Friday, December 29, 2006

Parrots Have Colonized the Wilds of Brooklyn

NEW YORK -- Alex Joseph, a West Indian-born parks worker, rakes the lawn at the grandly gothic Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn when he and his fellow laborers hear what sounds like a flock of sea gulls dive-bombing at their heads. The workers instinctively duck and whip round and look up and see -- those crazy green parrots, expertly mimicking the sea gull's caw.

"Man, they do that a couple times a week just to play with our minds," Joseph said, grinning wide and shaking his head. "They are a crazy bunch of immigrants, those birds."

They are the wild parrots of Brooklyn, these emerald-feathered yakkers with the wisenheimer sense of humor. Thought to be long-ago escapees from a container at John F. Kennedy International Airport, their ranks replenished by unauthorized releases from pet shops, the parakeets -- originally from Argentina -- have become accomplished city dwellers. There is a parrot colony along the Hudson River cliffs in New Jersey and another bunch that prefers Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Of late, two arrivistes have taken up residency on an apartment ledge on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

But mostly these are Brooklyn parrots, content in their adopted borough of 2.5 million people.

"They are successful Brooklynites, in that they are adaptable, eat a wide variety of foods and like to talk," says Eleanor Miele, a professor at Brooklyn College who lives in the Park Slope neighborhood and has found herself entranced by the parrots.

New York has many wild critters, and a few are not human. A coyote wandered into Central Park before running afoul of sunbathers, and the hawks Pale Male and Lola established aeries on a gilded stretch of Fifth Avenue. Raccoons know their way around Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and muskrats poke at the mud flats of the Harlem River.

But the parrots -- which are about a foot long and are known as monk parakeets because their gray chests and tufts resemble a monk's skullcap and frock -- are among the city's more cacophonous and unexpected residents. Their cry sounds like metal scraping metal. (San Francisco has parrots-in-residence on Telegraph Hill. And Chicago has a broad-shouldered, loud-squawking crew that has been called "Hells Angels with wings.")

Most Brooklyn parrots live in colonies of 50 or 60 birds, although a few less sociable types live on Coney Island or in Canarsie or Gravesend. They favor homes atop light and transmission poles; at Green-Wood Cemetery they inhabit the soaring gothic spires near the gate. Their nests are vast 400-pound constructs, with foyers and anterooms and a space where the females lay eggs and enjoy a respite from the males.

Con Edison knows these nests well, as periodically the power company's workers clamber around them. "These aren't nests; they're condominiums," a spokesman said.

Half a dozen nests can be seen atop the light poles at the Brooklyn College athletic field. On a recent Saturday, 20 or 30 of the resident parrots swooped down and, amid much screeching, alighted on the branches of an oak tree beside a pre-World War II apartment building. Children inside the apartments gestured and called at the birds; sometimes the parrots talk back. (In captivity, monk parakeets can develop a vocabulary of about 200 words.)

Steve Baldwin, 50, lives in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and acts as the parrots' pro bono publicist and bard. He has composed a Lou Reed-style song, "The Ballad of the Brooklyn Parrots" (available at, which mixes human and parrot voices and which one "critic" called "Jim Morrison meets Rick Moranis at the Audubon Society."

"They eat berries, ornamental plants and sometimes pizza," Baldwin said as he gave a tour of the Brooklyn College nests to a dozen birders. "They are very intelligent, and of course they don't like the suburbs."

How the parrots came to Brooklyn is a mystery. Apparently a large crate filled with the parrots broke open at Kennedy International Airport in the late 1960s. Baldwin's voluminous research tends to implicate mafia goodfellas in the deed, although that "fact" might be too delicious to check out. The parrots hung around the Jamaica Bay marshes that girdle JFK's southern edges before moving into Brooklyn. The cold was no problem, as the parrots hailed from temperate-to-chilly Argentina.

At first, state and federal wildlife-control officers tried to wipe out this "invasive species." Hundreds of parrots perished, and in the 1970s, the last large colony relocated to light towers at the Rikers Island jail. An eradication team showed up to finish the job -- but the parrots had disappeared.

"Someone tipped the parrots off," Baldwin says with a shrug. "They circled back to Brooklyn, and everyone left them alone."

Now there is a new threat. Poachers with nets are snatching the parrots and selling them to pet stores. The poachers have all but denuded several neighborhoods. It has parrot-loving denizens of Brooklyn talking about vigilante patrols.

