Marianna and I recently took a trip to Pigeon Forge Tennessee. While visiting Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the beautiful Smokey Mountains, we had a chance to go to Parrot Mountain. Parrot Mountain is unlike any zoo or bird park you have ever seen!
Parrot Mountain is a one of a kind experience for parrot lovers. It is the only major bird park I'm aware of that focuses primarily on parrots. They do have a nice collection of other birds as well, but their focus on parrots is quite unique.
A visit to the park starts with some exhibits of various bird species. Then it takes you through a walk through flight aviary. But most exciting of all is the parrot feeding area. They have probably a hundred parrots out on stands that you can see up close and feed. Buy a handful of seeds from the vending machine for a quarter and then you can be the parrots' favorite visitor!
We got to see up close and experience too many different species to count but just a few of the more exotic ones included Sun Conure, Blue Crowned Conure, Patagonian Conure, Alexandrine Parakeet, Great Billed Parrot, African Grey, Cape Parrot, Eclectus, Scarlet Macaw, Military Macaw, Hyacinth Macaw, Moluccan Cockatoo, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, and Red Tailed Black Cockatoo. Marianna had a field day getting to feed and hold the female Red Tailed Black Cockatoo. She recalled how we got to see them in the wild in Australia, but not anywhere near as close!
Some of the parrots on exhibit were brought a long time ago from the wild, others were bred at Parrot Mountain, and others were relinquished. The park acts as a complete facilitator of parrots in the region. They breed, sell, display, and accept rescued parrots. You can see the babies for sale in their nursery building.
Parrot Mountain is famous for offering to have your picture taken with close to a dozen birds. I was amazed not only how cooperative and patient their photo-parrots were but also how well they all got along with each other. The woman who brings them over for photos can be seen walking with a dozen parrots hanging off her chewed up shirt from every side. It was almost as though their beak was a carabiner hook for clipping onto her shirt. She was truly a parrot taxi!
They have a lorikeet feeding aviary where you can have lorikeets fly up to you and sip nectar. Parrot Mountain also houses the "garden of eden," a secluded Christian exhibit in the forest covered country side. They also have a small cafe (with parrot on the menu) and a gift shop with lots of parrot related merch. All around a must-see sight for any parrot lover visiting the Pigeon Forge area in Tennessee and even a reason in itself to head out there.
Here's a video of my visit to Parrot Mountain including an interview with the parks owner:
On a recent trip to South Africa, I had the amazing opportunity to see Cape Parrots in the wild. I also got to meet Sanjo from the Cape Parrot project to learn more about the project and about the wild Cape Parrots.
The South African Cape Parrots are restricted to a fairly small habitat, the subtropical cloud forests of the eastern Cape. It is a dense wet forest environment with frequent mist and rainfall. The temperatures are cooler because of the 3,000ft+ elevation. It can be fairly warm in the summer but in winter time, these birds can be dealing with below freezing conditions.
This is why it should be no surprise that it was very difficult to get to see them. Not only did we have to travel to a fairly remote part of South Africa, that was only the beginning! Their population is very small and they are quite hard to find. They are considered quite large for an African Parrot, however, they are still a medium parrot at best when you compare with Cockatoos and Macaws. Green parrot, green trees, misty forest, and a broad range makes them a tremendous challenge to see. They travel for many miles from roosting to feeding sites so there is only a brief span of time when you can see them where they live. At night they are sleeping and in the day time they are spread out feeding. Only in the early hours of morning and at dusk can you catch a glimpse of them heading out and coming back.
With the help of Sanjo from the Cape Parrot Project, we set out early in the morning looking for the birds. We woke up and were out by 5AM to catch them as the sun was rising. Unfortunately a thick fog blanketed the entire area. We drove to higher ground to break out of the fog but still could not find them. We walked around several places known to be visited by Capes before we so much as heard a single call from them. Following the calls we saw a small group flying and followed them to the tree they finally landed in. We were lucky to be standing in enough of a clearing to even see where they went. Standing in the forest, it would be impossible to track them.
It was a joy to watch flocks of Capes flying and to listen to their familiar calls. The beautiful South African Cape Parrots are truly a sight to behold. But finding and seeing them is extremely tricky. Although they stay in groups, they aren't quite a "flock bird." The trees they land on are high and dense. They aren't ostentatious like Conures and other parakeets I've seen in the wild. Nor are they shy like Senegal Parrots and other small Poicephalus. They really do fall somewhere in between. They are certainly more shy and prone to spook than other types of parrots but at the same time, they are the most courageous of the Poicephalus genus.
