Parrots, Pirates & Ghosts, Oh My!

This past weekend was the fourth annual Parrots International Symposium, celebrating “Parrots of the Carribean” on the Queen Mary ship in Long Beach, California. When I told my roommate about my weekend plans, she said the line that is now my blog title. The Queen Mary is rumored to be haunted, but while we saw no ghosts, I did get creeped out while I was touring the ship’s preserved isolation ward.

The Symposium hosted a variety of speakers who are involved in the study of parrots in the wild and conservation. The lectures focused on island species of parrots, mostly Amazons, though we did talk about macaws and parrotlets.

Sadly, while each lecture provided a glimpse of hope for each species, most of these parrots are critically endangered. For the island species, a single hurricane could wipe out the population and render them extinct.

There is also a problem with the small populations of rare species kept in captivity, with the hope of breeding them to increase their population size. Without a variety of DNA available in the gene pool, the remaining parrots run the risk of becoming inbred. This increases the risk of genetic deformities, which can easily destroy the population.

This is what happening to the captive Spix’s macaw population, according to Ryan Watson, who is the Blue Macaw Coordinator of the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Doha, Qatar. He manages the private captive breeding programs of the Spix’s macaws, as well as Lear’s macaws and Hyacinth macaws. The Spix’s macaws available are all inbred, and the chicks that hatch (if they hatch) have deformities.

The symposium brought to light the other side of the bird world that I forget about sometimes. Since I am more involved in the study of pet parrots, my mind doesn’t always turn to my birds’ wild relatives. It was a good, if not painful, reminder.

What can be done about it? A few things. Support a parrot conservation group. Go on eco-tours. Join a bird club. Volunteer to go out to help the scientists in the wild! Promote parrots wherever you go!

There is also educating young kids. I was surprised to see, that aside from two kids that were helping out, I was probably the youngest person at the conference. Most aviculturists have been worrying for a long time about the lack of youth in aviculture (read any “Avi
Culture” in BIRD TALK and you’ll see). What’s going to happen to the future of the birds, in which breeders and aviculturists play a critical role?

I know this can be difficult. We have jobs, kids (not me, but maybe one day) and a whole host of other things to worry about. I am lucky enough that my passion for parrots is also my job, which makes it easy for me to devote a lot of time to birds. And I know when you got your first bird you never thought you would be signing up to save the world.

Then again, most heroes kind of fall into the “change the world” job and sometimes they just need a little push.

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