Kay Martin lives somewhere near Coney Island, in a house filled with at least nine varieties of parrots. She acknowledges that their racket awakens her at night. So what? They are friends, and they talk to her. Martin, diminutive and pugnacious, spends most of her spare time safeguarding the wild parrots.

Are there nests near your home? She frowns.

"I'm not saying," she says. "The last thing our parrots need is another reporter poking around."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Wild Parrots find a home in Claremont

Hundreds of brightly colored wild parrots have been spotted in different areas of Claremont over the past weeks, giving residents a unique opportunity to witness these wild birds living in a naturalized environment. Although the parrots are not native to Southern California, they have made it their home and have been here for several decades.

“Around 9 a.m. on Saturday, I walked out my front door, looked up and saw hundreds of these beautiful birds in the trees,” said Claremont resident Yvonne Cervantes Coleman, who lives on the 1100 block of Mountain Avenue. “They were so loud, I felt like I was in the movie ‘The Birds,’” she said, referring to the classic 1963 Alfred Hitchcock horror film.

Dr. Dan Guthrie, a Claremont Graduate University biology professor and president of the Pomona Valley Audubon Society, explained that for at least a dozen years, more than a thousand of the parrots have permanently settled in Temple City. “It appears that a group of around 300 of the Temple City flock have come over to this area, possibly to find new areas for feeding,” Dr. Guthrie said. “The ones we are seeing here are of the species Red Crowned Amazons, which are native to central and northern Mexico.”

Despite their name, the red crowns are mostly a bright yellowish green color, but have distinguishable blue and red markings around the head. They like to eat persimmons, china-berry, walnuts, pine cone seeds and other fruits and grains. The birds spend their days searching for food, sometimes traveling several miles. Around sunset, they return to their established roosting area where they rest until sunrise.

“These parrots have lifelong mating partners, and if you watch them, you will notice that they will even travel in pairs as they go out and forage for food,” explained Dr. Guthrie. “They don’t have any real natural predators like they do in their native habitat so they breed quite well here. The population appears to be steadily increasing as this group indicates. And they seem to be able to tolerate the cold weather, as long as they have can find plants with berries and fruit.”

According to Tim Tipping, who lives near the corner of Towne Avenue and Amador Street, the birds are loud enough to wake you up, even with the windows closed.

“At around 6:30 a.m. you can hear them,” he said. “I’ve seen them here every morning for about the last week and a half.”

Parrots are native to many regions of the world, with most species found in central and South America, but also in Africa, southeast Asia and Australia. In some places, deforestation has led to dramatic decreases in native parrot populations. Several parrot species are officially listed as endangered species.

Since these birds are not native to southern California, there are a variety of urban legends as to how they came to settle throughout the area. Among the rumors are that an exotic bird smuggling ring was about to be busted by authorities. In order to destroy the evidence of their crimes, the group released the birds into the wild. Another theory describes a passionate group of firefighters who set the birds free to save them from a burning pet store.

According to a website dedicated to the parrots, these birds are the descendents of wild-caught parrots which were imported into the United States many years ago and then either escaped captivity or were intentionally released into the wild.

However they got here, Claremonters seem to be happy about the new arrivals, despite the early morning squawking.

“They’re just so beautiful and it’s amazing to watch them fly around, from tree to tree, said Ms. Coleman. “When they first arrived, a lot of the neighbors were out in the street and we all enjoyed seeing them here.”

Birds of a feather

Although endangered by loss of habitat in its native Mexico, the green-cheeked Amazon parrot thrives in the comparatively tame outdoors of Palm Beach.

The parrots have adopted as their home the lanky Australian pines along the Pine Walk beside The Breakers, where they can be seen cavorting and squawking at dawn and dusk.

Keith Lovett, director of living collections at the Palm Beach Zoo, said he knows of no other green-cheeked Amazon parrot flock in Palm Beach County.

"It is rare," he said.

Highly evolved and intelligent creatures, the Amazon parrot, like many other species of parrot, has blossomed here because of the warm climate, abundance of food and the lack of a serious threat from predators, Lovett said.

And because of their scrappy attitude.

"Hawks will go after a dove instead," he said. "It's an easier meal."

Some of the non-native palms planted in South Florida originated in the tropics of Central and South America — an ideal arrangement for the parrots that depend upon the trees for their food.

