23 Trees: A story of a macaw getting loose, and what it took to get her home again

by John Kerns

“Six days on the road and I’m a gonna make it home tonight.”  Words from an old country truck driving song from long ago. 

Day one: The nightmare begins

Harley in a tree

On a warm Monday in late October around lunch time here in Northern Virginia our 20 year old female Blue and Gold Macaw named Harley accidently got outside and flew away.  We, Bobbie and I, saw the general direction she went in and started scouring the neighborhood and woods in that direction.  After several hours, we saw and heard nothing.  Finally, around 4:30 p.m. a neighbor heard her squawk and located her in a tree next to a very busy road a few hundred yards from our house.  We stayed with her until dark and with great reluctance, went home.  Fortunately, during the night she didn’t fly and we were back there at first light on Tuesday.  

Day two: Tree one

We tried to coax her to come down to us.  The tree was such that she couldn’t climb down and I doubt now that she was sufficiently hungry or thirsty enough to even try.  We also deduced that because she is a prey animal, she will not naturally fly to the ground. So we camped out near the tree where she could see us and hear us calling her name, offering her food, etc.  We even brought our other BGM (in a carrier) to see if that would be any motivation.  It wasn’t.  So she spent Tuesday in the first tree. 

Day three: Four more trees

Harley flies away from the bucket truck

On Wednesday, a friend brought a small bucket truck that was able to get close to the tree.  Unfortunately, the boom was about four feet too short.  When I reached to gently pull the branch toward me, she flew.  She flew about 100 yards to a very high tree across the busy road.  The Fire Department, via Animal Control, brought their big tower truck.  We got within about six feet and she flew off again.  From our high vantage point, we could see the direction she flew in and the area where she may have landed.  After an hour or so, we found her in a tree in a neighbor’s backyard.  For the rest of Wednesday, she flew to four more trees.  Each tree was several hundred yards away and with the help of wonderful neighbors, we were able to locate her each time.  By dark, she was in a tree across the street behind a neighbor’s house where she spent Wednesday night. 

More days, more trees

We were with her from first light to last light each day.  From Wednesday to Saturday, she flew to 23 different trees.  Each time was to the top of a high tree on the outside branches.  There was one time when she flew north.  As we were searching a likely landing zone, I saw her flying from even further north heading south toward us.  If she hadn’t flown back toward us, we would have never known where she was. 

Help from friends and neighbors

Everyone in the neighborhood, without exception, was helpful and supportive.  The NextDoor App was humming.  Our neighbor Josh said that was about as much drama as NextDoor has ever seen. Ted has Superman eyes.  He spotted her in trees that I missed.  Mike has Superman ears.  He could hear Harley clucking in a tree a hundred feet away.  The last two nights, Thursday and Friday, she flew right at dark and we had to go to be bed not knowing where she was.  Thanks to Mike and Ted, we were able to locate her the next morning after a couple of hours searching and calling. 

The weather was perfect, generally sunny with highs in the 70’s and lows in the 50’s.  One morning was a dense, cold fog that burned away by late morning.  The first couple of days when we saw Harley flying, it was a frantic, rapid flapping.  By Friday, it was a slower beat.  At first we thought she might be running out of gas.  Nope.  She was actually getting very efficient with her flying.  It was perversely beautiful to watch. 

Day six: Trees 22 and 23

By Saturday afternoon, she was working on day six with no food and water.  Tree 22 was the highest tree yet and it was on the edge of woods.  If she had continued to fly north into the woods, we likely could never have located her.  Instead she flew west.  From her wing flapping, she was clearly running out of gas.  Unable to get or maintain altitude (?), she landed in a low tree in a front yard.  When Ted spotted her, she was in the middle of the tree about 15 feet over my head.  Long story short, a neighbor brought a small ladder that I leaned against the trunk and she climbed down the small branches to my hand.  It was 2:30 p.m.  But who was counting?  It was into a pillow case and a kind neighbor drove us home. 

Finally home

Harley, home at last!

She was clearly worn out.  I estimate that she flew a total distance of around three miles, plus or minus.  When we got her home, she immediately drank a lot of water after which she ate.  She had lost about 170 grams or about 15% of her normal body weight.  By evening, her poop was all urine and urates.  The next morning, there was some feces in the poop. 

