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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hua Mei Bird Garden

My excitement in learning about the existence of the Hua Mei Bird Garden in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park was greeted with skepticism, particularly by those I know who are very familiar with Chinatown. Sara Delano Roosevelt Park is a ribbon of green extending from Houston to Canal Street, flanked along its length by Chrystie and Forsyth Streets and straddling both the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

In these neighborhoods, however, most visitors, both New York City residents and tourists, do their business and leave - that business, in Chinatown, being primarily eating on or near Mott Street, Chinatown's central artery, or shopping by day and visiting clubs by night in the Lower East Side's vibrant community.

The park here, however, is not a destination. The 7.8 acres is much more of a utilitarian urban space, dominated by areas designated to various activities - basketball, roller skating, soccer, etc. The center of the park is cut by Delancey Street. On the south side, you will find the Hua Mei Bird Garden. See more photos here.

In 1995, three men, a Chinese banker and two former waiters, approached Anna Magenta, who, with Federico Sabini, had started the Forsyth Street Garden Conservancy in 1994 to improve the park. With her help, they petitioned the Parks Department, and in 1995, the Hua Mei Bird Garden was hatched. Bird gardens are common in China, and there are even restaurants that cater to patrons with their birds in tow.

Every morning, a group of Chinese men gather with their songbirds, finches, sparrows, and blue jays among them. But the raison d'être of this garden is the Hua Mei with its songs. On weekends, the population of men and birds reaches its zenith with dozens of cages along the walkway and hanging from fencing. Most of the birds' owners are retired Chinese men.

The Hua Mei is a fighting song thrush. In the company of other males, it fights, and for females, it sings. The distinguishing physical feature is a white line that circles the eye and extends towards the back of the head. The birds are kept in ornate handmade bamboo cages, frequently with a white cloth covering the cage to shield them from the impact of the city. The birds are imported from China and Vietnam - they are quite costly, requiring quarantine before being brought into a domestic environment.

The gathering is a social one for both the owners and the birds. The Hua Mei needs exercise, and the owners take the opportunity to introduce the birds to each other while bird talk dominates the conversation...


Mary said...

I must get down there some time soon.

At least one of the birds appears to be a green singing finch, related to the canary but smaller and with a standard color pattern. As they are able to interbreed with canaries (so I was told), I wonder if they are the original wild type.

I had a few I purchased in a Chinese pet store, but was unable to get them to breed in my home.

As I was looking at your additional photos, some disappeared. The one with the sign and whatever was below it. I couldn't get it back.

Unknown said...

Hi Brian, what a beautiful song garden. Thanks for the sharing.

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

Another winner, Brian! You continually amaze me with all the cool little corners of New York you unearth for us. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Unknown said...

Just found across your lovely photos as I googled the bird garden. Thanks for sharing. My husband and I were visiting NYC this past weekend and stumbled across the Hua Mei garden as we were strolling though Chinatown early yesterday morning. The scene and sounds were simply amazing--so restful and unexpected. There were dozens of birds in lovely little cages that featured porcelain food and water bowls inscribed with Chinese characters. A true oasis.

Anonymous said...

I own a hua mei that I bought from a Chinese waiter in Chinatown. My bird is about 4 years old and will live to be 18 if he stays healthy. Every morning he sings his heart out looking for a female. The will not breed in captivity and thus must be imported from the wild areas of China. He is easy to keep and loves to take a bath or shower. The birds are very restless in cages because they remember living in the wild. Actually they live about twice as long in captivity as in the wild, if the get the right food and treatment. My Hua Mei loves live crickets, live worms, and high grade cat kibble. I often take him to Hua Mei park to be with other birds. Birds learn to sing by imitation and need to hear other birds in order to develop complex songs and rythems. The Chinese men, who really supervise Hua Mei Park are very kind and helpful with advice etc. when I (Caucasian) bring my bird. There is much dignity to the customs of the Chinese. I would not enter the enclosed part of the Park without first asking permission from the chief honcho. You only need to ask who is in charge and the other men tell you. The chief honcho tells you where to hang your cage. He will also brind a female close if you ask him to help you get your bird singing. The birds immediately realize that a female is near and start singing to her. The old men will also tell you where to buy the bamboo cages that all the Hua Mei's are kept in, and where to get the best food etc.
The price of a Hua Mei if you can get one from men in the Park is about $800-$1,000. They must all be brought in from China, usually one and a time. They are a hardy bird. If you buy one, make certain he is a male (femails do not sing) and that he is healthy and not more than 4-5 years old (because young ones live longer, and adjust to caged life etc. better).

Unknown said...

Hi. i live in Dominican Republic and my dad love this birds, and i need some help to locate a pet shop that sales this type of birds. Very nice pictures and hope that i can go there soon.