Parrot Blogger - Mira Tweti

– About Mira –
Mira Tweti is a journalist who writes about animal welfare and environmental issues with a particular interest in parrots.

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May 27 2015

BOTTLED BIRDS - WHAT COULD BE WORSE?

by Mira Tweti

When I wrote my book, "Of Parrots and People: The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collision of Two Intelligent Species," back in 2008 I covered the heinous practice of smugglers shoving parrots into bottles - everything from deodorant canisters (the obvious giveaway were the air holes) to soda bottles depending on the size of the bird. I had heard tell of a famous smuggler (subsequently jailed and now supposedly repentant) who cut the tails off Hyacinth macaws and shipped them to buyers in poster tubes. Astonishing but, sadly, true.

Recently, someone posted the attached article from the Daily Globe & Mail to my Facebook page. The photo of the cockatoo's eye staring back through the neck of the soda bottle will haunt me forever and has to rank alongside the top "Life" magazine or Nat'l Geo award-winning photos of all time. If a photo says a 1000 words, this one tells a million. It tells of the absolute vulnerability of these animals and that we are predators no science fiction film could imagine up. My younger brother was two blocks from the Twin Towers on 9/11 when the planes crashed into them. One of the first things he told me afterwards was that no matter how many times he'd seen similar scenes in movies, seeing it happen for real was unlike anything he had ever seen. Not just that it was eerily silent (think of how eerily silent it must be for those bottled birds in their brain-crushing confinement) but no film could do justice to the real thing.

I naively thought that my book would change the world for parrots. It seemed obvious that once people knew what was going on, they would naturally act to help them. I broke the news of parrot mills in the US and the nightmare of captive breeding; issues in the wild from A-Z. If there was one thing no one could say, it's that my book wasn't comprehensive. It took five years of research and writing and I thought I would expire before I'd finish it, the work was so grueling. The information so devastating. It was hard enough to find out about the terrible things being done, let alone write about them. Writing OPP was physically painful. But even though I wrote a hard-news, investigative expose' (based on an award-winning, hard-news, investigative expose' for the Los Angeles Times Magazine), I foughthere is no 9/11 for these birds. What I detailed was happening to Indonesian cockatoos back in 2008 is happening today like nothing had changed and it seems to me, nothing has changed. Except that there are less Sulphur-crested cockatoos in the wild than there were back then. How these critically endangered birds are hanging on is a miracle to me. Even with the few rehab & release programs in place, the birds get poached again and there's always more that get through Customs than ever get caught by them. This is true everywhere but the US (because of impenetrable 9/11 border protocols to apprehend terrorists, I've been told by source,s it's no longer worth bothering with birds) & maybe UK(same reasons). And Australia has always had zero tolerance for birds leaving their shores but a lot of poaching in Mexico and places like Indonesia, are for the domestic pet trade, not so it's even harder to know actual numbers of birds been taken from the trees. The attrition rate has always been astronomical and locals figure since they literally grow on trees you can always go back and get more. And they do. It's a vicious, losing, cycle for the birds.

One cause that continues to create demand is the 1970s hit American TV show "Baretta." The show's producer long ago lamented the fate he gave Yellow-crested cockatoos when he decided to give one to the title character. At the time, he thought it would be fun for Baretta to play off the parrot, like they were buddies. And the buddy system worked. The demand for YC-toos skyrocketed stateside when it aired and all but depleted the population in the wild and the birds were listed by IUCN as "Critically Endangered" in 2007 (years after they had been, but better late than extinction, I guess).

The series is still in syndication around the world and there's little doubt it is still having an impact on the wild parrots as people watch it and want one thinking it'll do all the fun stuff Baretta's was taught to do. When they end up with a screaming, biting, wild bird with no intention of dancing or talking or even being friendly, the birds end up like fish in a cage. Decorative items for decades, at best.

Baretta is still killing parrots (more die in the poaching process than ever make it into homes) and should be pulled from syndication. Plain and simple. It is syndicated by Universal Television. Write and tell them what you think and help stop this 40+ year run on these poor parrots.

Here is a link to the original story. 21 birds were confiscated from the smuggler(s) by Indonesian officials. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3067691/Smugglers-birds-plastic-bottles-customs.html

Only 9 survived the ordeal and now WPT has set up a fundraiser to help the "Indonesian Nine". You can donate here: http://www.razoo.com/story/Indonesia





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(JEFTA Images/Barcroft Media)


Baretta with parrot

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Posted by Mira Tweti on 05/27 at 09:40 PM
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April 22 2011

“Rio’s” $200 million box office is great for 20th Century Fox. For parrots, not so much…

by Mira Tweti

According to the movie biz trade pub, the Hollywood Reporter, "Rio" has flown into first place as the biggest opening movie of 2011. Now MacDonald's is giving out "Rio" merchandise like plastic parrots. Let's hope all this parrot flouting doesn't lead the way to another pet parrot boom, better yet let's all work to make sure it doesn't.