"These birds are opportunists. They eat nuts, seeds and fruits," Lovett said. "There's very little to stop their reproduction once they are established."

Another reason they have prospered in Palm Beach is that they are legally protected by a 1996 town law that forbids the killing, wounding or maiming of any bird, Town Manager Peter Elwell said. The law also protects the birds' eggs and nests.

"The town is a bird sanctuary," Elwell said.

The Amazons are actually one of seven species of parrot that reside in the Pine Walk, Breakers spokeswoman Ann Margo Peart said. Inspired by the "star attraction" of the tree-lined avenue, the resort published its own children's book, Coconut Crew, featuring animated parrot characters that play and frolick among its amenities, she said.

The Pine Walk Australian pines were planted around 1880 to line the old road that led to a casino. The Breakers has kept them pruned to a height of about 70 feet, which reduces the wind load and extends the life of the trees. That is good for the flock of perhaps 100 or more green-cheeked Amazons, which favors the tree because it can easily nest in the hollow trunks, said Paul R. Reillo, a conservation biologist and director of the nonprofit Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee, which has been monitoring the flock since the early 1990s.

The downside is that, if the trees are ever cut down or lost to a storm, the flock will disperse and almost certainly be lost, he said.

It congregates each year between late January and mid-February to begin mating season. One parrot will use the same nest year after year.

During the rest of the year, the flock is probably in agricultural areas, possibly the orange groves of St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties, he said. However, at least some of the flock live in Palm Beach year round.

"I've been seeing them for 30 years, and the numbers keep growing," said Claudine Laabs, a nature photographer and former president of the Audubon Society of the Everglades. "They love to gather on the (utility) wires and are very vocal early in the morning. I guess they discuss where they're going to go for breakfast."

At least some of the quakers, macaws, parakeets, conures, love birds and cockatiels seen flying around Palm Beach County are former pets or, far more often, descendants of pets that either escaped from their owners or were turned loose, Lovett said.

Reillo said, however, that the Palm Beach parrots were established in the 1930s or 1940s before the commercial importation of wild parrots, and are therefore not descended from escaped pets like other small flocks of feral parrots. Most likely the flock derives from a group of birds imported and eventually released by a Palm Beach resident.

They remain in South Florida year-round and stay close enough to return to their nests each evening, Lovett said.

"They definitely didn't arrive here through migration," he said.

As many as 70 kinds of parrot have been identified in Florida, with 20 believed to be breeding, according to the educational web site Florida All are exotic.

There's been little research on the newcomers compared to that performed on native species in general. The state's only native parrot species, the Carolina parakeet, went extinct around 1900.

Timothy Green, a bird lover and former aviculturalist for Walt Disney World who is now a business banker at Citibank on Royal Palm Way, said he was quite surprised to see the Pine Walk Amazons.

"I have not known of anywhere that had such a dense population of Amazon parrots," said Green, who used to lead birdwatching tours in the Peruvian rainforest. "They are distinct. They have an attachment to The Breakers. There is little chance those birds will move on. Once they nest and set up a pattern for feeding, they will keep that pattern for their entire life."

The birds follow a daily mini-migration, departing their roosting area early and flying off to a particular tree that they know is in fruit or seed at that time of year, he said.

Besides their remarkable memory, they possess exceptional vision and hearing. They also are highly social.

"One bird flying overhead and calling out can be heard miles away," he said. "That probably has a lot to do with how they locate one another in the wild. They have a desire to find each other."

Birds that flock can better defend against predators and find mates with whom to breed, he said.

"These birds that don't 'belong' here found a way to survive," Green said. "Talk about real estate: They couldn't ask for a better place to live."

During its breeding season, the green-cheeked Amazon adopts a territorial posture, becoming the only species on the Pine Walk, Reillo said.

To examine the nests, he uses a telescoping video probe with infrared lens and built-in microphone that reaches up to 70 feet off the ground.

After a 28-day incubation period, the birds hatch and then leave the nest in eight to 10 weeks, he said. Typically, the parents will raise two or three to fledging, or departure from the nest.

About 90 percent of the nests fail because of exposure to the elements or predators, including raccoons, starlings and crows, all of which dine on the eggs, Reillo said.

Last year, the Rare Species Conservatory counted 17 active nests. Only seven resulted in chicks, and four were known to have successfully fledged youngsters.

The problem is that there really is no ideal nesting site available. The birds simply have learned to make do.

