Blue-throated Macaw – Reinvigorating wild population

Blue-throated macaw

Blue-throated Macaw Background Information

  • Bolivia is home to 12 species of macaws, and most are thriving. Not among these healthy parrot populations, however, is the Critically Endangered Blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis), with less than 15 breeding pairs known to be nesting in a remote, widely dispersed range in the north of the country.
  • Years of intensive effort using traditional conservation methods to protect wild Blue-throated macaw from predators, raise chick survival rates, and engage local human communities have not significantly boosted the wild population nor have new breeding pairs been discovered.
  • Rethinking a long-held view that captive-bred parrots released to the wild have little hope of surviving there, James Gilardi is working with local and international partners to select and prepare captive, pet trade and confiscated macaws to join their wild counterparts.
  • Although there haven’t been any releases of captive Blue-throated macaw as yet, Gilardi is confident that wild populations of the species can recover if the captive birds are carefully chosen, health screened, and fully prepared for the wild.
Pair of blue-throated-macaw
Blue-throated Macaws at nest cavity. Poachers knew where to find this species when the conservation world did not. The Critically Endangered Ara glaucogularis was rediscovered in 1992 when a former trustee of the World Parrot Trust posed as a wildlife photographer to get a poacher to reveal the location of a single nest. Photo by Darío Podestá

After relentless trapping for the pet trade reduced wild Blue-throated macaw populations to mere rumors, the bird was rediscovered in 1992 in a remote area of Bolivia. Endemic only to this nation, Ara glaucogularis lives in hard-to-reach places that are flooded much of the year. Unable to easily survey similar locales, conservationists could only hope that more of the Critically Endangered parrots existed than the hundred or so they originally found.

An intensive regimen to protect the remaining birds was put into action by local NGOs —including the Conservación de Loros de Bolivia, and the Research Center for Biodiversity and the Environment — along with academic collaborators and the World Parrot Trust.

However, more than a decade of hands-on conservation yielded frustrating results, with no significant population increase or recruitment of new breeding pairs.

At that point the World Parrot Trust, under the guidance of executive director Jamie Gilardi, began to consider the captive population they had been managing for more than 15 years in a different light. Under the right conditions, perhaps some of these birds could be readied for release to the wild. If captive-reared bird releases were successful, then parrots rescued from the illegal trade might also help create a bit of bird “restitution.”

James Gilardi in Bolivia
James Gilardi (right), executive director of the World Parrot Trust, a global conservation organization founded in 1989, trains Dr. Oka Dwipo, WPT’s Indonesia Program Coordinator, to climb to parrot nests in Bali, Indonesia (not a Blue-throated macaw project). Gilardi was drawn to conserving parrots because, in addition to being the most endangered bird group, they are often impacted by local problems that are often solvable. “I was hopeful that my fieldwork could have direct and meaningful consequences for the conservation of the species I was working on,” he explained. Photo courtesy of Wild Parrot Trust

Now Gilardi and his colleagues hope to add more breeding pairs back into Bolivia’s Beni Department, in the northeast corner of the country, by carefully selecting healthy birds in captivity that have retained enough wild ways to be returned to the un-caged life.

“In the past, the thinking was that the only real way to achieve honest-to-goodness conservation was to protect wild birds where they are, and then hope they can recover with human assistance or on their own,” says Gilardi.

But the Blue-throated macaw is in too precarious a position not to explore every possible option to rebuild its population. With likely less than 300 birds scattered across a vast and inhospitable terrain, waiting for nature to take its course might allow the species to slip into extinction. Researchers hope to release a first test group of captive Blue-throated macaws as soon as possible.

Group of blue-throated macaws
Blue-throated macaws have been protected by the national legislation of Bolivia and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1986.
Map with borders
Map showing all known active breeding pairs of Blue-throated Macaw (black dots) from 2007–2012. The birds occupy an area about twice the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut. With so few birds scattered across such a large area, it’s hard for them to meet and mate, reducing chances for population recovery. Reproduced under Creative Commons license from: Reproductive Parameters in the Critically Endangered Blue-Throated Macaw: Limits to the Recovery of a Parrot under Intensive Management. PLoS ONE (2014) Volume 9 (6)

Mongabay: What made you look beyond the usual approaches to protecting wild populations?

Gilardi: When we started out, about 16 years ago, it seemed to us — as had been the case for so many other parrot conservation efforts — that if we just left the birds alone and protected them from people and other predators, then they’d bounce back pretty quickly. Maybe not as fast as rabbits or sea turtles, but certainly over the course of years, we expected the population to stabilize and then start growing.

