Ravens, pigeons and Dodo birds


ravens bring plaguetower raventsOne day about 1610 I ended up with about 30 ravens that were sent by the monks of the church in Ravenna Italy which my 'home theatre' was modeled after. (Read about it on this page.) They were hand raised so they were very tame. They were sent to me as a promotion for the churches export of pet ravens. I had no idea what I could to do to increase their sales which almost didn't exist. They knew I was importing exotic products from the orient and they thought I should also be able to sell their raven's. Ravenna was renown during the middle ages for breeding and training intelligent, large and friendly ravens.

One problem was that all ravens stopped getting good press in the 1400's because of the plague which caused ravens to become associated with death. They were so smart that they were the first birds that knew when a plague victim who was laying on the ground was fully dead, even before most people knew. Ravens would go stand near or directly  on the bodies to see if there was something to eat. Or to feel for life including breathing. Since they were seen with the victims it formed their association with death as the picture of the well dress raven (left) will attest to if you click on it. 
Many Europeans thought they actually brought death. Since I can't read what the drawing says on it I don't know if the picture shows the raven bringing death or if it is just a messenger of death. In any case by the early 1500's ravens had mostly fallen out of favor as pets in Europe. So the church could not sell many pet ravens and some years they sold none at all.

The French were the exception. They had a morbid fascination with death and often still bought pet ravens from that church directly. I just plain couldn't sell any of those birds. I sent a letter to the head of the Ravenna church and asked him if he wanted me to send them back. He said no 'we have far too many as it is'.

Since they had been raised by hand I could not let them go or they would certainly starve to death. They might figure out what was edible but so would the local dogs and being sheltered from birth they knew next to nothing about dogs. I knew people would fall in love with them once they got to know them as I had. They really had great personalities (but they were totally immoral) and everyone of them was very different, even more so than people are.

I had some crates that had the kings crest on them. They had been old crates that King James had used to send us something in. I used them to ship those pesky ravens to the Tower in.

Then I wrote a note that said something like this:
  'You must take good care of the crown's birds least the kingdom might fall.' I knew the two warders that could read were very superstitious and would believe what the note said. 

Re-read the sentence, there is no connection between taking care of the ravens and the kingdom falling, is there? It doesn't say that, it just sounds like it. The warders just read too much into it as I knew they would. There was also no connection to the ravens as I only used the word 'birds'. So the message was not necessarily a reference to those ravens.  Also, I never gave the ravens to the Tower of London. I just sent them there.

My story, if I had gotten caught, was that the birds I was referring to were the pigeons (below) that were used for England's early warning system and not the ravens.
Without the pigeons we could have been invaded up north and not known about it for days.

It looks like they took better care of them than I could. Taking care of them had become an incredible burden. They were what we would now call high maintenance, like I used to be in that life, and it was more than I could deal with. If you let them they would work themselves into being a full time job. Maybe I should have warned them about that before they assigned a warder just to take care of those birds, which they have done. He even has an official title attached to his name, it's 
Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle. Ravens have taken care of themselves for millions of years so it's strange that people will fall for their helpless routine. They were far too mischievous for me to deal with. They may be too mischievous for the 7th Marques of Salisbury but since they technically belong to him maybe he would want to have one or two of them brought back to Hatfield House.

The ravens seemed to be as comfortable walking as they were flying. They would visit every room some days, except the worst prisoners who I was told could not have visitors. Then one of the better prisoners killed and started to eat one of the ravens. The warders would not let the ravens visit any of the prisoners after that since it was a raven that all the warders had liked. The ravens stood at the door to the prison entrance (the work entrance of course) demanding their visitation rights but they had met someone more stubborn than they were. The captain of the warders never changed once he made a decision unless it was on the authority of the King so the ravens squawked about it for a week and then they gave up.

