Friday, August 24, 2012

Carrie Nation

Way back in the seventies, when we lived in Mentor and the girls were little, we had birds.  Beth and Shelly  each had a parakeet, I had a canary, and we all had the finch.  We also had cats, so all the bird cages were suspended from a hook in the ceiling.  Our plants were similarly suspended, in front of windows.  My Uncle Hank said he didn't understand how my entire ceiling didn't land on the floor.  Like I didn't know about mollie bolts.  The folks who bought the house certainly had a job fishing those little devices from the drywall.  Perhaps they replaced the ceiling.

The girls each had a name for their birds; the canary’s name was Harry, but the finch just didn’t suit herself to a name.  She was The Finch.  One evening she didn’t look well.  Puny and unhappy.  Jan and I looked in the encyclopedia and pet books we had, and decided she was dying.  We put her in a shoe box with a blanket and a light bulb for warmth, and sat up half the night keeping her warm and giving her water.  In the middle of midnight she laid an egg. 

I went straight to the pet store in the morning and learned as much as I could about taking care of a finch who laid eggs.  At their recommendation I also brought home another finch, extensions for the cage and a nesting box.

The Finch kept laying eggs on the bottom of the cage, and she did not take kindly to the second finch.  She pecked him into a corner and pretty much kept him there.  We named her Carrie Nation, and listened to two finches who each had much to complain of.  Then one day the eggs weren’t on the bottom of the cage, they were in the nesting box.  Carrie Nation settled in on them and the other finch came out of the corner and spelled her.  He was a good father, too, and did his share of baby tending and baby feeding.  There is nothing noisier than hungry baby finches in the kitchen!

When the little finches were big enough I took them to the pet store and traded them for a lot of bird seed.  Carrie Nation sent the other finch back into his corner.  But after some time the two of them were busy tidying up the nesting box. There was a new clutch of eggs, Carrie Nation settled in and the other finch did his job.

The pet store was very nice about taking baby finches back, but I felt a little guilty, and distributed a few around the neighborhood, too.  My next door neighbor, Mary, was happy to take one.  Mary is Christina’s mother.  Their finch lived happily in a corner of their family room for several months and then one morning they found him on the cage floor, dead.  Mary was very distressed, but her husband was very suspicious.  It was a young finch in good health when they went to bed.  Mauricio called the gas company.

Their furnace was leaking carbon monoxide!  Mary was several months pregnant with April at the time, and the whole family could have died of carbon monoxide poisoning without the warning they got from that little finch’s life and death.

Mary and Mauricio took another baby finch from Carrie Nation’s next brood of babies.  That little finch lived a normal finch life for several years.  Carrie Nation did the same.  We took the nesting box away, Carrie Nation kept the other finch away, and eventually he passed away, leaving her queen of the cage for the rest of her years.


  1. I loved this!! We had a parakeet, "Charlie" who had an extensive vocabulary...he never saved anyone's life.

  2. Awww... and more awwwww. Plus some awe for your tremendous and charming and wonderful storytelling skills.
    I'm swooning with happiness.

  3. I loved this story...perhaps I should tell my rescue pigeons this tale?
    Jane x

  4. Loved this blog. I love birds....had a parakeet named Chauncy once. Now I just feed about 20 hummingbirds.

  5. I just read in the paper about house finches! They have only been found in Minnesota in the last 25 years. They are native to the west coast but were sold as pets in NY in the 1940's. "Pet store owners there learned of an impending federal raid and released the birds." They eventually spread westward and probably reached Ohio some years before they got here.

    1. I remember reading that, too. That's how we got "house finches" frequenting our feeders, along with the gold finches.

  6. I loved this blog! I have had my little Zebra finches for fifteen years now. I think we're on the fifth generation from our original Peter and Polly. They have such character and are unendingly cheerful! Love them!

  7. Interesting post. Birds can be good company and it sounds like your finches felt right at home with you. Talk about being saved by the canary in the mine shaft. Too bad the little bird had to give his life to save his family.

    We have plenty of wild house finches here. They're the ones who come to my bird feeder the most. And you're right they're noisy and quarrelsome.

  8. I also loved this, and it brought back memories. My mother had a cockatoo. My father built a very large aviary for it. The cockatoo chewed his way out and became a free ranging bird. He liked to wander along the roof line throwing leaf litter out of the gutter onto people walking underneath. Some two years after that he took to laying eggs off the roof. He had been a 'he' to us for so long we never adjusting to calling him, her. And he never showed the remotest sign of broodiness. Off the roof the eggs went every time.
    Thank you so much for this post.

  9. This story was so wonderful I could almost have a bird but my cats would scare it to death I think my one cat Betty can open cabinet doors so I am sure she would somehow learn to open a bird cage. So lucky about the finch carbon monoxide detector, didn't they use canaries in mines to see if it was safe for the miners?

  10. Oh my goodness, that story about the carbon monoxide! :( I know that miners used to take canaries down the mine with them and if the bird died it meant there was a problem with the air.

  11. What a wonderful story. I love the finches that we have here, outside. I've never kept birds. couldn't bear to see them in cages.