But with the Blue-throated macaws, we were working with such a small group, and every year some new thing became a big problem [threatening the species with extinction]. One year it was other parrots harassing the nesting pairs. Another year it was predation from small mammals. By the time we got to year ten, we realized there still weren’t that many birds and new recruits weren’t joining the breeding population.

So we slowly came around to the idea that we had to switch our approach because these birds are not only very small in number, they are also spread broadly across the landscape, making it even harder for them to form breeding pairs. These and other factors were apparently preventing the expected recovery.

At that point, [we saw] the captive population we’d been managing for 15 plus years as something that might be essential to the species recovery. So even though our top priority is protecting the wild birds and supporting breeding pairs to help them produce as many chicks as possible every year, we’re also focused on getting captive birds back to Bolivia, breeding them, and releasing those progeny back to selected areas of the wild.

Jose Antonio Diaz Luque
José Antonio Díaz Luque, World Parrot Trust Bolivia program manager, surveying for Bue-throated macaws. Photo courtesy of Wild Parrot Trust

Mongabay: When will you start releasing the birds?

Gilardi: As soon as possible.

One thing about eradicating a species from its former range, is there’s a lot of room for them to return. But lots of things have to be sorted out before any releases happen.

Initially we would want to create a “proof of concept” release site where we build up the number of birds at a site that’s working for them; a place where they’re finding each other, breeding, and raising chicks.

Once we do that, we can start augmenting the existing groups of birds out there, putting two nests here, three over there… until hopefully we’d create a situation where there’s enough population density that the birds can find each other. We’d like all these birds to be in contact with each other, exchanging genes and see the whole population growing. If we got to that point, we’d be well on our way to success.

But first, we need to get the [captive] birds back to Bolivia. Although some birds are in the country, many [confiscated and pet trade birds] are elsewhere: about 50 Blue-throated macaws are in Florida, 30 are in Canada, maybe two dozen are in England, and another two dozen are in the Middle East.

Adult with young Blue-throated macaw
An adult and a young Blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis) in their natural habitat. What makes a releasable bird? Every individual has a different history, said Gilardi. A bird that was a pet for many years and only recently learned how to fly might be better to keep as a breeder, while a younger bird that fledged with a bunch of other macaws and developed flying skills early will likely do well in the wild — hopefully finding a mate, breeding, and taking care of itself. Photo courtesy of Wild Parrot Trust

The birds need to be biologically ready to go, too. Besides getting acclimated to a new place, screened for diseases, and oriented to wild foods, the macaws need to be in good physical condition to fly. Most people don’t realize how a bird’s physical condition plummets in captivity. A wild parrot can fly 40 to 50 kilometers [about 25 to 31 miles] without stopping, but a bird that’s been caged, even for just a few months, would have a hard time flying even one kilometer. It takes time to get the birds to develop that condition, so when they do go out they can fly with confidence, land appropriately, and aren’t completely exhausted by flying 100 meters.

Mongabay: What made you consider returning confiscated and pet trade birds back to the wild?

Gilardi: Up until about ten years ago, the dogma was that parrots are really hard to release back into the wild, and if you do they’re never going to eat properly and survive.

However, apart from the work we do with Critically Endangered species like the Blue-throated macaw, we also work really hard to stop the wild bird trade. One result of enforcement is that large groups of birds get confiscated and many of those birds are common species.

Over time, we learned how to prepare these birds for release [back into the wild]. We tracked them and found they were doing well, so we realized it’s not that hard to do, so long as you get the details right. For example, we’ve successfully reintroduced African grey parrots in Uganda, and Scarlet and Great-green Macaws in Central America.

Blue-throated-macaw in Bolivia
Blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis). Photo by Darío Podestá

Recently, the Ara Project in Costa Rica discovered that Great-green macaws (Ara ambiguus) released over the past few years currently have at least eight active nests. That’s more than 25 percent of the total number of nests for the species in the entire country.

In the case of the Blue-throated macaw, we’re eager to apply this reintegration method that we’ve developed as a result of our work on stopping the wild bird trade. Now we feel very comfortable releasing birds that were kept in captivity, whether they were confiscated or captive bred. That’s why we’re confident that releasing Blue-throated macaws can be a very productive way to get more birds back into the wild so their population recovery can take place.