They were notorious thieves, like I said they were immoral. I read they got into lot's of trouble it later on. Principally they like shiny objects and they would fly into the astronomers always open window and quick as a wink grab the most shiny object, some costing months of wages, and fly off. The astronomer had the most shiny and expensive objects in the kingdom (except for the royal jeweler but the ravens weren't allowed in there).
It was mainly one raven and the astronomer took him out with an object he used as a club, he was waiting for the raven who always came at a certain time. I guess after I died there was another raven who did the same thing and that time the astronomer complained to a 'new' king, Charles II.

Legend has it that John Flamsteed (1646 - 1719), the 'astronomical observator' complained to King Charles II that the birds were interfering with his observations. The King therefore ordered their destruction only to be told that if the ravens left the Tower, the White Tower would fall and a great disaster befall the Kingdom.  Sensibly the King changed his mind and decreed that at least six ravens should be kept at the Tower at all times to prevent disaster.Here

I guess I actually started that legend.
Of course what I said was absolutely the truth but it had to do with the pigeons. (Below

The reason I sent the ravens to the tower.

There were two types of prisoners. Those who were evil, who knew what they were doing was wrong and did wrong anyway. They were incapable of repentance or mending their ways. They were too far gone down the path of the devil to turn around and come back. They responded only to pain or to the threat of it.

Then there were those who had done something stupid.

The ravens did lots of stupid things. I sent them to help the warders learn to separate the prisoners into the two different groups, at least in their minds. Then the warders might like the group of prisoners that had done stupid things and treat them nice. Normally they pretty much threatened and treated all the prisoners with abuse. Unlike the other group the criminals that had done stupid things had it in them to repent but to do so they had to fight against their own anger and resentment over being mistreated. Harming that group of prisoners just made them more angry and resentful which stopped the process of redemption.

Pigeons at the tower

If I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar I was going to say that the message was about the carrier pigeons in the tower which Henry VIII nicknamed 'the family retreat' since that is where all his family were told to run to so they could all be together if England was ever invaded. The pigeon rookery was in the tower belfry (now called the Bell Tower) and there are probably still some old rookery remains such as perches or at least the holes that were drilled in the walls or ceilings for the perches. The government would not have relied on telegram or phone well into the 20th century because wires could be cut. They probably dismissed the pigeons about 1930's when radios came into being but perhaps left the set up fairly intact  (in case those new fangled wireless systems don't work out and they needed to use pigeons again).

tower cellThis room was the headquarters for the pigeon communication system of England. They entered through the small windows directly into cages. The windows were open on the opposite side of the room/ so that the pigeons could see light from the other side and not be afraid to go inside the room (thinking they could always go out the other side).  The cages fit into the big area right in front of the windows here This is also where they would decipher the codes, write the messages and receive queen's maids of honor who were worried about getting mud and pigeon poop on our dresses.  This room is inappropriately said to have been the room in the tower in which Thomas Moore was kept a prisoner. Read more about him and this room on my armaments page.

It was and I think it still is a top secret that the pigeon network even existed. They were England's early warning system. It would only be because of them that troops could ever be mobilized faster than an invader could shuttle men across the channel in ~40 ships. The pigeons were the only way we would ever be able to throw invaders back into the sea (until the telegraph was invented). Yes there was a flag and a fire system but it did not work if an enemy agent killed the signal man or in bad weather. Being second to my husband Robert Cecil, the spy master of England, I was often in charge of making certain the pigeons were well tended since people often forgot about them in good times and good weather.
So yes, those birds were essential and what I sent to the warders was just another of my many reminders that they take care of the crown's birds least England might fall. Oh, I must have forgotten to sign it so the warders didn't realize it involve the top secret pigeons and not the ravens.

The pigeons had other life or death on going uses besides the prevention of invasion. One was to alert fishermen to an incoming hurricane from the atlantic. I explain it well on this page about how it alerted England to the arrival of a hurricane's during the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Also, when slavers came from Africa there were about 40 stations along the coast who would send two pigeons with that info to London Tower. As an example of how it worked: If the slavers took prisoners from the Isle Of Man then London would know 7 hours after the slave ship was first sighted. And Francis Drake in Plymouth would know in another 3 and set sail before another hour had passed.  Not a single slave ship ever made it back to Africa.

