EcoTour to the Pantanal in Brazil

Do you think parrots are magical?  If so, then nothing compares to witnessing a flighted parrot in the wild.  This is where they best express a bird’s true magnificent nature and beauty.  It will forever change the way you view parrots, and the lives they so deserve.

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If you would like to experience the elegance of wild parrots, you can join us for another Phoenix Landing ecotour to the Brazilian Pantanal this upcoming September. The Pantanal is a unique place, completely flooded in the spring and summer, very dry in the fall and winter. Since September is the end of the dry season, it’s possible to move around the area and enjoy a wide diversity of wildlife, including parrots from small conures to the once endangered hyacinth macaws.

This tour starts with a visit to meet acclaimed scientist Neiva Guedes. She almost single-handedly brought the hyacinth macaw back from the brink of extinction. Thanks to Neiva, this majestic macaw is now flourishing in several parts of Brazil.   Neiva also believes that parrots and humans must learn to live side-by-side in order for parrots to survive. She and her volunteers monitor macaw nests in the heart of a major city, Campo Grande. We enjoy visiting those nests and watching her scientific team at work.

Neiva Guedes and Luiz Paiva Filho

Neiva Guedes and Luiz Paiva Filho

Next, the trip includes a stay at two fazendas (or ranches) where wild parrots often abound. In past trips we watched nanday conures gulping down dung from farm animals, a pionus eating cashew flowers, macaws and Amazons flying overhead looking for mates or nesting sites, and quakers fiercely protecting their extraordinary nests.

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Nanda conuress eating dung

Nanday conures eating dung

Blue front Amazon foraging and having fun

Blue front Amazon foraging and having fun

The trip ends with a visit to the indescribable Buraco das Araras, known as the hole of the macaws, where greenwings and other parrots fly below into a deep sinkhole. Here is a brief movie to give you a flavor for this enchanted home to greenwings, peach front conures, very rare yellow-faced Amazons, and much other wildlife.

While visiting in 2014, we actually witnessed a pair of greenwings take on a pair of unfledged vultures. As you can see in this photo, they had a brief encounter and the vulture was thrown into the 300’ deep sinkhole by the macaw. It was shocking!   The macaws clearly wanted the vulture’s nest hole for their own, and they were willing to fight to the death for it. What might this say for some of the macaw behavior you see in your own home?

Greenwing macaw takes on a young vulture

Greenwing macaw takes on a young vulture

Lastly, we have an amazing guide, Luiz Paiva Filho. He has a gifted knowledge of Brazilian wildlife, is fluid in English, and most of all has a herculean heart when it comes to the lives of parrots. We cannot imagine a trip there without him by our side. Luiz will often say “life is beautiful!” and you just know he means it. Life is indeed beautiful in the rugged floodplains of the Pantanal.

You can also read about our 2014 trip in two exceptional blog posts by Susan Orosz, PhD,DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian), Dipl ECZM (Avian). It was extra special to have her and Dr. Rhoda Stevenson, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian) with us on the last trip!

If you’d like to join us for the next tour in September 2015, you can find more information about it at phoenixlanding.org.  All our trips include a tax-deductible donation for conservation projects in Brazil. Helping wild parrots is very important too!

The Social Relationships of Parrots

In the wild, parrots have many relationships.  These are predominately either as parents, mates or friends in a flock.  Social relationships are so important to the life of a parrot, that it is the theme of our 2015 calendar.

2015 calendar

Some parrots live in large single-species flocks, and rarely mingle with birds of other species.    They will fly, eat and sleep in large single-species groups.  These are predominately Old World parrots from Africa, Australia and Indonesia – like African greys, cockatoos, cockatiels and parakeets.