If we had not gotten her back Saturday afternoon, we aren’t sure we ever would have.  She was probably quite depleted by that time and the weather turned colder.  Saturday night and Sunday, the weather was in the 40’s with a cold rain.  But she is finally home, warm, hydrated, fed, and resting. 

An interview with Deb Knowlson, the artist who painted “Sweet Rosie”

Want to know more about Deb Knowlson, the artist painted the stunning portrait of “Sweet Rosie”? We did! So, we interviewed her and are sharing the interview here. Her beautiful watercolor painting truly captures the complexity of Rosie’s personality, and hints at the varied life she had led.

“Sweet Rosie” is a painting being auctioned off by Phoenix Landing to support Indonesian Parrot Project.

Go to Auction – “Sweet Rosie,” to learn more or place a bid. 

Tell us about yourself, and your background as an artist. How did you get started?

Deb Knowlson

I wish I could say I’ve attended years of art school but the truth is I am fairly new to painting and mostly self-taught.   I began watercolor painting by checking out library books on the subject and experimenting with techniques.  I’ve taken an online botanical course and spent some time in the studio of a local Oregon watercolorist who explained some of the basic rules but didn’t hold me to them.  I learned the value of breaking the artistic rules sometimes with happy results.

Your art seems tied to your interest in conservation. Tell us about that connection.

I am only motivated to paint due to my interest in wildlife and conservation.  This goes back a long way to my childhood in London, England, where visits to the countryside were a fairyland of hedgerow creatures including hedgehogs, birds, and even badgers.  Upon immigrating to the U.S., a whole new world of national parks and variety of species was fascinating to me.   Cities and suburbs can be home to wildlife, but its where the wild creatures are in their natural habitat that they flourish best.  Its an especially challenging time for many species so I’m pleased to help the little I can.

Other than “Sweet Rosie,” of course, what pieces are you most proud of? What about them do you like, and what are their stories?

My favorite piece other than “Sweet Rosie” is a recent painting I did of a lioness called, “Reaching the Heart.”  The watercolor painting was inspired by the words of the amazing Jane Goodall.  She said, “Once you’ve reached the heart, you’ve got somebody for good.”  This painting was accepted into the exhibit for Jane Goodall’s 85th birthday celebration coming up in Austria.  I’m thrilled Jane will see my painting and it will be part of her mission to reach hearts for the good of wildlife.

What would you like others to know about “Sweet Rosie”? What drew you to paint her?

“Sweet Rosie” by Deb Knowlson

I am one of those people that animals seem to like.  I was once visiting a parrot rescue in British Columbia, Canada, when a gigantic blue hyacinth macaw flew from above and across the room and landed with a thud on my back while I was in a tour group.  Staff were horrified I was hurt or might panic but there was no serious damage and he proceeded to crawl over my shoulder into my arms laying upside down like an infant.  We were good but he would not let go.  You see, sometimes, they like you and you like them.  When I saw Rosie’s photo I thought, “Oh, I like her.”   Animals and humans may not be the same, but they each have feelings as individuals and deserve respect and love.

Where can people go to see your other works?

To see my other works, which are mainly wildlife paintings, please go to my instagram profile, artisindebsnature2.   I can be reached by DM there and also through my email, artisindebsnature2@gmail.com.   I mainly sell originals.  I donate some to worthwhile wildlife conservation efforts and I donate portions of sales to wildlife charities.  That is why I paint.

What else would you like to share about yourself or your work?

I’m thrilled that the painting of Rosie will potentially benefit the Indonesian Parrot Project because of the need for protection of endangered Indonesian cockatoos and awareness of trafficking of wild cockatoos along with education and resources.  I think Rosie would approve.  I once was owned by a rescued wild-caught Congo African Grey called “Couscous.”  Parrots are complex individuals who wish to remain in their wild homes. Take my word for it… I’ve been informed.

False Clues: Qball’s Story

Why was my quaker parrot Qball falling down?

qball3

In 2010, Qball was 7 years old, and full of himself. When I yelled at my computer in frustration, Qball yelled “That’s a bad dog!” along with me. He played with toys and hung out on my shoulder. He masturbated, then laughed hysterically. He helped me carve pumpkins, ate his fresh food with gusto, and had a huge vocabulary. He was the best little guy.

