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Friday
Nov032006

Parrot Companions

westminsterparrot.jpg
Image taken from http://www.taxidermy4cash.com
The oldest surviving example of bird taxidermy is believed to be Frances Stuarts' (the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox) African Grey Parrot, which can still be seen in Westminster Abbey, London. The bird died soon after its mistress in 1702 and X-rays show that it was preserved in a rather crude manner, which makes the parrot's survival all these years even more remarkable.  The parrot was never fully skinned and the skull, tongue and trachea are still intact along with the entire skeleton. Few specimens have last from the eighteenth century (before arsenic was discovered as a means of deterring insect attack), and the parrot's good condition is probably due to the other, slightly more precious objects on display in the Abbey, which ensured the carekeepers maintained an austere atmosphere.  Insects probably never dared to enter.

Since ancient times, parrots (psittacidae) were the frequent exotic companions of those who could afford to buy them, [read more from the Guardian +] and Frances was not alone in her affection for her cherished pet parrot. The Roman poet Ovid wrote an elegy for his mistress's parrot, asking the other birds to mourn its death. 

An interesting side note: perhaps parrots and mistresses go together. Frances Lennox was King Charles II's mistress. The wax effigy of the King was paired not with his wife, Queen Catherine, but with Frances, the King's unrequited love. In a codicil to her will, Frances provided for an "Effigie as well done in wax as can be," dressed in the gown she had recently worn at the coronation of Queen Anne. Her parrot was posed alongside.

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