In conjunction with HSUS I'm about to spearhead a national public awareness campaign about minimum cage sizes for captive parrots, more ideas follow the info below, including an open letter to parrot rescuers and what individuals can do to mitigate the problem.
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Rio,” the new 3D animated film about parrots from 20th Century Fox opened Thursday in theaters nationwide and has done blockbuster box office business. I’m concerned pet stores will be doing an impressive amount of parrot sales as a result.

That scenario is exactly what happened with clown fish after "Finding Nemo" came out and dalmatians after "101 Dalmatians." An estimated 1 million clown fish were flushed down toilets and countless dalmatians ended up in rescues.

“Rio’s” premise is an important issue, parrot smuggling, but "Nemo" had an important message too. The latter's was the terrible way fish are trapped in nets, or captured to fill fish tanks as decorative items. All Nemo wanted was freedom. He escapes the tank gets back out to sea and reunites with family and friends. The audience rooted for him all the way and then they went out and bought a clown fish and stuck it in a tank. When kids figured out it wasn't actually Nemo they neglected them. What happens when they discover their pet shop parrot doesn't brush its beak like Blu, the Spix's macaw star of the film pictured here? Will they still want it? Not so much...
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When it comes to kids and their unending desire to own what they like, it doesn’t matter how noble the underlying message it’s as if there never was one. You’d think their parents would throw some sense into the equation but, alas, that doesn't seemed to happen either.

Here’s a good example of what can happen. In this case it was wild parrots: Sulphur-crested cockatoos were drained from Indonesian islands when the hit TV series Baretta was on in the 1970s because the title character had one that talked and responded when spoken to. 25 years later the populations have not bounced back and the Sulphur-crested are on the endangered species list. The show wasn’t even on TV that long, just 3 years from 1975-78 but it was enough to start and sustain a run on those 'toos.

Parrot rescues across the US, 1500+ of them, are filled to capacity with unwanted birds. Why? Because parrots are wild animals and do not take well to domestication. After all is said and done, they do not make good pets. And they are living unfulfilled lives in captivity: they are unable to fly, flock, move freely, choose their mates, the list is endless. Even so, at last count bird breeders, according to the breeders themselves, were still churning out  2 million birds a year. 

Unlike puppies of which a % are bred in puppy mills, all parrots for sale in the US (aside from those being smuggled in from Mexico, et al) are bred in parrot mills. The breeding pair are generally kept in small cages, cut off from other parrots around them (lest they be distracted from their purpose). Attached are some rare fotos of the inside of a typical parrot facility. This one was in Virginia and sanctioned by Kaytee pet products, the Hartz Mountain of parrots. 

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As soon as I found out about the film, I called the publicity dept & head of marketing & advertising (whom I worked with eons ago in NY) to see if I could get them on board to support the national campaign I'm launching and include parrot welfare info in their "Rio" campaign. He wanted to talk w/me but was in and out of meetings and ultimately neither he nor the senior publicist who said she'd get back to me, did. Granted, they were busy with other film releases, and this one, but the fact is 20th Century Fox's intentions in making the film was to make as much money as possible, not for the welfare of parrots. The latter isn't even on their radar.

Regardless of it's nice message if parrots end up isolated and neglected in cages languishing for their decades-long lives because of it, then the film, like many others before it, will have done more damage to parrots than helped them.

The info above about parrot breeding and smuggling is detailed in my book, "Of Parrots and People: The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collision of Two Intelligent Species"(Viking 2009). It broke the news about parrot mills in the US.  You can find it cheep on Amazon now and an excerpt can be found at my personal blog: http://www.MiraTweti.com

A CALL TO ARMS FOR PARROT RESCUERS: You can gain much for your rescues, and parrots overall, by contacting your local TV stations Assignment Desks. Dial the main #, you’ll get an operator or a prompt for the “news desk.” Ask for an assignment editor. I started out at ABC News, that’s how I know...