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never shall be slaves.

Adelie PenguinsOn Penguins.

When I was reading about pheasants at Sudeley Castle it triggered my memories of some penguins I had. The day I got them delivered was perhaps the happiest day of that life. 

There were ten of them and they came from around southern Africa. They charmed everyone with their buffoonery and soon they had made 24 more penguins. 

We wanted small penguins (it was too hot for the larger species) with great personalities and that meant either African or  Adelie penguins whose range used to extend almost to Africa.* We had interests in both whaling and merchant ships so we had one of them bring back the penguins from the southern Atlantic Ocean. It started out with several males as an experiment to see if they could fend for themselves in an open pond at Hatfield. It soon became obvious that was not going to work so we built a fenced in area with a small pond for them. We first had three or four males delivered to us then we sent for six more, five females and one male. Our amorous males were certainly happy to see those females.
Penguins are supposed to be difficult to breed but they started within about 10 minutes.

[It's supposed to be difficult or impossible to sex a penguin without taking a blood test. However, we were able to sex them. I think we had a chicken farmer determine their sex with his little finger and it wasn't that difficult. As I recall their inner 'equipment' was very similar to a goose's. Maybe today's zoos should call in a farmer like we did.]

Penguins probably like freedom but far higher on their agenda was their social group (and us humans who were often allowed to '
temporarily' join it). They were also not that thrilled about catching their own food as long as we humans were foolish enough to feed them. We had a local boy take them down to swim in the larger pond on a regular basis. They were quite happy with that arrangement.

There were two females that would get adventurous and decide at times to go explore the area around Hatfield. Somehow one or the other would escape and then show up about a week or two later, fatter and acting as if nothing had occurred while wanting to get back with her friends inside their enclosure. She would go right to the pond and while soaking communicate while showing off her fat belly. All the other penguins would gather around the returned explorer. She would 'talk' (squawk) for up to 20 minutes while the others sat and listened in rapt attention. It was as if she was telling a travelogue to the others. It was so very strange and no one who was privileged enough to ever get to see this 'communication' exhibition failed to be impressed.

Why were we able to breed penguins when even today most others can't? We couldn't until the two most dominant females took off on their little fattening up explorations. At the time I figured out that those expeditions were probably to determine if there was sufficient fish in the area to feed the colony if we humans ever failed to deliver. Once they had determined that there was extra food around they started raising chicks. So I had to assume that it was for raising chicks that they explored the area for food. The problem with modern penguin facilities is probably that the penguins have no assurance that they will be provided with extra food if they give birth to chicks. At Hatfield I would stock one of the larger ponds with live fish about once a month and then when we would flock them over to it for the day they would gorge until they were satisfied. That is when they began breeding. There are ways this can be adapted to today's more sterile zoos and aquariums. All you have to do is convince the penguins that there are plenty of fish around that they can eat if they get pregnant.

They made their nests in shallow burrows in the ground. I remember because one day two of them escorted me over to the nest to show me their two new eggs. I then went outside and got some soft lichen as an offering for them to line their nest with.

Once I was sitting on a bench in the enclosure just watching the penguins. Then one of the males came over and sat next to me on the log and watched me like a small child might an adult while I in turn watched the other penguins. Then another came over and watched me. Then another did the same until pretty soon they were all in a little circle watching me! I took it that they were only being respectful of me. Since I appeared to want to sit in silence watching them they were respectfully sitting silently watching me. That was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. The next day they were the same rambunctious, noisy and unruly bunch of birds that they normally were.

One male decided to become my gardening 'buddy'. He must have been psychic because he knew when I was going to do gardening. He knew I was coming when I was getting dressed so he would stand up on a log and wait. Then he would start screaming as soon as he saw me. I would have to come let him out or he would get all the birds upset. Then he would follow me around for hours. As I transplanted flowers and dug the gardens he would jump in and grab the worms, eating until he was full. This went on for at least three years. His mate would also come along sometimes but she was A.D.D. After ten minutes she would get bored so she would wander off and often get lost. 

