Although it is generally thought that bird-keepinq started in prehistory by the keeping of fowl domesticated for food, the first instances of aviculture appear to have occurred in Egypt two thousand to twenty-five hundred years ago. Prior to that, aviculture was merely the keeping of birds trapped or hunted and waiting to be eaten and no efforts toward captive breeding were documented.
Red Junglefowl (Gallus gal/us), the ancestor of our modern poultry, were rare in ancient Egypt, brought to that country by traders from Asia. They were kept, not for food or eggs, but as pets, often shown in tomb paintings in fowl yards with other geese, ducks and ibis.
The Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus), a large black-and-white marsh bird, was considered the manifestation of the god Thoth. More than 1.5 million ibis mummies were found in the funerary city of Sakkara, near Cairo, dating back to the Greco-Roman period of ancient Egyptian history. The mummies were fetishes, purchased from priests and used as offerings to the gods. But while there were millions of mummies, carefully wound in linen, there was never any indication that the wild Sacred Ibis population was affected. But there is evidence that these birds were bred in captivity, with bird keepers using beehive-shaped ovens to artificially incubate their eggs. These ovens were used well into the 19th century to incubate poultry and pigeons and they can still be seen in Egypt today, though they are not used.
Other birds raised in captivity by the ancient Egyptians were Ostriches (Struthio came/us) (though they were mostly hunted and raised mostly for plumes and eggs), various waterfowl, hawks and the most sacred bird of all, the "Horus Falcon;' probably a Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug). By medieval times, birds were regularly kept and bred for food, for falconry and as cage birds, though mostly for the upper classes.
As the Age of Exploration commenced at the end of the Middle Ages, explorers brought to Europe wonderful birds from the Americas, Africa and Asia. Many of these were kept in garden aviaries and, of course, some bred there, although the records are spotty and inconsistent. The new scientific methods of categorizing specimens of adult birds, nestlings, nests and eggs encouraged collecting and exhibiting but rarely breeding.
Moving toward modern times, birds and animals from far-off places were increasingly traded, bought and sold to be shown off in new zoological gardens and extensive private collections. Canaries were established as household pets long before this and, of course, poultry birds such as chickens, ducks, turkeys and guineafowl had long been established as domesticated.
John Gould, the great bird illustrator and describer, brought the first Budgies (Melopsittacus undulates) to Europe in 1840 and by 1863 they were breeding as readily as canaries (Hopkinson 1926, pg 100). The period of time from roughly 1800 to 1920 saw first breedings of nowcommon birds such as Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) (1903), Gouldian Finches (Ch/oebia gou/diae) (1893), Indian Hill Mynahs (Gracu/a religiosa)(l 909), Blue and Gold Macaws (Ara arauna) (1833), African Grey Parrots (Psittacus eritacus) (1822) and Peach-faced Lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollus) (1873).
The rise of the indoor planted aviaries seen in European Zoos and eventually in....
Hopkinson, Emilius, 1926. Records of Birds Bred in Captivity H.F. & G. Witherby, Holborn, Great Britain
Scientific names from:
Clements, James F. 2000. Birds of the World: A Checklist Ibis Publishing Co. Vista, CA.