The American Federation of Aviculture offers a batch of seminars open to the public today and tomorrow at the Washington Hilton Hotel where anybody, for a mere three bucks, can sit through six hours of exciting advice on talking birds, budgies, cockateels, health and feeding, finches and canaries.
But meanwhile hard-core bird fanatics (California, Holland, England) have been picking each other's brains about incubating parrot eggs, imprinting conures and the legal pitfalls of aviculture.
An exhibition hall displays dozens of commercial stands for make-your-own cages, various feeds and medicines, incubators, paintings, books and nice nets for catching finches, say, for $3.70.
"There he goes," cried Cliff Witt, a convention official, "that's that half-moon that got loose last night," as a soft whoosh of feathers sailed over the crowd milling about.
"Well, there's another one," a visitor pointed out, but Witt didn't know exactly what he was or when he got loose.
Vulgar people look down on the pigeon, but an eminent authority, Dr. Willard F. Hollander, lectured on them yesterday, though for quite a spell only two men had showed up to hear him.
"Well," said a pleasant-looking stocky gentleman from Baltimore, one of the early birds, "when the racing season is on, of course, you're home all the time. But a wife shouldn't be any problem. You just take her a couple of times to one of the great shows in Europe, and give her the money for any birds you sell and she gets used to it."
A young man from Georgia, whose wife could not attend since she had, of course, to feed his macaws and pheasants and so on, said his very first birds were pigeons and he looked to the day he was set up to raise them again.
Dr. Hollander, cheered by the eventual arrival of another 16 listeners, showed slides of pigeons in Turkey and discussed the somewhat scandalous mosaic factor (a bird seemingly inherits genes from more than one father), a thing very upsetting to strict old-line Mendelians, and probably to the pigeon as well.
One small boy was knocked down by a man with his nose buried in the schedule of workshops as we walked along, and another one, who apparently did not believe doughnuts truly cost 70 cents apiece at the snack bar, checked with older men and women who confirmed the sad news.
Sitting quietly at a table amid the melee was Dennis Ferris, a blue-eyed athletic-looking man from Norco, Calif., who was waiting for his wife, an authority and lecturer on the raising of conures, small parrot-type fowl that used to be plentiful and cheap but not now.
"I like to raise some of the common ones, though we have plenty of the fanciest sorts," he said. "You take a little plain gray one. You have no idea how neat he is. It just breaks your heart how wonderful the conures are. If you pick them up the day they hatch and keep handling them as the days go by and hand-raise them, they imprint on you. They become human. You have no idea."
His regular job has been with centrifuges and other devices in the testing of space-industry products, but he'd like to spend all his time with the birds. He started a home-industry sideline in conure nest boxes that sold nicely, but the couple's bird business had a slow spell and "my wife made me go back to work."
That being so, someone suggested, maybe she could sit up till midnight to keep the nest-box business going; a thing Ferris had not thought of and which may be proposed to Mrs. Ferris at an appropriate time.
A great throng then turned out for John Stoodley's lecture on "Breeding Pionus," since he knows how to incubate eggs, hand-feed hatchlings and do other wonderful things undreamed of a generation ago.
"Whoap," he said, drawing back from his lecture room when he saw the earlier speaker was still going strong. "Think we're running a bit behind. I wish my wife could be here. We live in southern England, a few miles north of Plymouth. She is raising 40 incubated birds at the moment. She is as interested in them as I am. Our son, too, though I say you should not railroad a youngster into your own line, but let him get the world wrapped around him a little. He's a good athlete, too. I was myself at one time," and it seemed possible he might sail his carrousel of color slides like a discus, though he did not.
"You Americans," he said, as if ready to award the crowd (standing about waiting for the other lecture to finish) some major order of chivalry, "you Americans are just--believe me, I am not pulling your leg--you make everyone feel so at home. Look at my hand here, not a nerve, no nerves at all," and he held it out full length to show it was steady as a rock. "When you speak with Americans, well, here I am going in there to talk to all you people and not a flutter in the world."
He gave a great smile and the throng that had been considering "Legal Pitfalls" poured out of the lecture room and Stoodley sailed in, surrounded by several dozen admiring connoisseurs of the psittacine, prepared to dream for a while about the noble pionus.
As Dr. Hollander had observed, in his pigeon seminar, the parrot people inhabit "another planet." More colorful, perhaps, and maybe even more difficult, than ours.