We kind of got here sideways; it wasn’t intentional, but we ended up developing a lot of confidence in this new tool. For us, it’s really exciting because it opens up a ton of possibilities, not only for getting the job done, but also for allowing all kinds of partnerships — with the London Zoo, Africa Lion Safari in Canada, Natural Encounters Conservation Fund based in the U.S., and other NGO’s all around the world.

Compared to ten years ago, we view the whole conservation landscape differently [and more positively]. We never dreamed we’d be able to put lots of these birds back into the wild. Now we can.

For more information on the Topic Visit: World Parrot Trust

Food, Toys & Accessories Suitable for Macaw Parrots

Source: Mongabay.com

How to Make Friends with your Parrot

How to make friends with your parrot

How to make friends with your parrotIn this article Barbara covers the topic of How to Make Friends with your Parrot.

If you are a fan of parrots like me, you look forward to those moments when you get to make a new parrot friend. Unlike a dog or cat that may respond to a new person right away, birds can sometimes require a little extra effort on our part. Birds are often a bit nervous about meeting a stranger. Here are some things you can do to help them to be more comfortable when you are getting to know them.

How to Make Friends with your Parrot

1. Give the bird space: Although it is very tempting try not to go right up to a bird. Give him some time to get used to you being in the same room. Once he is looking relaxed and comfortable you can move a bit closer to the bird.

2. Move slowly: Birds can become frightened when people move too quickly. You don’t want to scare your soon-to-be new friend.

3. Approach from the front: Be sure to approach the parrot so that he can easily see you coming. Many birds don’t like it when someone is moving behind them.

4. Show him something special: Before walking closer to a parrot, it is a good idea to have some treats, parrot toys or other special item with you. Ask people who know the bird what he likes best. You can show the bird what you have to give him before you get too close.

5. Watch his body language: When you show the parrot the special treat or item you have for him, watch how the bird responds. If he leans towards you he is saying he would very much like to accept your gift. If he leans away he might be saying he is not sure he is ready to make friends right now. If he is not ready, you can always try again later.

6. Offer him the special treat: If the parrot leans forward and reaches his beak towards what you have to offer, you can move closer and give him what you have. Whenever you offer a treat or toy to a parrot for the first time try to present it so that the bird has to lean forward to take it with his beak. This way you don’t have to get too close to the bird’s beak. This is so you can be extra sure the bird is ready for the treat. Sometimes when we get too close or offer the item to fast, a bird might respond by biting.

7. Offer more treats: If the parrot takes the first treat or toy and enjoys it. He might look or lean towards you for another one. If he does, that is an invitation to really start getting to know each other. Continue to offer him special treats or items. This will cause your new parrot friend to really look forward to your visits.

Once a parrot understands good things happen when you visit, you will begin to notice he will really want to get to know you better. He might be eager to step onto your hand. He might even talk or sing to see if he can encourage you to come closer with a special treat. If he feels very comfortable with you, he might even let you stroke the feathers on his head. This is a good sign that you were very careful not to scare him and have done a good job earning his trust.

Making friends with a parrot sometimes takes a little extra effort. But it is a very special compliment when a parrot accepts you as a friend. Pay close attention to your actions when you are meeting a parrot for the first time, offer him yummy treats and fun toys. Soon you will find yourself surrounded by many new feathered friends.

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc (www.GoodBirdInc.com) provides parrot training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.

Barbara Heidenreich
For more information on how to train your parrot visit Good Bird Inc
Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training www.BarbarasFFAT.com

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

HOW TO GET YOUR PARROT TO PLAY WITH TOYS

In this blog post Barbara Heidenreich talks about How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys and the different techniques you can use to encourage the acceptance of new toys in the cage or playstand.

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

I have been inspired by a question posted to my yahoo group. The question was asked how do you get a parrot used to a new toy? I think that is a marvelous question. All too often we assume because it is a toy, our parrots should automatically be eagerly interacting with it. In general parrots tend to show hesitancy around new items or situations. As positive reinforcement enthusiasts, most of us know that we can train our birds to be calm and confident with change. But it does take some investment on our part. Not a financial investment, but a commitment to teaching your bird via positive reinforcement training strategies. But if in this moment your bird has clearly demonstrated new toys create a fear response, what can you do?

