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:
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:
Kili flew to Oshkosh for the annual EAA Air Venture, the world's greatest aviation event. I have been flying for over 9 years but have not yet had the pleasure of going to Oshkosh. Before owning my own plane, I never felt right going in a rental. Since acquiring my plane, for a few years I felt too novice to be able to undertake the arrival procedure into the world's busiest airport (during the event). But, with greater experience and my trusty copilot, I decided that it was time to make the pilgrimage to Oshkosh.
I brought Kili, my 6 year old Senegal Parrot, along for the ride. It was out of the question to take all of my birds but I definitely wanted to bring one. Kili is both my smallest and most trusted so I knew she'd be the right one to take for the journey. On the other hand, Truman and Santina each got a room to themselves while we were gone. On our way there, we battled fierce headwinds and took close to 6 hours to get there.
I expected all hell to break loose on the busy FISK arrival. It was busy but surprisingly manageable. Not nearly as bad as New York Approach on a Friday night. In fact, the air traffic controllers at Oshkosh were extremely courteous and understanding. These controllers realize that they are dealing with amateur pilots of varying levels of experience. Someone previously mentioned to me that they thought the Oshkosh arrival isn't as hectic as flying the Hudson river and I think they were right.
Kili was a big help. She just hung on without causing any trouble or distraction. I think she too enjoys flying! We landed in Oshkosh and after what seemed like an eternity taxiing all over the airport, we arrived at our camp site. We set up camp next to the plane and headed over to the main fairgrounds for the best part. Air Venture is like Disney World for aviators! It was incredible! Airplanes come from all over the United States and the world for this event. Around 15,000 aircraft and a quarter million people participate.
Since I own and fly a Mooney airplane, it was exciting to see Mooney back from bankruptcy at the event. They demonstrated the first Mooney Acclaim off the production line in 5 years and held a press conference. Kili whispered in my ear to ask the CEO about what safety and style improvements they had made to the airplane since changing the company motto from Speed Speed Speed to Safety Speed and Style. I don't think Kili was impressed with Jerry Chen's roundabout answer that the plane has always had those elements and that they were simply beginning to emphasize them better. Nonetheless, the Mooney acclaim is still to this day the world's fastest four seat single engine production airplane.
For 3 days we watched air shows, visited vendor displays, and met loads of pilots. Funny how it's a small world, we bumped into many people we know. Also many people I don't but know me were able to recognize me with Kili. It was a splendid trip and Kili enjoyed all the attention and travel as well. Here are some photos and video from our 2014 Oshkosh Air Venture adventure.
Kili & Truman buckled up their harnesses and rode on my shoulders the few blocks to the new house. I had a bug problem at the old apartment so I've been leaving as much behind as possible and only bringing clean things. This is why Truman's old aluminum cage had to be abandoned and not because there was anything else wrong with it. This is also why I opted to move the birds wearing harnesses rather than carriers.
We walked in through the bird room door and surprised Santina. She was sitting on the edge of her stand, excited to have company. Santina watched eagerly as her first bird visitors were settling in to the room next door. Kili & Truman watched me assemble water bottle holders, mount perches, and add toys to their bare cages. I bought two water bottles for each cage and mounted both brackets. Although I will normally only be using a single water bottle, when I need to go away for a weekend I will be able to leave twin water bottles for the unlikely event of a failure (in 5+ years using water bottles for my birds I have not had a problem).
The parrots sampled the toys as I was putting them into their cages. Truman gave his approval for a long strand of stars and Kili immediately began chewing up a cute shredding toy. These parrots love new toys, places, and situations. This is why it was an absolute non-event to move them to a new house. They have not shown the slightest sign of upset such as not eating, being quiet, or just inactive.
The reason it was so easy to move to a new house with my parrots without them freaking out is because we have already done this plenty of times before! Every outing, every trip, every household change we have ever made was a preparation for the unknown but inevitable eventual move. People often ask me "I am moving to a new house tomorrow, what can I do to make it easier for my parrot?" At that point it is already too late. The time to begin preparing your parrot for a move is now.
I occasionally took Kili and/or Truman with me to visit other people's houses. I took the birds for drives and outings. I had the parrots living out of their travel cages during trips and when we went camping. I even had the parrots living in completely different bird cages when we were visiting Ginger's Parrots Rescue. All of these different encounters prepared Kili & Truman to live in any sort of cage or house. And since they get excited about new toys, moving to a new cage with new toys is an opportunity rather than a burden for them.
Not long after I had the birds on top of their respective cages, Kili hopped over to Truman's cage and kicked him off to the smaller one. The funny thing is that the first time I let them out since, the first thing Truman did was to go and climb up into Kili's cage and stay there. It was as though she convinced him that if he just yields the bigger cage to her that she won't beat him up for it.
As for Santina, well she came from a rescue so she was already used to other birds. I could tell that Santina was excited to see other birds around and not upset. Kili & Truman have been to places with other parrots so to them it was no surprise to see a big bird next door. The move was such a non-event that it makes for a boring story. But that's what you want it to be. So begin preparing your parrot for any sorts of unforeseen changes by socializing and traveling with your parrot now.
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.