Museum welcomes feathered friends

Canaries Arthur and Maggie with guide John Kane at the Scottish Mining Museum.
Canaries Arthur and Maggie with guide John Kane at the Scottish Mining Museum.

Canaries are making a return to the Lady Victoria Colliery after two were donated to the Scottish Mining Museum recently.

Seven-year-old James Keating from Penicuik, won the competition to name the birds – choosing to call them Arthur and Maggie after past NUM president Scargill and former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher.

The canaries will not only make pets for the museum, they will also form part of the visitor experience and highlight a crucial historic facet of the mining industry.

The Norwich Fancies canaries were donated by Bo’ness canary breeder Peter Fleming, while Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World, based at Dobbies Garden World Edinburgh, donated a cage for the birds.

Following explosions or fires, miners would take canaries into the coal pits as the birds were particularly sensitive to dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide.

If the canaries showed any sign of distress, such as ruffling their feathers, hiding their heads under their wings or indeed falling off their perch, it was clear that the mine was unsafe for workers and would have to be evacuated.

Canaries’ bodies only have one tablespoon of blood, which means that gases saturate in their system rapidly.