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

I usually start with systematic desensitization. This means I place the toy a distance away from the parrot. I also make sure the bird is presenting calm relaxed body language. I then leave the toy there for a period of time, maybe even days. Over time I gradually place the toy closer and closer to the cage. Again making sure the parrot is relaxed and comfortable. Eventually I may hang the toy on the outside of the cage, but near the bottom of the cage. I can gradually move it higher. When the parrot is ready, I can try moving the toy to inside the cage. I usually put it away from food and water bowls and preferred perches. This is because if the bird has any concerns with the toy that I failed to notice, it will not be a hindrance to his physical needs and comfort.
Once the parrot is comfortable with the toy in his cage, now I can consider some of my other positive reinforcement tools of the trade. I can use a target to help encourage the parrot to move closer to the toy. I could pair positive reinforcers with the toy, by placing them near or on the toy. I could also “free shape” the behavior.
How to Get Your Parrot to Play with ToysTo free shape, rather than use a target or a food prompt, I would just wait until the bird presents an approximation I can reinforce. For example if the bird looks at the toy I can reinforce that. After several repetitions the bird may move in the direction he has been looking. I can reinforce that. Eventually the parrot may move closer, and over time try to touch the toy. This is all shaped by looking for the slightest approximation towards the desired goal behavior of interacting with the toy.
I recently used this strategy to help my puppy get past a fear response he had with a new vacuum cleaner. First I reinforced him for looking at the vacuum from far away and then reinforced him for approximations he took moving closer to the thing. He then sniffed it and eventually touched it with his nose and paws, and even moved it. The entire process took about twenty minutes. I have promised my yahoo group http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/GoodBirdGroup/ I would get the video clip on my YouTube site. http://www.youtube.com/GoodBirdInc I will notify everyone once it is up!

Hope this gives readers some ideas for ways to get your parrots playing!

This article was first published in Good Bird Inc Blog

www.BarbarasFFAT.com
www.GoodBirdInc.com
www.BunnyTraining.com

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provides animal training DVDs, books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara works with the companion animal community and also consults on animal training in zoos.

African Grey Parrots need our help to survive.

African Grey Parrots

African Grey Parrots PetitionAfrican Grey Parrots are almost extinct and have become a rare site in the wild. In the past 40 years over 1.3 million Grey Parrots have been legally exported. Many of the birds are poorly treated and die before export, as a result, the true number of parrots take from the wild is estimated at well over 3 million. Shocking!

Recent study in Ghana shows that the African Grey Parrots’ population has declined by 90 – 99% in recent years. Falling number are driving trappers to move into ever more remote areas to find parrots to catch.

SIGN THE PETITION NOW

Despite collapses in numbers, much of this trade remains legal.

African Grey ParrotsA number of African countries have recognised the crises and are making efforts to give the African Grey Parrots maximum protection under international law.

Later this year at the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) from around the world will meet in Johannesburg, South Africa. At this conference the parties will decide how wildlife can – and can’t – be traded around the world. Alongside Elephants, Rhinos and Lions, the fate of another iconic African species – The African Grey Parrots – will be decided.

World Parrot Trust will be in attendance at the meeting to support the process; by signing the petition you will add your voice to their support efforts.

Now is the time to ACT and stop the export of African Grey Parrots forever.  The message to CITES is: Move the Grey Parrot to Appendix I and end the trade in wild birds of this Globally Threatened Species.

SIGN THE PETITION NOW

Thanking you in advance for supporting this cause.
The team at Parrot Essentials.

 

Our Life with Mirt – a wild caught Timneh African Grey

mirt timneh african grey

Our Life with Mirt – a wild caught Timneh African Grey
Dorothy Schwarz

In retelling this bitter-sweet story, I trust that the positive aspects will outweigh the sad epilogue and others can learn from my thoughtless mistakes.

Mirt arrives

mirt timneh african greyMirt came to us in September 2003. I have a large outdoor aviary so I agreed to take two abandoned African Greys, a Congo and a Timneh African Grey from an overfull sanctuary. The Timneh, I called Mirt and the Congo, Solomon. Mirt could neither fly nor perch and was poorly feathered from plucking. For the previous eight months, she’d been kept in a box in someone’s utility room with no perch and minimal human interaction. If approached, she lunged and bit as hard as she could.
The Congo arrived with terminal Aspergillosus. His previous owner had bought him from a dealer who assured her than the heaving, panting and growling would soon disappear. She kept the terrified bird for six months and then gave him up. I hope that he found some peace in his last days in our aviary where he hid in a sheltered spot covered in fir branches. My pet African Grey Casper used to perch beside him. Maybe the old bird we called Solomon told Casper of life in the forest. Six weeks later, I found him dead.
mirt timneh african greyMirt however, was making exciting progress. Within a couple of weeks she was flying and perching on the branches and ropes that span the aviary. Feather plucking stopped and she put on weight. Even more heart warming, she began a cheery whistling.
With autumn advancing, I took her and the two pet African Greys into the conservatory for their winter quarters. By November, Mirt would accept a nut from two fingers outstretched but only if she was perched above me. At any closer approach, she’d fly off. For any vet visits she had to be caught and towelled.
When spring arrived, I’d take the Greys outside into the aviary and bring them in at night. Since I couldn’t handle Mirt she was left inside.

