My late father was an ornithophile.
In fact, Hank loved birds so much that when he retired from carpentry work in his mid-50s, he attached a large birdhouse onto the back of our small storey-and-a-half home that we shared in the city’s North End.
For at least two decades, the aviary he built with his own two hands housed a number of small songbirds, including yellow canaries, colourfully-plumaged finches, and the odd blue or green budgie that wasn’t deemed docile enough to spend its life inside the house. At its peak, the numbers inside that bright cage reached as high as 126.
A pair of Australian Lady Gouldian Finches. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)
My dad, a Second World War veteran, was a man of few words. He immigrated from Holland in 1957 with a wife and four children and, it turns out, not much to say. And so, he would spend hours each day in that 10-by-12-foot coop, doting on the wee warblers, “puttering” about while he quietly sang songs from his homeland.
Often I’d catch sight of him cradling a tiny songbird in the palm of one rough hand while the other scraped hull off the floor. Other times, I’d watch him shining the three walls of windows, one of which opened onto our small, modest kitchen.
Throughout the years, I’d peek my head into that raised glass window — usually to ask for the car keys —and listen to the birds’ melodious song.
Leesa and her dad, Hank. (Supplied)
My dad shared little but he once told me it was the males, “the rollers,” as he liked to call them, that produced the sweet-sounding tweets I heard. The females, he said, only chirped.
Still, to me those birds were much the same. All of them a seemingly contented flock of fledglings that fluttered about, gobbling up their seeds and resting their weary feathered wings on the makeshift perches that my father lovingly constructed out of tree branches.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately. And I was reminded of his passion for his feathered friends after I laid out a four-page spread on homing pigeons.
In the fascinating long piece, Free Press reporter Ben Waldman talks to local pigeon fanciers, including a pair of racing enthusiasts who have revived the sport in Manitoba.
Racing pigeons at VV Loft in Winnipeg. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)
You really need to read about this passionate group of birders, a unique batch of men who, like my father, found “comfort within the confines of a bird coop.”
Have a great week!