The New World parrots of South and Central America –  like macaws, Amazons, conures, pionus and quakers – will mingle with other species while foraging in the same area, such as the clay licks, or while roosting for sleep.   They will also mingle in large groups, but tend to spend lots of time in smaller family groups as well.
Buracas Brazil
Buracas das Araras, Brazil.  Photo by Kevin Blaylock

So what kind of relationship should we have with the birds in our homes?  It is helpful to know where your parrot species originated, because this can provide some clues about their innate behaviors.  For example, macaws and Amazons will often develop human family relationships with one primary person.  Cockatoos and conures, which tend to group in larger flocks, will often be more sociable with a wider range of people.

Regardless of the species, parrots in the wild always have other birds of their species for constant companionship.  As prey animals, it is dangerous to live alone, because that makes them vulnerable.  Does your bird live alone most of the day, or is she sequestered in a room by herself?  This type of living arrangement can be very stressful for a bird.

Phoenix and Buddy April 2012Phoenix and Nutty, greenwing macaws.  Photo by Paul M. Howey

SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES
Every parrot is an individual, so we never want to label them in a way that may restrict their possible relationship opportunities. This includes avoiding labels like “just likes women” or “doesn’t like men.”  People often make these judgments based on very limited interactions; however, birds are extremely resilient and adaptable.  They usually adjust quickly to a new environment, and will respond positively to those who earn their trust and treat them with respect.

Regardless of who has a relationship with the parrot in your household, you can be assured that the she is watching everything that happens around her, and is learning from everyone in the family. Like all living creatures, birds learn who they can trust, or who might require them to be defensive. They watch and learn how the others play with toys, or what everyone is eating (human and parrot).

LEARNING VIA SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
One way to teach a bird  a new behavior is to be a good role model.  As highly social animals, parrots are very attentive to what others are doing.  If you like broccoli, or enjoy having fun, your bird is likely to as well.  This type of learning serves parrots well in the wild, as watching what other birds do can be a successful tool for survival.

COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Our parrots see details that we often miss.  For example, they see color in full spectrum, which we can’t even imagine.  They see things at a much faster speed than we do, this helps wild parrots avoid predators and make a quick escape.  It is likely that birds sense things about us such as our moods or physical condition.  When we are communicating with our parrots, it’s good to remember that our physical actions are supremely important, probably more than our vocalizations. Consider how fast you move, or what mood you are in as you approach your bird to interact.  Are you talking one way and acting another?  Do you expect them to understand your words while giving them unclear body language signals? Birds often communicate with simple subtleties such as posture, change in feather position, eye pinning, movement of a foot, opening of a beak or color on their face patch.  Get to know your bird’s body language so you can appreciate and respect the information they are giving you about what makes them comfortable or what gives them concern.  These details will help you develop a more positive long-term relationship.

Do you allow your bird on your shoulder?  Some birds enjoy this position so as to be with us, other birds may simply prefer a position of height and safety.  Others just want to minimize uncomfortable hand touches.  If you allow a bird on your shoulder, make sure you already have good two-way communication and understand your bird’s body language very well.

 

Larry Cromwell
Larry Cromwell and Duke.
  Photo by Jackie Garcia Photography

MATE OR FRIEND?
Almost every parrot will develop a drive to mate and reproduce, once they reach sexual maturity.  It is very hard to avoid this natural desire.  What we can do is make sure that they do not develop a mate-like relationship with us.  We don’t want to give our birds the wrong signals because this can cause many possible physical and behavioral problems.  For example, if you stroke a bird below the neck, especially under the wings and down the back, you are giving that bird very “sexy” signals. This can cause a bird to eventually prolapse (where the sex organs fall out of its body) or more commonly, to scream for your continued attention.  Neither outcome is positive, so avoid these kind of misplaced signals.

Some birds, especially males, may become more demanding when they want to mate with another bird or be with their perceived human mate.  Female birds may start to lay an excessive number of eggs.  Both of these problems can be significantly reduced if you don’t give your birds the wrong impression about your relationship, and minimize physical over-stimulation.