But now, something was very wrong. The first time it happened, it was night time, Qball dropped to the floor and one of his legs hung limply. After five minutes, he regained use of the leg, but seemed dazed.

I rushed him to the vet the next day.

When you have a sick bird, your world is clouded with worry, and you want to figure out what’s wrong. I have an excellent vet, and I hoped it wasn’t as serious as it seemed. We did the standard tests, and while his weight was low, he was a small quaker. We were unable to find an immediate reason for what the vet explained to me were likely seizures. I was heartbroken.

aball.jpg

“We could do a Avina Bornavirus test,” the vet said.

I knew what that meant – or at least I thought I did. They wanted to see if Qball had PDD.

At the time, the association between ABV and PDD was confusing – and it still is. The way I understood it, it was likely that he might develop the disease if he had the virus. So when I got the results from the vet that he was positive, I even texted friends that Qball had PDD and was going to die. My wise friends corrected me: the disease was not always the direct result of the virus. Birds had died of PDD that did not test positive for Bornavirus. Birds who had Bornavirus never developed the disease.

Still we assumed that the problems were related to ABV. The seizures were neurological – a classic symptom. We treated Qball with Celebrex, and I hoped for the best. He was on it for most of 2010, but the seizures kept coming. And he was not gaining weight, and was still having trouble breathing..

I brought him back to the vet in October, because he was having more frequent bouts of breathlessness. So we decided to do an x-ray. We hadn’t done one prior to this, assuming that his symptoms were neurological and related to ABV. When the vet showed me the X-ray, it was clear: Qball had terrible atherosclerosis. His aorta was calcified and he didn’t have long to live. What we thought were seizures could well be associated with this build up of plaque in his body, and cardiovascular disease can be associated with leg weakness and ataxia.

What we had assumed was a neurological problem because of the relation to ABV was actually cardiovascular – and had we known this, the course of treatment might have been very different. Qball died 6 weeks later.

qaball2

I share this sad story in the hopes that if you get an ABV+ diagnosis you will consider it as only one piece of data, and not a definitive diagnosis of disease. I have no idea if Qball’s heart problems could have been treated if caught earlier. Perhaps not. But getting the correct diagnosis late in the game did not help.

PDD vs. Avian Bornavirus, A Layman’s Interpretation

PDD digestionOver the years, some birds have died from a dreaded disease called PDD, or proventricular dilatation disease. It was first noticed in macaws that could not properly digest their food. In some other species, like greys and cockatoos, it caused neurological problems. It is a mysterious disease that we do not thoroughly understand. It is still not completely explainable. And anything inexplicable can leave us feeling concerned, afraid, and even irrational at times.

What some researchers thought in 2010: ABV = PDD
In 2010, a major research project declared that the cause of PDD was the avian bornavirus (ABV). It said ABV = PDD. That’s a very declarative statement! So, at last we thought we knew the answer and could finally cope with the perplexing PDD challenge, saving our birds from future harm. Unfortunately, this “answer” caused many bird owners and veterinarians to rush to judgment, even euthanizing birds that tested positive for ABV.

What some researchers think now: ABV does not always, or even often, mean PDD
Now we have come to learn that many birds are ABV positive, and most never succumb to PDD. Then there are those birds that die of PDD, confirmed on necropsy, but they are ABV negative. What are we to think? What are we to do? Yes, ABV can be an important component in causing PDD, but an ABV positive bird is not automatically doomed to contract PDD, and in most cases they do not.

How might ABV be spread?
Some veterinarians believe that birds are born with ABV, passing it through the egg; or that birds possibly acquire ABV through the exchange of fluids during mating. Sounds kind of like HIV, right?  ABV and HIV are both auto-immune diseases.

As a person who strives to make sure that birds have a succession of good homes, here is my concern — do we need to worry about ABV positive birds? It is my personal opinion that we do not – assuming that the bird is otherwise healthy and thriving. We have asked many veterinarians this question over the years, and most agree that an otherwise healthy bird can be re-homed without reservation.