What does that mean? Well, in regards to how close you can approach them or how predictable their movements are, that is how I rank them to be somewhere in between. It was not impossible to get footage of them but it was quite difficult. You have to be very patient, know where to look, and be even more patient still. It took us hours of observation across two days to get to spend just about 15 minutes in their majestic presence. And then, as quickly as they had come, they were gone.
It was so exciting to watch the resemblance of these wild Cape Parrot to Truman, my pet Cape Parrot at home. I got to see preening, calling, and playing behavior in the wild Capes that was essentially identical to the behavior that Truman exhibits. It was just so familiar even though I had never seen a South African Cape in person before.
What is the difference between Truman and the Cape Parrots in South Africa? Truman is a different subspecies. He is definitely not the Poicephalus robustus robustus subspecies. He is one of the other two and most likely the Brown-Necked subspecies (Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis) which is endemic to the semi-rainforests of Sierra Leone region of West Africa. You will notice in the pictures that Truman's subspecies is a bit larger while the South African Cape Parrots have an olive yellow head. Otherwise, they do look the same.
The South African Cape Parrots are extremely rare to find in aviculture or captivity. The ones you find as pets in the US and Europe are of the Brown-Necked Fuscicollis or Grey-Headed Suahelicus subspecies. They are more similar to each other than to the South African Robustus Cape Parrot. We encountered one Robustus Cape at a bird park in Johannesburg and heard that there are a few breeders of them in South Africa. I have yet to see or hear of any Robustus Capes outside of South Africa.
There has been research done by South African researchers and the Cape Parrot project to reclassify the South African Cape Parrot (P. r. r.) as a separate species from the two northern subspecies. They hope that by naming it a separate species, it could end up on the endangered species list and receive CITES protection. However, even as of 2016, Bird Life International and the IUCN Redlist, have not accepted there to be sufficient evidence to name them separate species. Heck, the differences between Timneh and Congo Greys or between Jardine's Parrot subspecies are far more significant than between the most distant Capes.
The biggest difference between South African Cape Parrots and the other two subspecies are not in their appearance but in their living habits. The South African Capes rely almost religiously on the yellowwood tree. They refuse to nest in anything but natural cavities of the yellowwood tree and they also rely on it for food. Not only do they eat the seeds of the fruit of the yellowwood tree, it has been discovered that properties of the yellowwood fruit help give these birds an immune system boost that helps them battle a beak and feather disease epidemic. Their survival depends on the yellowwood tree for fighting disease as well as for feeding and nesting.
Still, regardless of classification, science, politics, or what you call it, the fact that the South African Cape Parrot is critically endangered still stands. There are fewer than 2,000 known South African Parrot Parrots remaining. Deforestation of their peculiar habitat, widespread disease, and some remaining poaching is making their survival questionable. The Cape Parrot Project is performing research to learn more about these birds in order to focus best efforts on their protection. A main focus is replanting yellowwood forests to protect the Capes' natural habitat. The Cape Parrot project receives funding through donations to the Wild Bird Trust.
Here is an interview with Sanjo about Capes and the Cape Parrot Project along with my footage of Cape Parrots in the wild:
Ginger's Parrots Rescue, a 501c3 Rescue based in Arizona, is really innovative when it comes to bird rescue. It is the first of its kind. Ginger's Parrots Rescue specializes in Senegal Parrots and Cockatiels. By being a species oriented rescue, Ginger's is able to put a greater amount of expertise and knowledge into rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting out these parrots.
The Birdie Bus is the newest innovation of Ginger's Parrots Rescue. The bus allows the rescue to go mobile and cruise around the Phoenix area to search for potential adopters for the birds in need. The bus can transport many (but not all) of the rescue's birds at once so that the public can learn about parrots and consider adopting one. Ginger takes the bus to PetSmart adoption days to offer a bird adoption in addition to cat/dog adoptions normally performed inside.
The Birdie Bus itself is really cool. It has 4 different doors so that the bird can get an outside experience in safety. The side and rear door open exposing the bird cages to the outside. Viewers can see and interact with the birds while the cages are securely locked inside the bus. There is also plenty of capacity for moving a tent, tables, chairs, and other items needed at rescue outings.