I don't know why more people don't keep penguins as pets.
Of course I am not talking about keeping only one or two penguins. I am talking about a colony of at least four pairs. They are not dogs or cats, they do require a group of at least eight to feel comfortable. I have read that there are commercial penguin farms in both Australia and New Zealand. Of course for breeding purposes you would probably want at least 20 penguins that are unrelated (for genetic diversity).

The primary reason some types of penguins are endangered is because they are flightless. Most other flightless birds are now extinct simply because their nests are on the ground. Humans have left dogs, rats and cats on all the islands where penguins breed and they have been responsible for the devastation of penguin population everywhere except the Antarctic where those animals can't survive. This fact should not impede anyone from raising penguins in a protected environment like we did. 

I know this talk about penguins as pets is politically incorrect but it is the truth. I know, let's not talk about them being made into pets and call it a 'captive breeding program to circumvent their loss of natural nesting sites due to human intervention'. Now we and our penguins have suddenly become 100% politically correct. By my emitting this kind of noise I'll bet we could even get a grant to pay for our pets.

Of course you can make more than one mountain out of a molehill and make your penguin exhibition a major investment of both time and money but that would probably be a waste, just as it would have been 400 years ago. Penguins were less expensive and easier to take care of than parrots. The parrots would end up with lice infestations, dying from a chill or they would fly off and out of our lives forever.  Penguins are used to swimming 40 miles a day or more through freezing water while being chased by hungry sharks and tuna so they are hardy little critters. Also, what is a 'cheaper date' than one requiring only a handful of small fish each day? As long as it is a cool climate and you have a water pool they should be very happy and live long, healthy lives. Ours did.

Probably the best thing going for penguins is their similarity to humans. Even more so in many ways than monkeys and many other animals. Why is this a 'good' thing and what on earth do I mean?

Apes, monkeys and other animals which display human attributes mainly display the coarse, common and foul side of humans. Unlike those animals penguins have human characteristics which are mainly commendable. Qualities you would like those around you to have. They are monogamous and their monogamous relationships often continue through their entire life. Females and males treat each other mostly as equals and theirs is a nearly equal sharing of all duties including 'child rearing'. Greetings and shows of affections are often identical to humans and include snuggling and dancing together.

They have very little in the way of a pecking order. Their society is based on mainly the family structure within the larger society which then usually takes a secondary role as it does with humans.  Humans who interact with penguins are treated pretty much the same as other penguins, as equals, but they are often dignified with the addition of being also thought of as partially a parent since the humans provide food for the penguins. (If you are a dog owner then you know the effect feeding has on animals.)

Penguins have the most personality of perhaps any bird. They are comfortable with people who they soon think of as other penguins. Besides that they are just plain fun and adorable.


Dodo birds.

doDo you know what kind of bird this is? Not everyone does when they see a picture of one. So no one should ever be expected to know what it is any more than they should know a Renaissance theatre when they see one such at the one at Hatfield House.

It's a Dodo Bird. You have have probably read about it somewhere or learned about it in a class just like you have Renaissance theatres. Now that you know what they both look like neither one is too surprising are they?

Over 400 years ago every London school child not only knew what a Dodo bird was but they knew what they looked like and they also knew the Dodo walk. Several children would waddle down the road in a straight line, following each other with their heads bobbing from side to side in time with their step like the Dodo birds did. It was unbelievably cute.

WalkingTwo songs were written that immediately became popular hits and when the minstrels sang them they would do the Dodo Bird walk. Yes, a lot like they do in the video of the song 'Walk like an Egyptian'.

The first Dodo birds that were brought back created an incredible sensation. The dock had to be closed because it was jammed with people wanting to see 'the bird'. They were stretched out half way across the London Bridge just trying to get a glimpse of it. Then they started charging and gate receipts were incredible as over 10,000 people in two days paid good money to crush one another to get to this monstrous bird which was said to be larger than 'all the London canaries put together'. Dodo Birds weighing 70 pounds beat by a large margin the Atlantic Puffin which had been about the largest and strangest looking bird any Englishman had seen until then.