 

Tee and Virgil
Tee Underhill and his adopted Meyers parrot, Virgil.

The most positive social relationship for humans and parrots is that of friendship.  Birds like to have fun, just like us.  They also enjoy a good meal, and they certainly need regular showers. These are all things we can do with our birds in a companionable way.  In the wild, birds are also traveling long distances to find food or a safe place to rest.  So giving our birds lots of time out of their cage, room and/or the house can be mentally and physically enriching as well.  These are all things that we can enjoy with our parrots, and don’t require us to give them the wrong “signals” about our relationship.  And since most parrots are long-lived, it’s in everyone’s interest to create long-term, sustainable and positive social relationships.

An Accidental Landing – Building Trust and Appropriate Expectations

Who’d have known.  One spring day, on a trip to the Pet Expo, we met some cute chirping Bourke parakeets and had an introduction to Phoenix Landing that took us on a journey we never expected.  We came home soon thereafter with those cute Bourkes and that was the end of it.  Or so we thought.

On our trip to The Landing for our parrot care training class, we met some of the many Phoenix Landing foster birds.  This included a loud, cantankerous Moluccan cockatoo named Tuki.   So many sites tell us to do our homework, prepare for the bird we choose, learn if you have the ability and the time to dedicate to them.   This is especially true of large macaws and cockatoos.  Kudos to the folks who work diligently to assure them great homes.  These large birds live an exceptionally long life, and even under the best of circumstances should outlive more than one home.   Sometimes we do not know the background of these intelligent gifted creatures or what they take with them from home to home.

Tuki 08 at Rosettas

Photo by Paul Howey

As we walked around the building we were introduced to a variety of birds.   I was especially fond of a blue and gold macaw named Lily who liked to play catch.   HMMM I thought, someday………the bird of my dreams, a large macaw.  Beautiful and entertaining.  Yes, someday that would be the parrot for me.   We stopped at Tuki’s cage.  I was sticking my fingers in and giving head scritches, (although the sign told us to NOT to put our hands in the cage and teach the birds to bite!) until he got irritated and struck back.  “Oh, don’t worry Ann, I’m fine, it’s just a little blood.”   But as he reached his full leg and large nailed foot through the cage bars, we heard the words, “Look, he’s picking YOU.”  Really?  I have worked with adoption organizations for enough years to know what that means.   In their heart of hearts they were thinking, “Maybe? Could this be the family we’re looking for?  The folks who would take a chance on this mature, male, Moluccan cockatoo with a history?”  In the time he’s been here I’ve learned that big clawed foot reaching through the bars means, “come here my sweetie, the better to bite you.”  We learn, we grow, we adapt.

So against all the sage wisdom and hundreds of internet parrot education sites, we decided to give Tuki a chance.  Bob drove up the mountain that day, loaded a double macaw cage in the car, got Tuki into a travel cage, got bit 4 times before all was safely packed and loaded, and headed back down the mountain for home.  From what I’m told it was an adventure in noise tolerance the entire trip home.  One hour and thirty minutes of full blown TOO SCREAMING.  Bob swears the truckers kept looking over to see who was being killed in the front seat while he was driving home.

Tuki at Liz and Bobby's

Tuki is 15 yrs old.   If history is correct, he had one home for 8 years until he reached sexual maturity, then some of the typical cockatoo challenges began.  He then had a series of foster/adoptive homes that for reasons of their own did not last more than a couple years each.  His independence and lack of trust, his potential biting and screaming, had earned him quite a reputation with Phoenix Landing folks.   Everyone knows of Tuki.  Mention his name and heads nod knowingly, sly smiles, whispered mumblings all around you. Lucky for Tuki and us, he is an independent bird.  And lucky for us, Tuki likes chaos.  Our house is chaos.  The noise level is usually high.  And Tuki thrives in the environment we are able to provide.

