January 22 2015
Working in conservation has allowed me to climb trees and watch wild parrots in Mauritius, Brazil and Bonaire among others. During the 20 years since I first went to Mauritius, oh heck was that really 20 years! I have had so many great experiences with my work. But at the end of last year I found myself somewhere I never expected to be: on a Cruise Ship!
I was pleasantly surprised and I found the Parrot Lovers Cruise to be very enjoyable. Living off the grid in a relatively remote house can be draining at times, especially as we have only four electrical outlets that work, spring fed water pipes that block monthly and the house is, by the way, actually falling down. So it didn’t take long to adapt to the incredible service that was provided on the ship. It felt like a real indulgence to just have working lights in the bedroom.
The first port on the trip was Roatan, which is nice ,but really it only delayed our arrival at The Belieze Bird Rescue which I was looking forward to most. My first pet parrot had been a White-fronted Amazon and it was a delight for me to see rehabilitated and release White-fronts in Nikki’s garden. The next stop was Xcarlet where free flying macaws wowed everyone.
The group were a fun and interested bunch that it was a pleasure to swap dinner tables each night and talk to other parrot enthusiasts. The combination of their passion for parrots and the other speaker’s presentations really inspired me to improve the care of our parrots on Bonaire.
We’ve successfully released over 50 Yellow-shouldered Amazons on Bonaire but we’ve also slowly accumulated a bunch of birds that have collided with cars and were brought to us with broken wings. We do our best with the resources we have but fixing broken wings well is not easy. Other birds like Sally and Weeble, an illegally captured pet parrot that was confiscated by the police and brought to us, are just not suitable for release. So they are stuck with us, we’ve done ok by them but to be honest I’ve wanted to improve our care of them for a while now.
Positive reinforcement training is something I used daily with my pet dogs but we’ve never applied it to the captive flock of birds at Echo. Cassie Malina’s in depth presentation on the subject got me thinking about how we could apply it to make the birds lives more interesting but also to enable us to care for the birds better, like for example getting them to step onto weighing scales for a periodic weigh in.
James Morrisey gave a very entertaining presentation about veterinary care – I know! Who would have thought that possible? For me this big picture review of how we care for captive birds and how all aspects of their care relates to the health and wellbeing was really refreshing.
Hearing these two great talks was really motivating and I decided we had to do more for the parrots in our care. We’ve got two aviaries and several large cages and depending who arrives, who they get along with others and whether we need to carefully monitor their weight – as we do in the case of fat ex pets we’re generally full or overloaded. This of course is not good for the birds in our care. On top of that some of the birds at Echo have paired up and we need to give them some private space. This of course may lead to parrot chicks and that’s really cool because those could be released into the wild. That would allow the rescued birds to contribute to the recovery of the wild population too.
This is the situation for Sally and Weeble. They are ex-pets (it’s like ex-pats only they right now they don’t have a great big retirement home). They have been fatties and would love to chomp on everyone else’s food including sunflower seeds all day so they can’t go in the big aviary and we feed them (generously donated) pellets from Hagen along with fruits etc. The smaller aviary has a few misfits in there and so Sally and Weeble have ended up in cages side by side. If somehow Dear Reader you missed the news, Sally and Weeble are in love.
This is a tragedy!!!
The good news is you can make life better for Sally and Weeble and the other parrots at Echo -
Please donate today and help Sally and Weeble get a room!
September 18 2014
Loosing Luella was disappointing but not a complete surprise. She weighed half of what a healthy wild Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot would weigh. Not only was she tired and struggling to recover, she also had a broken leg and the combination was just too much for her emaciated little body.
Imagine what your ideal weight would be, be honest, and then half it. It’s shocking! I’m cycling quite a bit and generally pretty fit I could add some muscle and loose a bit of fat but I’m not far off and I weigh in at 72kgs (159lbs). Half of that is 36kg (80lbs) it’s inconceivable.
Anyway Luella was the first chick that has come to us that we haven’t got to release. It saddened me and the team and it was also disappointing. I’d personally taken responsibility for Luella as I tend to do when new arrivals first come in. I believe I did my best but in truth we at Echo don’t have much in terms of equipment or expertise. There isn’t any on the island in truth but we do what we can to help the injured birds. I laughed inwardly when someone on facebook wrote how we should feed her apples and take her to a rescue center or our state’s avian specialist vet. It’s hard for some to appreciate that things don’t work like that here. Until recently you couldn’t be sure the stores here would have apples, never mind an avian specialist veterinarian!
So we were already having a bit of a low moment when we heard news of a ringed bird that had found dead by the side of the road. Frank, who’d let us know was kind enough to pick up the bird and save it for us. It wasn’t just ringed, this road killed parrot had a radio collar on it. One of six we are tracking this year. I couldn’t remember who it was by the rings. Lily did though. She’s been tracking the fledglings and she knew straight away that it was Buzz. For it to be any of them was bad, but Buzz: He fledged from a nest that was practically in my garden, he was my favorite, I’d known him since he was an egg and he was going “to infinity and beyond”. It was horrible. It was the reality of the situation here. Parrots are getting hit by cars quite often.