I went down to Phoenix in November to help Ginger with the Birdie Bus unveiling event. Bird owners from the local parrot community stopped by to show support and people looking to adopt or volunteer came by as well.
Three purposes are served by the Birdie Bus. The first is to get birds out of the rescue for socialization and fresh air. Even if a bus outing does not result in adoptions that day, it is still a victory for the birds to gain experience being out of the rescue and seeing new people. The second purpose is to help the birds find adopters. This is a chance for the birds to meet people and people to meet the birds. Folks going shopping who may have always wanted a parrot have the opportunity to realize that bird adoptions are available! The third goal is to solicit support for the rescue project through donations and volunteers. The bus is fueled not only by gas money but also through a lot of help. The bus does a good job at attracting existing bird owners out of curiosity. They aren't always the best candidates for more birds if they are at their capacity, but having experienced bird owners volunteering is also a big help to the rescue.
There are several ways you can help the Birdie Bus project. The best way is adopting a parrot from Ginger's Parrots Rescue. If you are anywhere near Phoenix and looking for a Senegal Parrot or Cockatiel, this is the place to adopt! Also, Ginger can always use help from local volunteers. But just because you're not adopting or don't live near Arizona, doesn't mean you can't help. The bus needs corporate sponsors, donors, and social media support. If you can send some money, the bus is in need of repairs, maintenance, upgrade, and gas. The rescue is non-profit and depends entirely on donations. Your support will help the rescue get these birds seen by the public and promote the concept of adoption. Finally, even if you don't have any money to spare, you can help by spreading the word. As more people hear about the rescue and the Birdie Bus project, they may choose to adopt, donate, volunteer, or spread the word and the Bus can drive on! Thanks for your help.
Here is a video of the birds going for a ride on the Birdie Bus:
And this is a video of the Birdie Bus unveiling event:
Happy Thanksgiving! In the spirit of giving thanks, I would like to announce Ginger's Parrots the Movie. It's about Ginger and the Cockatiels and Senegals in her rescue. This is a great time to show your appreciation for the work that she does with the birds and for raising the bar for the concept of parrot rescue.
Please make a donation to the 501c3 rescue to support the birds and get a free copy of the Ginger's Parrots DVD. It's a 76 minute movie about the day in the life of this small private rescue. Follow Ginger as she takes care of the Senegals, Cockatiels, and other animals that she rescues. See how much goes into giving these creatures the high quality care they deserve. Check out the trailer and please make a donation from the rescue's page to get your free DVD.
For the last few weeks I have been traveling through Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan with my dad. The purpose of the trip was to visit and learn in greater depth about these countries.
We ventured to Iraq by way of Dubai. Dubai is a bustling megalopolis erected in the middle of a lifeless desert. Despite lavish extravagance and super modernness, Dubai is fake and uninteresting. Dubai is a hodgepodge of Las Vegas and Disney World, a Mecca of PG-13 entertainment in the center of the middle-east. Attractions in Dubai all seem artificially created to impress tourists while having nothing to do with the country itself.
Despite having a visa to enter Iraq, the immigration process was extremely chaotic. Passport control would reject everyone and make them go get a “visa check” for no reason and this took over an hour and a half. Iraq is not an easy country to come to nor leave.
Starting in Basara we worked our way north toward Baghdad. Nasiriya is home to Ur, the first known capital of a civilized state, the Shumers. A pyramid like structure with multiple levels called a Zikkurat was an ancient place of moon worship. Nearby, the ancient ruins of a once bustling city where it is believed that Abraham once lived.
Much of the violence in Iraq is between Shiites and Sunnis. The dividing difference is pretty much that Shiites believe Ali and his descendents have a direct bloodline to the prophet Mohammed while Sunnis dismiss this. An untold number of deaths have been instilled over this division. The city of Najaf is where Ali is thought to have been murdered and buried. A very holy shrine with Ali's tomb is the landmark Shiite pilgrims from all over Iraq and Iran come to visit. Caskets are carried through about every three minutes. This is not surprising because the worlds largest cemetery is located across the street. Shiite Muslims are honored to be buried near their favorite Saint.
Iraq is a very historic country with fascinating history both old and new. The very first agrarian human civilization formed in the golden crescent of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates. This is now Iraq! On top of ancient history, a lot of Islamic history took place in Iraq millenia later.
