeding and lack of exercise that he had all but lost the power of

using his legs.



Coops for pets may be as elaborate as our pocketbook will allow. The

important things to remember are to construct a coop so that it may be

cleaned easily, and to provide plenty of ventilation. It must also be

dry. Fresh air is as important for animals as for people. The larger

we can make a coop, the better it will be. Be careful not to overfeed

pets. Regular and frequent meals of just what they will eat up clean

is better than an occasional big meal. Rabbits require very little

water. Usually they will obtain enough moisture from the green food

they eat. It is a mistake, however, to think that water will kill

rabbits. Change the straw in the nest boxes frequently. When they make

fur nests do not disturb them.



For squirrels and other small animals, the coop may be made entirely

of wire except the baseboard, which should be a piece of seasoned

wood. Be sure that there are no sharp wire points or projecting nails

in a coop to injure the animals.



The whole secret of taming wild creatures is patience. We must try to

show them that we are their friends. The most direct way to an

animal's heart is through his stomach, which is another way of saying

that the owner should personally feed his own pets if he wishes them

to know him.



There is really no reason why a country boy or girl should have any

caged pets at all. In the city it is different. Perhaps the best pet

for the unnatural conditions of city life is a canary. The real spirit

to develop a love for the little creatures that inhabit our woods and

fields is to feel that they are our friends rather than that they are

prisoners. By all means cultivate the acquaintance of your "small

country neighbours."





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