Tips to promote overall health for our birds, and prevent disease
Avian bornavirus, like many other disease challenges in our environment, can certainly place extra stress on a bird. If a bird is sick for unknown reasons, testing for ABV might be a valuable piece of diagnostic knowledge. However, there are other things we can do to prevent many diseases, and in my opinion, these are equally important!

6432 cage for grey

An environment that can contribute to physical and mental health. Used with permission from naturalinspirationsparrotcages.com

  • We can make sure the quality-of-life we provide parrots in captivity includes ample space to move, explore, and exercise.
  • We can provide access to nutritious food and not crappy seed from the big box store.
  • terrible cage.png

    Does NOT lead to good health

    We can make sure our bird sees a true avian veterinarian on a regular basis – and receives the labs and gram stains that help give us early information about disease.

  • And we can learn how to live with a parrot without expectations of inappropriate touching, over-stressing environments, or unnecessary insecurities.

Support more ABV and PDD research
Meanwhile, we whole-heartedly applaud the continued efforts of the veterinary and scientific community to research both diseases; to understand more definitively what their connections might be; and to encourage balance and reason about both potential problems with their clients. Birds do not need to die when they are not truly suffering from a disease, so let’s be careful not to overreact.

You can learn more about both PDD and avian bornavirus from Dr. Susan Orosz, PhD, DVM, DABVP (Avian), DECZM (Avian) here: https://lafeber.com/pet-birds/unraveling-the-puzzle-of-avian-bornavirus-pdd/ and here http://www.birdandexotics.com/medical-news.pml

Stay tuned for our next blog post about a bird that was diagnosed and presumed sick because of avian bornavirus, and as a consequence its heart disease diagnosis was totally missed!  by Ann Brooks

Radiograph image source

Last, Robert, Herbert Weissenböck, Nora Nedorost, & H.L. Shivaprasad. “Avian bornavirus genotype 4 recovered from naturally infected psittacine birds with proventricular dilatation disease in South Africa.” Journal of the South African Veterinary Association [Online], 83.1 (2012): 4 pages. Web. 24 Aug. 2018.

 

The Blue and Gold Macaws of Trinidad

By John Kerns

In January 2018, a group of scientists, government officials and conservation representatives gathered in Trinidad to talk about parrots. This included those blue and golds trying to rebound in the wild, as well as the macaws now living in homes as pets. Since having captive parrots is still a bit controversial, there aren’t many resources for people to learn about how to care for them. Trinidad macaws

Bernadette Plair, who determined that wild macaws would not go extinct in Trinidad on her watch, decided that helping people to care for any parrots in their homes was equally important. Thus, Bernadette and her colleagues set out to provide an educational opportunity, and Phoenix Landing was asked to participate in this laudable endeavor.

I spent the first couple of days meeting with Forestry officials, game wardens, and conservation representatives. We talked about the needs of captive birds, including those confiscated and permanently living in cages at the Wildlife Section. Our goal was to provide officials with additional information they can share with local residents about caring for pet birds, and also use for those macaws living in government facilities. The need for enrichment, showers, good food, behavior knowledge, and medical support are relatively new topics for Trinidad residents.

Trinidad ForestryFor the last four days of my visit, we hosted parrot care classes for Trinidad residents and veterinary office staff. Well over 130 people attended! Although there is still some confusion about very old laws regarding parrots kept in homes, there is definitely a desire by the local people to acquire more information about how to care for their birds. We applaud their determination to make sure their companion birds thrive! We also hope that Bernadette Plair and her colleagues will continue to be successful in sustaining and growing the wild macaw population on Trinidad as well. They are working hard to inspire and educate the public about this conservation effort. We are so impressed with their success so far!

Trinidad classOn the last day we visited the Nariva Swamp to observe macaws that had been reintroduced into their native habitat. It was very fulfilling to see them flying free, but also sadly poignant knowing that the macaws in our homes will never fly free nor ever speak their native language.

On March 3rd, 2018 in Springfield VA, our guest speaker will be Dr. Leo Douglas, immediate past president of BirdsCaribbean. He will share more information with us about the parrots of Trinidad, as well as other areas in the Caribbean. We certainly hope you can join us!