We had Tuki several months before we fully decided to adopt him.   Despite the original assumption that Tuki liked Bob, it became readily apparent that Tuki and I were kindred spirits.  I do LOUD really well.  And thanks to my job experience many years ago working in zoos, I understand wild animals and body language really well also.  We’ve had a few bites along the way.  I can say with certainty they were our fault.  I was told to watch his eyes; his moods would be reflected in his eyes.   WHAT?  Are you serious?  Those inky black pools couldn’t possibly show anything.   How wrong that assumption.  Those inky black pools are most definitely the windows to his soul.

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One of Bob’s mantras is not to develop preset expectations.   And since we were relatively ignorant of the ways of Toos, we simply welcomed Tuki into our home and from the first day accepted him as he is.   How were we to know otherwise?   And we have time on our side.  If he lives to be 80, and I’m 54, well you do the math.   He has blossomed here; we’ve all learned respect, patience, trust, and mischief together.

The first time he did a step up, scared the bejesus out of me.  I had been working with him to shake hands.   I reached in to rub his toes and WOW suddenly he was on my hand.   I turned to Bob and asked, “WHAT NOW?”   Since that first time, we can dance, walk around the house, move from cage to stand to cage.  But, of course, only when Tuki is in the mood.   He loves showers, outside time, and wandering around on the floor.   Since he’s been here he as torn chunks from the sheet rock, shredded my curtains, made kindling out of my dining room chairs and curio cabinet.   Toos do like to tear things up.   We only forgot to lock his cage doors twice – we learned.

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He’s a pain in the butt, he stalks Bob, he loves head scritches, dancing, singing, and barking with the dogs to warn of intruders.  He plays ball, shakes and rattles his bells, and shreds as much cardboard and pine blocks as I can bring home.   He expertly dismantles every new toy or foraging tool I put in his reach.  He flaps and jumps and sings from the cage top in the evenings, usually just as the National News comes on TV.  He loves peanut butter, birdie bread, almonds, mangos and toys.  Yes, he still screams but mostly at appropriate Too Times.  When Tuki screams, Sam (a Great Pyrenees) howls.   I think he does it on purpose.  He helps me make breakfast on weekend mornings by joining me at the prep table or hanging sideways to supervise my work.   He still hates hats and brooms and paper towel tubes.

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He is the most beautiful, intelligent, entertaining, companion creature I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.   Had we done our homework, had we planned for bringing in a large Too, we might also have developed unnecessary expectations of him.  And we might never have brought him home.   Which is why I call his the “accidental landing”.

Accepting these birds on their terms is critical to their well-being.  And to the humans who live with them.   As Tuki’s trust grows, so does our bond.  On his terms, not mine.  He has his days.  Hell, I have mine.  There is so much I don’t know.  There is so much I worry about.  He will have a home here until I am no longer able.  I hope that when that time comes, his next home will welcome him on the same terms and allow him to be what he is – a great bird.  He’s not a child, not a puppy, let me repeat, he’s a mature male Moluccan Cockatoo with attitude.  And we love him.

I post videos and photos all the time on my Facebook wall.  Tuki has his own fan club.   He even has a portrait painted by a good friend.   He may not have his own aviary, or bird room, or 8 hours a day of ME time, but he’s ok with that.  We’re all ok with what we are able to provide for one another.  I marvel at his beauty and intelligence.  He makes me laugh every day – sometimes just because he can laugh.   Even at appropriate times, like when he sneaks up and startles Bob.

Where I once had a dining room table and chairs, we now have a double flight cage of Bourkes and a single flight with Cricket the Rosella.  Where I once had a curio cabinet and guest chair, I have a double macaw cage for Tuki and a monstrous climbing tree.  Where I once had curtains – well I don’t have them anymore.