And they were not as helpless as people think. They had a heavy 7 inch long beak. It was the largest and strongest of any bird's beak since it was used for tearing apart coconuts to get to the meat inside which is what they mainly ate. I was told the coconut gave them a nice coconut flavor when they were cooked.

antique can openerIt's beak was really nothing more than an oversized can opener
like this antique can opener which was modeled after the Dodo Bird's close relative, the parrot.

HalberdsThough the Dodo bird's beak was much larger and it more closely resembled Halberds which were all over England. Halberds had one blade for chopping people into pieces unless they were wearing armor. The other side was often shaped like the Dodo Birds beak and it was used for prying open suits of armor which, if you really think about it, made it just an oversized can opener.

Dodo Birds did not like dogs. Especially the barking kind. They would just reach right over and pop the top off of the brain case, open up the stomach or more often just remove the entire leg of any large or medium sized dog that got too close, even ones that meant it no harm. It was too fast for anyone to prevent. They just didn't like dogs from the start. They would then befriend, preen and mother the puppies of the same dog they had just killed which really did a strange thing to my emotions.

MauritusThey were not smart, that is all there is too it. We got two Dodo Birds when one of our ships brought them back per our request to 'not eat two of the birds' when the crew picked up a bunch of them at Mauritius Island for food on the way back from India. The two Dodo birds cut the local Hatfield dog population in half in about two weeks. They would stand back to back and let the dogs try to attack them. They would kill the dogs in about two seconds flat. Suddenly the neighbors realized their dogs were missing and they tied up what dogs they had left when the dog population dropped to about 1/3 of what they had previously been. Strangely they left alone our Cocker Spaniels and other small dogs.

For years those neighbor dogs had trespassed and killed our animals including one sheep. They had kept all our animals terrorized.

They cornered and attacked one small Royal child which meant I was legally entitled to murder every dog within a days march from Hatfield in all directions, about 700 square miles and that meant probably 20,000 dogs. Unless I marched at the time of the Summer Solstice which would have allowed me to almost double the distance which would include London and that would mean I could murder another 45,000 dogs as well. That would also include up and down the Thames 5 miles and that would entitle my dog killing army to murder probably in excess of 100,000 dogs. I think this ended up a plot to one of my more absurd and hilarious comedy masques (short plays acted out before royalty).

Those Dodo Birds were my champions and represented me. All they wanted in return were their two nightly coconuts each which they would squawk and scream over until they had eaten them.
My two birds came with thousands of coconuts though. (They also ate bugs and I assume that meant a few crabs on the island they came from.)

You had to throw the coconuts on the ground since they would bite your hand if you handed it to them. They did not know the difference between your hand and a coconut, they were that dumb. When they saw you approach with a coconut you had to be quick or that powerful bill would quickly be eating you too. 

I was cleaning up one morning in the garden and the two Dodo birds were following me around. When I got to some coconut husks from their previous night's dinner I picked them up, walked right over to the big brick incinerator and without thinking, tossed them in and so followed one of the Dodo birds right on in too! 

One Dodo wasn't going to live very long alone with the dogs of Hatfield seeking vengeance so the London Tower got him as a gift in 1610 or early 1611. The warders had those long sharp Halberds which could reach out and touch a barking dog at 15 feet. Since barking dogs only stand at the most 12 feet away from a person there was not a dog within two blocks of the Tower. The Dodo was totally safe there as a result. The Dodo was quite welcome at the tower like the ravens which we have already discussed.
Many children learned the Dodo Walk from the one I sent. Then I think Prince Charles took him to the palace where he resided.

The tower served as the London zoo before zoo's existed. England was an island of farmers who were needed as sailors and explorers to invade other countries with trinkets to impress backwards civilizations. Exotic animals were great inspirations for children who would soon take the role of explorer. England needed a lot more good sailors to do it right. The navy never really got enough professional men so it ended up being run by unnamed characters which became a 'Bligh' on the nation and as a result ended up with a War of 1812 due to the impressment of American sailors, etc. 