Tell them you are concerned about the repercussions of “Rio.” Tell them how many unwanted parrots you have waiting for homes (if you’re a sanctuary, how many have been turned over to you) and how many calls you get every month to take more. Say you want to warn people not to buy parrots on impulse because they don’t know what they’re getting into buy watching an animated kids film. That parrots are loud, need as much attention as a 2 year old (for 50 years), are destructive, loud, and, most of all they ARE NOT ‘Rio” (Note: saying it's bad for the animal will never get you as far as saying it's bad for the people that buy them or eat them or... ).

Invite the TV crews to interview you at your rescue, or a foster rescuers home where there are multiple birds, large and small, to show that even the small ones get ditched!

Let them see your birds, all beautiful, now homeless. You may get more calls for unwanted parrots, par for the course as you know. But if you urge the public to support needy parrots instead of making more, you'll also get lots of donations once people see the film. 

For my part, I'm about to launch a national public awareness campaign about minimum cage sizes for captive parrots with the Humane Society of the US. It will disseminate more than the reasons for keeping a companion parrot in the largest possible cage. Though that information alone will improve the lives of millions of captive birds now and in the future. Especially extreme tragedies like this one:

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Rescuers had to cut this bird out of its cage to retrieve it. It was put in while young and never let out. Then it was too big to come out. This is how it lived for years - with nothing but food and a perch.

The awareness campaign, geared to the mainstream public with and without parrots, will also enlighten them to the requirements and realistic expectations of keeping one. If I had a dollar for every person I've heard say "If I had known what I was getting myself into I'd never have bought one!" I'd be wealthy. My goal is eliminate any chance of getting rich that way by making sure everyone knows what they'd be getting into before they get a parrot instead of after.

If you're reading this, your consciousness has now been raised. When you're around people praising the film, which you will inevitably be (especially if you're a parrot person), inform them. Don't hold back. Countless thousands of parrots are depending on all of us to do our part and make "Rio" do more good than harm.

Mira ~ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) http://www.MiraTweti.com

Posted by Mira Tweti on 04/22 at 07:24 PM
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December 27 2010

Sweet birds and hard choices

by Mira Tweti

How do you decide what's best for your bird when it comes to avian illnesses? Ultimately, how do we know if the decision we make is determined by what's best for us or our parrot?

For the last seven years, I've lived near the beach, beside the Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey, California. The lagoon is 1/4 mile long and about two blocks wide.

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The immediate area is salt water and fresh water from some of the last remaining wetlands in the US. Historically, there are over 300 species of birds recorded in the area. Researching piece about the opening of the restored freshwater marsh in the contiguous wetlands just east of the lagoon found 150 species of birds in a single afternoon foray. In the lagoon itself great blue herons and egrets fish in the late afternoon and perch in the trees like Christmas ornaments in the morning. There are also migrating flocks of coots, local grebes and loons, gulls, geese, sandpipers, cormorant, tern, sparrows, flycatchers, warblers and an occasional Kingfisher. And lastly, there are sparrows, flycatchers, warblers, mockingbirds, and other songbirds. There are also red-tailed hawks, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, White-tailed Kite large flocks of Black-bellied Plovers in the winter.*

The birds I know best are the resident flock of 60 or so mallards and the seven Toulouse geese brought there as goslings to beautify the area (as if it needed more bird species!).
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Most of the residents I know on sight. And the ones I never miss are the pet pekin dumped in the lagoon. People unwittingly think they're doing a good deed letting their bird loose with other ducks to live a wild life. But pekin are bred for food and don't know the alarm cues the rest of the birds do. Mostly they get nabbed in the first month by dogs off leash or nocturnal predators, like raccoons and the occasional red fox.

I keep an eye on the pekins and make sure they're okay and getting enough to eat. Being pure white, they're hard to miss. And they tower over the mallards like Arnold Schwarzenegger over a toddler.

I rescued a little runner duckling from the lagoon in 2007 that I named Dewie.

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She lived in my carpeted apartment for three months while I sought her a perfect duck home. That story became the documentary film, "Little Miss Dewie: a Duckumentary." It won two awards and was seen in 23 film festivals around the world. I did end up finding Dewie a great home and she is now happily married to Hercules, the biggest pekin I've ever seen. The couple lives with her mother-in-law about 45 minutes east of LA. Their first offspring, Helena, hatched in the summer of 2010.

After Dewie, there was a drake (male) pekin I'd been keeping an eye on since he was dumped by his owner one night. He was doing well, surprisingly so. Then one day he was laying on the embankment which wasn't unusual. That's what all the waterfowl here do to sun themselves. But when I put out a bag of food he couldn't get up. Turned out he had a big boil on his leg. I took him to IBRRC.org, a waterfowl rescue & rehab, & the vet said he needed to be put down. I wouldn't let them do it for two hours. I made them take an x-ray & I called other vets.