The world famous ruins of ancient Babylon are located in the center of Iraq. The original gates of Babylon were removed for exhibit in Germany but a replica arch towered marking the entrance. Unfortunately during the reign of Saddam Hussein, he envisioned to turn Babylon into a personal amusement park, the precious archaeological ruins were recklessly restored. The real ancient ruins were buried in concrete and modern construction above. However, not the entire site is restored in this way and it is possible to see what the actual well-preserved ruins look like.
A palace of the ousted fascist dictator sits on a hill overlooking Babylon. We were free to walk Babylon and Saddam's palace. There are no restrictions of where you can walk, what you can touch, or for that matter take. This is one of the most massive tourist attractions in the world that is entirely void of tourists.
The lack of tourists in Iraq does not come as a surprise. The country is havoced by security concerns and plagues by terrorist bombings. Security check points are very frequent. Hours are lost to prove innocence at these points while bombings seem to persist regardless. To enter the holy shrines in Karbala, you have to go through more security checks and gropings than you do to board an airplane in other parts of the world.
In the capital city of Baghdad, it is nearly impossible to see anything. Buildings of any importance are hidden away behind cement barricades and endless checkpoints. In an empty square in the middle of Baghdad stands a pillar where the famous toppling of Saddam's statue – and for that matter reign – was toppled by the people of Iraq with the help of the US military.
The Friday morning bird market in Baghdad may be the world's biggest bird mart. I have never encountered the sale of so many birds in the same location anywhere else in the world. After a frisk search by ak47 armed policemen, we entered the blocked off street with the bustle of the New York Stock Exchange and the shrill calls of feathered commodities. While pigeons, mynahs, finches, and fowl dominated the scene, it was impossible to deny the presence of countless psittacines.
An African Grey Parrot growled a death shriek as a seller yanked it out of the cage to show prospective customers. For about $400 an African Grey can be purchased along with a budgie cage that it will most likely be kept in till it succumbs. Ring-necked parakeets, cockatiels, and a handful of Amazons were also available. Most surprised I was to come across several pairs of Jardine's Parrots for sale. I asked the seller what kind they were to which he said “brown-headed Amazon parrot” although I could not mistake Poicephalus. The Jardine's parrots appeared most sickly of all birds sold at the market, laying on the bottoms of feces laiden cages.
Budgerigars were abundant in cages by the hundred. Seed is sold out in the open. The push and shove of the market marks an unbelievable demand for birds in a country that was until recently war torn. I am glad that people are turning to peaceful past times but the conditions are deplorable. I hope that better care of companion parrots can be learned by Iraqi people so that they may enjoy the thrill of parrot ownership without the animal needing to suffer.
We also visited the Baghdad zoo. This was a place suited as much for people watching as for animals. It turned out that the zoo and surrounding amusement park is the go-to place for Iraqis on a Friday afternoon. One aviary houses a hodge podge of small parrot species from Cockatiel to Senegal Parrots. Another aviary mixed Blue and Gold Macaws with Green-Winged Macaws. The red macaws got in a fight with the blue ones. When I was asked why they were fighting, I replied "for the same reasons that Sunnis and Shiites fight."
Around Iraq it was very difficult to take photos of virtually anything. Photography of security checkpoints or soldiers is very strictly prohibited and just about any direction you look there is some kind of security. To get onto the plane in Baghdad, a total of eleven security checks was required. Cars are not even allowed within miles of the airport. You are required to transfer and pay for an airport approved car which is then checked three times before entering the airport grounds. At each checkpoint everyone must disembark while bomb sniffing dogs patrol and hoods are opened. Security at Kennedy airport is a breeze by comparison.
Erbil is the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan. The Kurds are not Arabs and speak their own Kurdish language. They were persecuted by Saddam Hussein and remain skeptical of the new Iraqi government. Yet, Erbil is one of the richest and safest cities of Iraq because of Kurdish trade with Turkey.
In Kirkuk we encountered another small bird market consisting of small shops. I was surprised to see crammed cages full of Starlings. I have no idea what they could be used for and if anyone has a clue, let me know. Again some parakeets and budgerigars were being sold. This was a tiny bird market compared to the one in Baghdad but it still shows how popular birds are throughout the country.
We made an overland crossing from Iraq to Iran which took many hours. The complexity of crossing this border was only comparable to some of the most troublesome of African countries. The border agents had never encountered foreign travelers making their way through these parts and simply did not know what to do. They copied everything from passports and questioned us about everything just to be sure they were doing things correctly. The adventure continues in Iran.