The next day another parrot was delivered in a box. This time though the bird was alive. Having not been able to reach us on the phone, because we live in an isolated location and have rubbish reception, Paulo had generously driven out to bring the bird to us. This one’s another fledgling who’d bounced off a car. There’s another broken wing and another broken leg, for her and a growing feeling of helplessness for me. But she’s got that Amazon charm by the bucket load. Fluffed up feathers and a cuteness that makes you melt balanced by a fearsome side that rips slices of apple apart faster than a garden shredder could.
After Luella I’m determined to give this sweet girl a better chance. She’s not skin and bones so I think she has better chances. She’s taken to the hand rearing formula better that Luella did and she’s eating for herself a bit. I’m on track with administering what pain relief we have and she’s seems to be doing well. Let’s hope she continues to do so… I searched for the names of female warriors to get a name for this young lady. Camilla was associated with Amazons and could run down horses. Our young lady will have to be a warrior to prevail and although it's unlikely even with perfectly healed legs she'll ever run all that well but we can hope her leg repairs. That's her in the picture and of course I’ll let you know how she's doing.
July 10 2014
Living in a hotspot for wild parrots is amazing. I see parrots daily from my office and I can hear them pretty much all the time. There are always parrots in the area and if a bird of prey passes over the parrots, parakeets and other birds go “mental”! As a result I also get to see Crested Caracaras regularly and Peregrine and Merlin Falcons in the winter months too. Falcons, you have to admit, are pretty cool.
I’ve got a feeding table in the garden too. Bird tables work best when one puts food out at the same time each day, religiously. That doesn’t quite work for me with so many other interesting things going on but nether the less the parrots pop in and visit most days, when there’s food. It was pretty thrilling to creep up to within a few meters of wild parrots and I even pulled out my SLR camera to get some pictures through my now fungus filled lens (the other side of living in the tropics).
I’ve even got a parrot in the house right now too. Typically there was a lot going on when we received the call that someone had found a parrot. There’s never a good moment to receive a broken parrot. He’s sat in a hospital cage out of sight but in my office and I hear him moving around and feeding from time to time.
You can imagine it’s hard to get any work done with all these parroty distractions. And I haven’t even mentioned the Grove-billed Ani that’s sneaking through the grass as I write or the rampant White-tipped doves bow-cooing and “at it” beneath my window, or the endemic Yellow Oriole with his golden feathers and lovely whistle. (You really should check out the Ani and the Oriole they are gorgeous but don’t bother with, the dove!)
Yet, unfathomably, the challenge of ever getting any work done is even greater than that. I’m not talking about the little flies that have just appeared who will spend their short lives desperately trying to climb into my eyes or the afternoon sun that beats down and threatens to warp my nice desk. I mean the parrot chicks!!!
Within a mile of my house there are many, though still not nearly enough, parrot nests. Deep inside these delightful cliff and tree cavities there are pink, prickly pin feather filled or cute green baby parrots going about their business and growing. Their business also includes rather a lot of eating, digesting and popping too. It’s just amazing how every time I sneak out of the office and run to the hills for a distraction they’ve grown. In two short months white eggs turn into green fledglings. The transformation is simply incredible and it’s a small wonder I get any work done when I could be out there cooing over them!
June 10 2014
I know, I know it’s been “like, for evva” but after nearly two years we’ve managed to get the internet out to our remote solar powered parrot hotspot and home and this week I managed to escape from the office and so there’s some news of adventure to share, now that I'm back in the office. Let’s hope that this may even been the turning of the tide and I will find time to write again more frequently but Dear Reader let’s just take this one step at a time for now.
Did you see? It’s June already! The parrots have shifted from being social creatures in large groups to being absolutely vicious defenders of their territory and nesting opportunity. Those that are nesting are pretty business like in their behaviours. It goes something like this:
Mr Parrot “I’m here love”
Mrs Parrot “I’m coming out”
Mr Parrot “Morning here’s your breakfast”
Head bobbing and Glug Glug Glug
Mrs Parrot “Ta! Lovely view out here isn’t it?, I’ve got to get back to doing the incubating. Is that the neighbours over there? Can you go and pull their feathers out darling they really should have got the idea by now”
Mr Parrot “Certainly dear I’ll see to it and I’ll be back this evening”
By contrast those that are not actively nesting are the ones making a real commotion. Their calls are different and they remain together as they check out possible nests. They don’t actually commit to a nest perhaps because there are few sites remaining that are actually suitable (after all the trees were chopped down in the 1800s) or perhaps because they are just not ready yet. But these are the ones that distract the Echo team who have been so dedicated as to rise pre dawn and head out each morning and afternoon to make observations and separate the breeders from those “playing house”.
But yes yes it’s June and things are already in full swing. It was New Year a moment ago and now there are eggs! I was lucky enough to get out with Michaela and Randy to see how the birds are doing. This of course involves precarious abseils (rappels) on sharp rocks often with piddly little trees as anchor points. It makes a nice change from being behind the computer but it is interesting how dangling around on a rope over a large volume of air not to mention jagged rocks has changed now I have more responsibilities, a lovely wife and a few more years. Suddenly I’m thinking about the consequences and I don’t remember doing that before. Nevertheless it was fun and look what we found!