‘Doing bird’ at Inveraray Jail has taken on a new meaning with the latest breed of inmates literally flocking to get in.
Scotland’s only living 19 century prison has a number of new residents after one of its ancient cells became home to a family of pigeons.
Some of the birds have become so friendly that a staff member who plays the role of a warder in the prison, where once children as young as seven were detained for minor crimes and subjected to whippings or pointless manual labour, has been nicknamed the Birdman of Inveraray Jail.
“I take the name in the good humour with which it is meant and while it’s true that I spend a lot of time with the birds and make sure they get fed I would like to point out a few differences between myself and The Birdman of Alcatraz,” said Adam Trela, who plays the role of warder in the jail.
“I know a bit about birds but I doubt I could match the knowledge of Robert Stroud who not only cared for birds but studied them and actually found a cure for certain bird diseases, while serving 53 years in prison.
“The other thing is that I’ve never killed anyone – well not yet anyway!”
Stroud, who died in jail on November 21, 1963 at the age of 73, had become a world authority on the science of birds while serving time for killing two men, the second of whom was a prison guard.
Over the years, he raised nearly 300 canaries in his cells and wrote two books Diseases of Canaries and Stroud’s Digest on the Diseases of Birds. Stroud’s contributions to avian pathology, most notably a cure for hemorrhagic septicemia family of diseases won him the sympathy and respect of bird lovers.
In 1962 a film called Birdman of Alcatraz came out starring Burt Lancaster which was based on the fictionalised version of the life of Robert Stroud presented in a book of the same name by Thomas E. Gaddis.
The film was a huge success and was nominated for several Academy Awards but Stroud was never allowed to see it before his death in the Medical Centre for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri a year after the movie was release.
“We’ve got a family of pigeons which is always growing. At the moment we’ve got two who are about to fly the nest and the parents have already built another nest on the opposite window sill,” said Gavin Dick, prison governor of Inveraray Jail.
“There’s a racing pigeon which comes and stays with us from time to time usually for about a week and then heads off, I think they like to stop and replenish themselves before heading home.
“We contacted the owner to say his bird was staying with us at the jail and he said that he didn’t care because it’s not a good pigeon anyway.
“If he’d seen the way Adam looks after the birds he’d know his the pigeon is in good hands. It’s funny because he spends all day pretending to be a tough Victorian warder but I think people would be a little less frightened if they saw him dotting on the birds.”
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