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Sometimes you have to just trust your heart.  Fate can play an important roll in some decisions we make in life.   On those days when I worry, when I think maybe this is not enough, I stop and realize Tuki has been here a relatively short time.   And along this journey we’ve met some great new friends.   Learned all sorts of new skills.  Toy making has become a weekend event.  Bob likes to tell folks that I cook for the birds better than I do for him.  A leap of faith?  Or an adventure in ignorance?  Does it really matter?  I think not.  What matters is Tuki.

Sometimes the most unlikely chance is the one chance that is needed.   Thanks to all the Phoenix Landing folks, especially Ann and Mary.  Thanks for taking a chance on a couple novices.  Thanks for providing new homes for these birds.  Thanks to all the folks who work with these magnificent birds.   And thank you for trusting us with Tuki.  Don’t believe what others tell you, he’s awesome.

CampTukiSign painted by Jill Casteel

Fun With Foraging

More and more parrot owners are hearing that their parrots should be foraging for their food.

Even many vets are recommending foraging as part of a treatment plan for such issues as obesity, screaming, feather destruction and other undesirable issues. Unfortunately, more often than not, little if any information is given on exactly how to provide foraging opportunities, how to teach a parrot to forage, or what kind of foods can be used in foraging.

On February 9, 2013, in Towson Maryland, Phoenix Landing presented a class called Fun With Foraging, where these issues were discussed. Simple steps were shown teaching parrot owners how to introduce their birds to foraging and how to slowly build complexity and challenge into foraging opportunities without frustrating the parrot or the owner.  Ideas were given on how owner could make many foraging items themselves, and adapt toys they may already have for their parrots into foraging toys. Various options were explored as to how to provide foraging not only for pellets and nuts, but fresh, cooked and dehydrated foods.

For those who were not able to attend the class, I have made the slide show presentation available here. And though it’s never as good as attending a class in person, I hope you get some good ideas for adding foraging into your parrot’s life.

Please share some of your foraging experiences!

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Kris Porter, David Hull, Nyla Copp, Carina Law, Cheryl Celso, Karin Olausson, Kathy James, Sheron White Hagelston, Angela Harrison, Anna McGregor, Jennifer Slaughter, Lisa Bakalars, Leanne Burton and Debbie Russell for use of the great photos.
There are a couple photos in the presentation that I could not tract down who the photographer was but they were too awesome not to use. If you see a photo that is yours, please accept my apologies and let me know which one it is so that I can give you the credit due.

Go Outside!

Earlier this spring I had the great pleasure to attend a Phoenix Landing lecture, with guest speaker Nyla Copp, “Get  The Flock Out!” in which she discussed the importance  for the health of our parrots  to provide them with  time outdoors in the sunshine & fresh air. Exposure to UV light is vital to parrots in order for them to produce vitamin D, which is essential for the utilization of calcium, a necessity for parrot health. There is no better source for UV light than pure, unfiltered sunshine. Parrots have a highly refined respiratory system which makes them more susceptible to chemicals and contaminants in the air. With indoor air quality decreasing over the years, avian vets have been seeing an increase in the number of companion parrots with respiratory illnesses. This was true of the little lovebird, Orlando, who came to live with Nyla several years ago. Nyla combined her construction skills, creativity, and passion for providing the best care possible for her new companion and built Orlando an outdoor aviary. Through her business, My Birdie Buddy, Nyla now designs and builds custom aviaries, as well as unique perches and playstands. In her presentation she shared invaluable tips and advice on design, materials and construction techniques for building aviaries, from simple to elaborate, from enclosing a porch or deck to building large free-standing structures or small portable ones, and left the entire audience longing for their own aviaries for their birds.

I have yet to build an aviary, for my requirements for one are high, as it must be able to contain my very powerful GreenWing Macaw, Annie, and be big enough to allow each bird to have enough personal space to prevent fighting and allow flight. In truth, I think I will need at least two separate enclosures; but this does not mean that my birds are sitting indoors waiting for me while I plan and dream and research aviaries? NO! We go outside as often as we can, nearly every day.