My avian vet was out of town for two days and then had surgeries booked and the IBRRC vet said the drake wouldn't last that long. He needed immediate treatment. I suggested taking the leg off but they said I'd have to somehow keep him off the leg and change his dressings twice a day or more, to keep the wound clean at all times. So as soon as he pooped and stepped in it, I'd have to undo the bandage, disinfect the wound, and bandage him up again. That would be near impossible to do on my own, it would need to be done several times a day because there is no more prolific a pooper than a duck. And, he was big with a lot of fight in him. It was hard to keep my arms around him when I took him to the car. They kept saying it would be a full time job. I knew it would be a nightmare.

Even so, I didn't care; His life should not be determined by my convenience. I told them to just remove the leg but then they told me there was only a 5% chance it would be successful even if I did everything perfectly because it was so far gone. And even if it were successful, the pain would be excruciating for him between then and the weeks before it healed.

There was nothing wrong with him. He just couldn't walk on that leg & he was in pain. He was perfectly healthy. He was alive and energetic and I couldn't see putting him down but I did it anyway. I brought the x-ray to my vet when he got back because I couldn't live with myself. He said the same thing they did and if there was a way to save him, my vet would have said so.

I have struggled with this issue of what to do in medical emergencies with parrots since Mango died. Mango was my rainbow lorikeet companion of ten years. He was the one who raised my consciousness about parrot issues, in the wild and captivity. Were it not for him, I would not be writing this now or would I have written two books on parrots and numerous animal welfare features and exposes' for newspapers and magazines.

Mango:
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When Mango first showed signs of something wrong, I called my vet and started him on antibiotics. When he stopped eating three days later I ran him to the vet's office. Had I known how far gone he was with aspergillosis (tests didn't show it and it wasn't confirmed til the necropsy) I would never have made him undergo all the prodding and testing at the vet's office which was horrible for him, especially since he couldn't breathe and was so weak. All he wanted to do was sit on my shoulder, nestled in my neck, while he withered away. Instead of dying with me at home in a quiet place, feeling safe (as safe as anyone can feel in that situation). He died in pain, alone in a fish tank, under florescent lights, in a sterile surgical room. And envisioning that makes me cry as I write this and it's four years later. I would never do it again.

After Mango died I got calls to adopt another lorikeet. I wasn't ready but I began hands-on rescue work helping these unwanted or rescued birds get into zoo exhibits around the US. That was how I ultimately adopted ZaZu, another rainbow. I've already decided, if he gets sick and there's a good chance what he's got is likely to be fatal, I won't bring him in. I won't subject him to that and take the chance of him having the death Mango did. Having a gentle death means something. It means a lot to me, as a guardian and friend, to provide that.

ZaZu:
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A pigeon rescuer I respect said I had to "bet on Mango's life, not on his death" so I did the right thing and I should do it again. But it's a dilemma I cannot come to terms with. I know it's on a case by case basis and whatever kills ZaZu will have its own scenario. It's a tough decision and I no longer feel that going to any lengths to save a bird is a good choice if there's a good chance it won't be saved.

What do you do in cases like mine with Mango. How often is an illness serious enough to tell that racing to the vet is not going to help, or there's not a lot of chance the bird will recover even if you do? And how often to you make the decision to give hospice care instead of invasive medical attention?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, mostly moral, issue.

Thanks, Mira


*Additional species sighted from research by Bob Shanman, Birds Unlimited, Torrance, CA.
Bob conducts guided birding tours of the Ballona Welands area and others around Southern California. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you'd like to join him.

Posted by Mira Tweti on 12/27 at 06:44 PM
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February 05 2009

Bird Strikes. What next?!

by Mira Tweti

Nothing has irked so much in the last two weeks as the constant reference to a "bird strike" as the reason the US Airways planet was forced to land in the Hudson river on 1/15. As if a bird could strike a plane. The plane collided with the birds is what happened and perhaps if there was more precise radar on board the birds could be avoided. Easier for the planet to avoid them than the millions of birds in the air to avoid the planes. Not only does "bird strike" ring of intention (as if the birds went out of their way to strike the plane) but it's ridiculous because a bird could no more strike a plane than a flea could strike a water tower.

The problem is, it puts birds in a bad light. As if something needs to be done about them to ensure the safety of machines that are invading the birds airspace. It's a real problem alright and one the airlines need to solve in a more politically correct, morally correct and cosmically correct way than to blame and otherwise disparage innocent birds.

Posted by Mira Tweti on 02/05 at 03:40 AM
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