Mirt escapes

One sunny March afternoon with the Greys outside enjoying spring sunshine, I thought Mirt needed some fresh air so I caught her up in a towel and took her to the aviary. An accident waiting to happen? How many accidents are due to human error? Most I reckon. The aviary is 20 metres from the house. As I brought out Mirt wrapped in the towel, it slipped off her head; she seized my thumb and bit – hard. The beak clamped tighter and I dropped the bundle. Within seconds, Mirt had wriggled free of the towel and flown to the oak beside the aviary. I hoped that she might roost within arm distance and that I might be able to catch her that night.
mirt timneh african greyI decided to leave her alone and went indoors. When I came out a few minutes later she’d gone. I fetched Casper, her favorite parrot. Put his harness on, put him on my shoulder and began to walk around the garden whistling. Casper joined in a little too. My whistle was returned. Mirt was in the next field. At the highest point of a poplar tree, I could make out the shape of a parrot in the almost dark. Nothing to be done except wait for morning.
At 6 am the light was gradually returning; it would be chilly. She was neither in the same poplar nor any nearby. Outside the back porch stands the woodshed. Mirt perched in a beech tree, ten metres up. An escaped parrot is a danger to itself and an anxiety to its owners but how right it looks on a branch, blending with the colours of the bark.
I tried creating a booby trap. I put Casper in a small travelling cage on the woodshed roof and put seeds in another cage adjacent to it. Mirt flew out of the beech and onto the woodshed roof. She took a peanut from my outstretched hand and then another. No way would she approach the booby-trapped cage.
During the day Mirt was spotted on the aviary roof. She climbed down the outside and took parrot mix from the dish that I had fixed to the exterior. If I approached however carefully, without any fuss or even flying off, she would waddle back up to the top of the roof again.
That evening I spotted her at the topmost branch of an oak. Magpies and crows fly around our fields. Flocking blackbirds and starlings can attack one lone bird.
I don’t know how Mirt slept on her second night out; I slept disturbed by dreams of a Timneh African Grey destroyed through my clumsiness. Friday night repeated the same scenario as Thursday. I couldn’t find out where Mirt had roosted; it wasn’t within reach of a torch beam.
For many hours each day she crawled over the aviary wire netting; the birds inside ignoring her. She seemed fully aware that I was trying to catch her. She’d take a nut from my hand but scramble up the roof as soon as I started to bring my left hand up.
Later that day, I saw a bird swoop across the garden with strong steady wing beats. I feared a small hawk. It was Mirt herself. Two days of free flying outside had restored the grace of a wild bird she once was. As night number three approached I grew increasingly worried that a predator hawk, crow or magpie would kill her.
That night the barometer fell bringing chill wind and heavy rain. The gloomy weather underscored my hopelessness. On Sunday morning, a wet, bedraggled Timneh African Grey was on the aviary roof, wings hunched the picture of misery.
She crawled down the side of the aviary to drink from a water cup fastened to the outside. She let me approach but as soon as she spotted the blanket tucked behind my back, she fluttered up to the roof again.
mirt timneh african greyWe were due to leave at 9 am to visit my daughter in Nottingham. I felt unsure that Mirt would survive the day. It was ten to nine. As I reached the front door to collect my handbag for the trip I glanced behind me. Mirt had returned to the water, taken a drink and was wearily clambering back to the roof. Her back was turned. I had a split second reaction. I reached the wire without her realizing my approach. She was just within arm’s reach. I made a single grab, got her tail feathers in my hand, levered my wrist up and pulled her off the wire. Holding her squirming body against my chest, I rushed indoors. Since she was upside down, she could not exert enough pressure to bite hard enough to cause me to drop her. Besides which I was expecting to be bitten and held on tight.
I released her in the conservatory on the perch where Casper and Artha were feeding. She fluffed up her wet feathers. Artha and Casper went on feeding. Mirt held no hard feelings over her violent recapture. Next day she accepted a peanut from my hand. But there’d be no more repeats of the towelling fiasco. To transfer her from conservatory to the aviary for the summer I put her in a travelling cage.
For the second winter she’d have to stay outdoors. The solution was to buy two wooden sheds and attach them to the opposite ends of the aviary, one for Mirt and Timi, the second rehomed Timneh African Grey and the second for the ex-zoo Amazons who after a summer outside would be acclimatized.

