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The Bullfinch

Look at the bright colours of this beautiful little bird: you can

scarcely find one with prettier plumage or a sweeter note. His native

song is not very remarkable, but he is so docile, and so readily taught

to whistle different airs, that he is highly valued. Bullfinches are

common enough in our woods and gardens, but gardeners are sad enemies to

these little birds, declaring that they spoil trees by picking off their

buds. It is, however, now thought by intelligent persons that the only

buds destroyed by the bullfinch are those infested with insects, so that

he really confers a benefit on us instead of doing mischief. Almost all

the piping bullfinches as they are called, kept in cages in this

country, are brought from Germany, where much care is devoted to their

instruction in the art of music. In their education the following method

is pursued. "The birds are taken from the nests of wild ones when about

ten days old, and are brought up by a person who is very kind and

attentive to them, so that they very soon grow gentle and tame. As soon

as they begin to whistle their studies commence, they being then about

two months' old. Formed into classes of six or so, they are kept a

little while hungry and in the dark, whilst the tune they are to learn

is played over to them on a bird-organ, which has a sort of bird-like

note. Over and over again the same air is repeated, until, one by one,

the birds begin to imitate what they hear. Directly they do this, light

is admitted, and they have a little food given to them. By this means

the birds learn to think of the tune and their dinners at the same

time, and directly they hear the organ will begin to whistle. They are

then turned over to the care of boys, whose sole business it is to go on

with their education, each boy having a separate bird placed under his

charge, and he plays away from morning to night, or as long as the birds

can pay attention, during which time their first teacher, or feeder,

goes his rounds, scolding or rewarding his feathered scholars by signs

and modes which he has taught them to understand, until they become so

perfect, and the tune, whatever it may be, so imprinted on their memory,

that they will pipe it for the remainder of their lives."

Bullfinches that are perfect in their song, are worth a great deal of

money. Both the male and female sing, but the colours of the male are

the brightest. These birds, however, in confinement, lose their

brilliancy of hue, and, from growing duskier and duskier, sometimes

become entirely black, as if putting on mourning for their lost liberty.

The same change has been observed in a bird which lost its mate to whom

it had been tenderly attached. It is principally for its power of

imitation and memory that this bird is prized. His wild notes, when

loud, are not particularly sweet, but at times are very soft and


I will conclude with a pretty and affecting little story of a piping

bullfinch that once belonged to Sir William Parsons. When young he was a

great musician, and had taught his bullfinch to sing "God Save the

King." On going abroad, he committed his feathered friend to the care of

his sister, with many injunctions to be watchful of its health and


On his return she told him the little bird had seemed pining away, and

was then very ill. Grieved to hear this news, Sir William went at once

to the room where it was kept, and, putting his hand into the cage,

called the little creature. It knew the voice of the dear master for

whom it had so pined and, opening its eyes and shaking its disordered

feathers, as if to do him honour, staggered on to his finger, piped "God

Save the King," and then fell dead.