This essay focuses on New World birds caught up in the eighteenth-century transatlantic trade with other living wild creatures, destined for imperial metropoles. Manuscript sources describing this trade, written by political officials, ships’ captains, doctors, naturalists, animal caretakers, and inspectors who cataloged their arrival to Spanish ports, interacted with the animals, tried to keep them alive aboard the ship, and determined their ability to withstand further transport to their final destinations in Madrid and other cities in Spain. In the process, animals caged aboard ship for several weeks or more developed relationships with one another and with their human caretakers. Their lived experiences show the multiple and complicated ways in which individual captured birds and other creatures helped shape those shipboard environments, disrupting systemic human attempts to construct them as colonial animals who functioned solely as scientific or material objects in empire making.

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