Negative reinforcement

mirt timneh african greyTimi would step up and be put into the shed at night. Mirt wouldn’t be lured by food. Certain that I didn’t want to allow Mirt to roost outside in zero degrees, I used aversive methods; I caught her in a net. Put her inside and closed the door. The shed has a porthole for the birds to come out by themselves in the morning.
Mirt was such a clever little bird. After two night of being netted, she learned to go to roost in the shed by herself. I’d feared that using such a strong method as catching in a net would make Mirt fear me but this didn’t happen. Mirt had grown used to me. Had even developed the habit of perching on my head but I was no nearer to any interaction between her and my hands.

Workshop skills

timneh african greyIn May 2005 I had the good fortune to be accepted on a workshop for advanced companion parrot skills at Steve Martin’s Natural Encounters ranch in Florida. Steve has trained birds for over thirty years using positive reinforcement methods. This training emphasizes the importance of rewarding parrots for good behaviour rather than punishing them for bad. His birds regularly give outdoor free flying displays and he’s never lost one.
At the 6-day workshop, I learned techniques to improve the human-bird relationship. Some techniques are quite simple like watching the bird’s body language.
Within a couple of days of my return, Mirt and Timi learned to head bob on request. Within a few days more, Timi added a wave and Mirt a wing raise. And more important than these tricks behaviors, Mirt was learning to trust my hands.
The Timnehs showed eagerness to work for their treats, flying onto the training perch without being whistled. The step up for Mirt couldn’t be far behind.
Two months after the new training methods, Mirt flew from the perch onto my outstretched EMPTY palm and received seeds from my other hand. And exactly two years since she came here, she was stepping up onto my hand.
In summer of 2006 I occasionally let Mirt fly outside at liberty. The summer of 2007 was particularly busy and I didn’t take Mirt outside the aviary. Sid, an elderly lame Timneh African Grey, arrived and he and Mirt became companions. Although he could barely fly, they’d sit side by side on the highest aviary perch as sunlight turned their grey feathers silver. It was a touching sight. Did Sid’s arrival trigger breeding behaviour in Mirt? She attacked Forest, an Alexandrine hen, who subsequently died. Mirt was blamed. Although she and Sid were perched calmly in the Timneh African Grey shed, Mirt’s chest feathers were smirched with telltale smears of blood.

My big mistake

mirt timneh african greyTrying to do the best for all the birds, I decided to build the Timnehs a separate flight, adjoining their shed. While we were constructing this, Mirt lived in a cage in the end flight; Sid sat on the top and commiserated with her. Mirt hated being caged and plucked out neck feathers. She did this consistently whenever I left for any holidays.
A couple of weeks later, chatting to John Strutt, a friend who kept free-flying birds at liberty, I told him how unhappy Mirt was. “Let her outside,” he said. “She’s wild caught; she knows the property.” Mirt hadn’t flown outside all that summer. Why did I listen to him? I opened the flight door and Mirt flew to the aviary roof. I went inside the aviary to fill the water bowls. When I returned, she’d gone.
In East Anglia, the east wind can blow for several days. If I’d been less hasty, I’d have realized it was blowing too strongly for her to fly back home cross-wind. She was sighted flying over an orchard two miles away. By the time I got the message, five days had elapsed and she’d moved on. The fierce wind blew for ten days. I made strenuous efforts, putting up flyers, newspaper adverts, radio appeals and tramping the fields. If you’ve ever suffered the dismay of losing a parrot, you’ll have had heart rending experience of well-meaning people as well as malicious ones sending you on wild goose chases.

And now …

mirt timneh african greyI lost Mirt seven years ago; I believe a hawk must have taken her. When I take Artha and Casper wearing their harness for a wood walk and ask them to ‘call Mirt,’ they’ll both give a Timneh cheep. None of us have, nor ever will, forget her.