After my one Dodo Bird committed suicide I found out that those sailors were absolutely right about the magnificent coconut flavor of the barbecued soft tasty flesh of the Dodo Bird. 

Fear was not at all a part of a Dodo Birds emotions and knowing when to run away is very essential to survival unless you live on an island of birds like Mauritius. Bottom line, that is part of why they are now extinct.

There must be a good lesson there. I don't see it yet but don't despair because there is another good one coming up in less than 30 seconds, unless you are a very...slow....reader.

The sailors who went by Mauritius Island would just walk along and the friendly Dodo birds would follow them in a line and right on to their
ships (this was the Dodo Bird walk) to be killed later for fresh food during their voyage. The Maharajahs in India thought of Dodo as a delicacy and far more were actually taken there and sold than were eaten on board ships. After all the islands were on the way to India and five of those birds would fetch a handsome ruby or emerald. So within 50 years there was not a single Dodo left.

However, it was mainly the rats, feral dogs and cats that ships brought to Mauritius which made them extinct. The Dodo birds would walk away from their nests during the day since they had no natural enemies on the island. They would cool themselves in the water and then come back. By then the rats, dogs and cats would have eaten their eggs or young.

The flesh was the most flavorful of any I have eaten. It was better tasting than turkey or chicken. I wonder if there is enough genetic material around to recreate them ala 'Jurassic Park'? I think they would only cost about half of what turkey does to produce and everyone would love the taste.

Oops I checked and there seem to be scientists at the University of Oxford that are trying to clone the Dodo bird. They don't know the pay-off though. It's much higher than they think. Eating mainly coconuts Dodo birds could provide much of the third world with an inexpensive form of animal protein (as well as the rest of the world with one of the best tasting meats around).

I keep thinking about those wacky birds. Mainly because I liked and I miss them and the song about them but I especially miss watching the children all in a straight line doing the 'Dodo Walk' as they waddled down the road on their way home from school.

There is one other short page devoted to birds in my Queen Elizabeth section.

Dogs at Hatfield

King Charles Spaniel

We also developed 4 breeds of dogs including the famous King Charles Spaniel which my family developed from the small Spaniels that the Spanish had sent to Queen Elizabeth's court.

"Dr. Caius was a Physician to Queen Elizabeth, and he makes a mention of the "Comforters or Gentle Spaniel" that were kept by the Ladies of the Court. They became known as being very useful as foot warmers. They used to sit under the ladies skirts against the body and feet; this would keep their feet warm and also attract insects off the body, hence getting rid of fleas off their owners." Here

We also developed what could be best described as an early Staffordshire Terrier which was used for bringing down wild boar. I think that breed may have died out and then was later reinvented as the Staffordshire. We also improved the Spaniel breed for hunting. These were projects my children took over as I and they got older. This information needs to be expanded on and really should go on another page that I have yet to write.

grape vine divider

*I looked up the Adelie penguin and it may not have been them. They eat krill almost exclusively. They eat almost no fish and our penguins fattened up on the local fish. It may have been a rock hopper which is the most common one found in zoos worldwide. They eat more fish but so do other penguins. Actually, if I made a penguin colony today I'd check out some of the Pacific species like the Humboldt Penguin. On the other hand maybe penguin only prefer krill over fish and can thrive on either one. Krill is a type of a shrimp and if I was offered both I'd eat shrimp every time, wouldn't you?  

After finishing this section I realized that the penguins which we had laid eggs in shallow burrows and usually two at a time. Also, the warmth of the English summer didn't seem to bother our little flightless guests at all. That narrows down the kind of penguin considerably. They were probably African or  Black Footed Penguins. Even though African Penguins normally build their nests under bushes there were none at Hatfield. I was very careful to remove all possible hiding places for rats and mice so the penguins had to make do without bushes.

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