Parrots in the wild

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Parrots in the wild

Jonathan Newman

Why is it so important to value parrots in the wild?

Simply because they are one of the most threatened groups of birds. By expressing an interest, you will show the local people that these birds are valued other than as rifle practice or pets. Jamaica is a heavily tourist-dependent nation, yet when I visited everyone was surprised that I was interested in seeing parrots.

People offered to shoot or catch me one, or to show me friends' captive birds but even the resort drivers had not been asked to drive to the roost sites before. If only a fraction of the UK visitors to the Caribbean took a day out from their all-inclusive hotels, this would be a powerful message. The tourists I spoke to did not even know there were parrots in Jamaica, nor did the driver I used.

For those interested, the internet is a great source of information on the best places to go to. So next time you're abroad, check out if there are wild parrots in the area you are visiting. Europe is, admittedly, very poorly served but most other areas of the world will have things to see. Even more importantly, if you do go ensure the people know how valued these incredible birds are. There have already been several examples of birds being saved by ecotourism and any interest is a positive thing.

There have already been several examples of birds being saved by ecotourism and any interest is a positive thing.

As a veterinary surgeon, I see many (mostly larger) parrots suffering from ignorant or uncaring owners as well as those kept by well-meaning people who are not equipped for a large parrot. If we saw a fraction as many dogs or cats with malnutrition there would be public horror, yet many large parrots are kept on inadequate diets with inadequate stimulation. The provision of a correct environment is not easy: that is why not all people are suited to parrot ownership.

I currently have a Meyer's Parrot and a delightful Yellow-crowned Amazon, but would seriously rethink getting another bird in the future.

NLPR's former veterinary surgeon describes his parrot-seeing travels in various parts of the world

Colombia

It is early morning in the rainforest of extreme eastern Amazonian Colombia. I am climbing a steep-sided ridge with three botanists from the university of Bogota and our local guide. The climb is tiring, with loose rock and plenty of thorny plants. After several hours we reach the 1100m summit, wreathed in mist and giving fleeting views across to Venezuela and Brazil. The forest stretches to the horizon in all directions below us. We rest on the tiny steep-sided summit to rehydrate and check our scratches. The mist lowers again all around us so we can hardly see each other. Suddenly, I hear a macaw above us. It sounds close, so our guide imitates the call.

The mist lifts slightly but visibility is still poor. The guide calls again. Magically, 13 Scarlet Macaws come scything through the cloud, so close I feel I can touch them.

They encircle us, keeping tight formation. Even in such a tight flock, you can clearly pick out the paired birds which fly almost touching wingtips. They circle us three times, the sun flashing off their glaring yellow wing bars, before veering off into the cloud. We hear them for several minutes after, fading away across the valley below.

Caribbean

Dawn again, this time in the mountains of western Jamaica. I'm standing on one of the few 'roads' that run through these limestone mountains. The rising sun warms the ground and starts the dawn chorus. I wait. And wait. Two hours later, I hear a parrot and then others. Still no sign. Another hour and suddenly a flock of Yellow-billed Amazons come over the mountain opposite. They fly directly overhead, calling excitedly. Even at this distance, the pale bill and white forehead gleam in the low sun. Closer birds show the pink throat, expanded while they call. Another flock appears, then another. In total, the next few hours produce 100-150 birds, in steady groups of up to 20 birds. One flock also contains a Black-billed Amazon, very drab in the guide but gleaming dark emerald in real life. Jamaican Conures are also flying over, presumably to raid the same fruiting trees as the Amazons.

Australia

Dusk in Townsville, Queensland. Outside our motel, I can hear frantic chattering from the mango tree on the highway. It sounds like a starling roost. Walking outside, I find myself surrounded by feathered missiles shooting in from all directions and plummeting into the tree's cover. More and more Rainbow Lorikeets come streaming over the roof tops, pouring into the mango to preen and squabble while the noise level rises and rises. Birds continue to arrive until the branches are weighed down. I cannot hear myself speak with the volume. As each bird arrives, all the others shift position and it is a long time before sleeping positions are sorted.

Africa

Midday in Kenya. After a very dusty drive yesterday we are sitting in the shade of a large tree in camp. Despite the persistent tame warthogs, the gin and tonic is proving very relaxing. A call from the tree above sounds strangely familiar. I discount it. The call again: it sounds remarkably like Jake, my 7y Meyer's Parrot. I get out of my chair and see 2 Meyer's perched directly over my head. They give me the same superior look as Jake before flying off. I have been very fortunate to have seen almost 90 species of parrot in their own environment, many while on expeditions organised while at university. I have been left with fond memories of lorikeets in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, hanging parrots shooting past like flying eggs in Borneo and magnificent Red-tailed Black Cockatoos in the suburbs of Queensland. Without exception, all are far more impressive in the wild than captivity, leading me to gradually rethink my own views on captive parrots. There are some excellent breeders and some fabulous owners who meet all their birds' needs but they are generally in the minority.

The Caribbean is a rich hunting ground for those who love Amazons (hands up everyone!) Most islands have their own unique endangered species, including St Lucia, St Vincent, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and the two endemic species in Jamaica.

Gambia, Goa and Kenya

So, to see parrots in their real homes. I can hear you thinking, 'it's ok if you're on a vet's salary' (if only you knew!) but most of my travel has been independent, keeping costs to a minimum. Alternatively, last minute packages are a great way to get to parrot habitat. Goa in southern India is home to several very beautiful Psittacula parakeets, including Ring-necked, the rare Malabar and the stunning Blossom-headed. All are easy to see, along with Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots. In the Gambia, Senegal Parrots and Ring-necked Parakeets occur in the hotel grounds and Cape Parrots in areas close by. In Kenya, flocks of feral lovebirds play amongst the seed-heads on the back of the beach and Red-bellied Parrots are amongst those you could see on safari.

Canary Islands

Closer to (my)home, parrots can be enjoyed in the Canary Islands, where huge flocks of feral Monk parakeets build their communal nests in date palms in the resorts, usually close to a convenient bar for easy viewing!

England

In London, the Ring-necked Parakeet roost expands every year and now reaches huge numbers: truly spectacular I am told.