From my very first days with parrots, I have always taken them outside. At first, my little parrotlets were in a cage that I could pick up and carry so I would bring them out and set them on a table or bench or chair whenever I was out working in the yard. Then when Ariel joined the family, her cage was too large for me to carry around, and a friend gave me an older, travel sized cage which we used. But even that was very awkward, as it became more challenging to find places to safely set her outdoor cage.

Then one day I was attending a Phoenix Landing event, and I saw John Kerns, rolling a travel cage mounted to a babystroller frame. Wow, what a great idea! John told me that his wife Bobbie put them together and calls them “cageollers” and  most generously offered this one to me! I will be forever grateful! Thank you, thank you John & Bobbie!
Once home I mounted Ariel’s outside cage onto the stroller frame and secured it firmly with zip ties (the cage that John gave me had bar spacing to large for Ariel’s little head). Now she traveled with me all around the yard wherever I went, she could reach through the bars and nibble on parrot safe plants, could easily be moved in or out of the sun or shade, with ease and safety.
From the day I knew that we would be getting Trixie, I began looking for a second stroller base to build a cageoller for her.  I had no luck finding another like Ariel’s, and upon meeting Trixie, a BIG Blue & Gold Macaw, realized I needed something bigger anyway. We had a large wire dog crate in our attic that would work as a cage section, and I just needed to find a base. While glancing through one of my husband’s tool catalogs, Harbor Freight Tools, I noticed an ad for a flat (no sides) powder coated steel garden wagon. I checked the measurement of the wire crate, 36” long x 23”wide x 24”high, and realized it would fit nearly perfectly on the 24”x48” wagon, all the better that it was on sale! I removed the bottom plastic tray from the wire crate, and again used zip ties to attach the two together, trimming off the excess of the tie. I initially replaced the plastic tray, but realized that without the tray, poop, and water from misting, and pieces of food could fall straight through into the grass, resulting in less required clean-up.
As I continued to foster various birds for Phoenix Landing, I kept searching for baby carriage bases, still with no luck, so I consulted the cageoller creator, Bobbie, again. She was now buying used Snap-N-Go stroller bases, made by Baby Trend. This is a stroller base designed for a baby car seat to be snapped into place, and comes in a single and double model. Used ones can be found for sale on Craig’s List. Bobbie uses the double stroller frame with a wire dog crate, like that first one that her husband John gave me, for her macaws and larger Amazons. These would be suitable for larger cockatoos as well. For smaller birds, I have used standard “pet store” bird cages, as there are so many around that are really too small for a parrot to live in, but this puts them to good use. (Important side note here, make sure all doors, even food bowl doors are very securely latched when using these cages outdoors, use quicklinks, clamps or zip ties for extra safety.)
One of the major downfalls of using this type of cage for cageollers though, is that since my birds really love being misted (and I mean soaked down to the skin wet!) nearly every time we go outside, the cages were rusting and powder coating peeling off very quickly.

That’s when I came across the King’s aluminum travel carriers (contact Phoenix Landing for purchasing questions). They all have 5/8” bar spacing, this would work for all but the smallest birds. The larger one is 20x29x20, the smaller one is 18 1/2×16 1/2x 18. Aluminum is very light weight, will not chip, flake or rust like powder coating. I will admit they are pricey, but I look at it as a long-term investment.
The Kings are too small for Trixie and Annie macaws who still use the wire dog crates, but they work great for my other birds, so everyone has a cageoller to fit their needs.

Cageollers are great for traveling with your birds too. Once removed from the cage/carrier, the stroller folds flat, and when you reach your destination, reattach the cage to the stroller using several bungee cords, or you could use zipties, just remember to bring scissors to cut them off when you are ready to take the cageoller apart for the trip back home.

So go find a cage or carrier appropriate for your bird, pick up a stroller or wagon, build your own cageoller, and get outside this summer!

Made by Judy for her birds Dixie and Wilson