"This flock must compress its entire breeding population into a nesting area of high-density nesting cavities, right on top of each other," Reillo said. "That is something that doesn't occur in nature."

The green-cheeked Amazon could well go extinct in its native range, yet continue to exist and even thrive in feral groups in non-native areas like Palm Beach, Reillo said.

South Florida has a population of several hundred that dates to the 1930s. Southern California contains by far the largest concentration in the United States; Los Angeles County has at least 10,000. There are also small numbers in Puerto Rico.

It is fitting that the Palm Beach flock has achieved a kind of local celebrity status, because it is in such an unusually glamorous and accessible location.

"This is an opportunity to see exotic wild parrots doing what they do naturally, without having to travel to the tropics and slog through the jungle," Reillo said.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

They may not be partridges and they probably don’t roost in pear trees.

The parrots at the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, however, are very lucky to have found a roomy place to live out their days — and be a part of the area’s many natural world attractions.

World Parrot Refuge is run by the For the Love of Parrots Refuge Society (FLOPRS), which is led by Wendy and Andy Huntbatch, who moved to the area from the Fraser Valley. A facility was built in Coombs in 2005 for the more than 500 parrots they have taken in.

Many of the exotic birds have been rescued — or adopted — from families who can no longer care for them.

Parrots are long-lived and can require a lot more care and attention than a casual pet owner can afford.

A lover of parrots, Wendy has dedicated herself to their care and to FLOPRS’ cause — to ban the importing of wild-caught exotic birds and to spread the message of the cruelty of keeping wild birds in captivity.

World Parrot Refuge has won many supporters — locally and across the province — and has become a tourist attraction with a strong message to share.

To help their cause or to find out more about World Parrot Refuge and FLOPRS, check out their website at

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

UI, monk parakeets get along uneasily

A monk parakeet pair sits in a tree near the home of Jim and Julie Cook in West Haven.

Jim and Julie Cook built a platform in West Haven to house displaced parakeets. Connecticut's monk parakeets have recovered from last year's eradication program and have settled into a tense, if nonviolent, relationship with The United Illuminating Co.
The green birds that are native to South America and have colonized Connecticut's coast since the early 1970s are showing at least partial interest in man-made nesting platforms erected over the last year.
And while it seems unlikely that a law to protect the birds — proposed in the General Assembly, where it failed last May — will be revived, the Darien-based Friends of Animals has a lawsuit pending against UI to permanently stop the tactics that slaughtered 179 birds last year.
Two months ago, UI crews tore down 76 nests in utility poles in West Haven, Milford and Stratford.
Unlike last year, there were no U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel working with UI to kill birds on the spot. The parrots immediately went back to building nests in about a third of the utility poles. Most of the parrots, however, built nests in trees, not poles.
There are about 1,500 monk parakeets in the state, officials said.
"They're doing fine," said Julie Cook, of Ocean Avenue in West Haven, who was the first to allow the erection of a nesting platform for parrots left homeless by last year's capture-and-kill program.
The platform has been up for about a year and parrots have come and gone and come back, she said, adding that starlings and sparrows have also found room in the platform, which stands about 12 feet above her sidewalk.
Cook's stretch of Ocean Avenue has nests in trees and utility poles. Those bird colonies are among the region's most aggressive as they reclaim their homes.
Since the October destruction, she said, the birds are re-creating their homes one twig at a time.
"Some of these nests are being rebuilt very fast," said Cook, who a year ago was arrested by local police after a confrontation with USDA crews. The charges were dropped.
Michelle Slowik, who lives with her husband and young son on Crown Street in Stratford's Lordship section, said last week that she's witnessed the same transient occupancy in the nesting platform erected in her backyard last year.
"They are kind of 'on-and-off' birds," Slowik said. "Some days we don't see them at all." After putting up the platform last Christmas Eve, at the end of UI's parrot roundup, it took until April for the birds to begin nesting there. On a side of the platform opposite the birds, a young family of squirrels lived.
"The parrots are always at my birdfeeder," said Slowik, noting they eat apples, bananas, sunflower seeds, corn on the cob and safflower seeds, but don't seem to like bread.
The neighborhood's parrot colonies add a welcome bit of local color.
"I was outside the night they came and killed them," Slowik said. "I think people have an attitude that if it's bothering you, get rid of it or kill it."
Dwight Smith, chairman of the biology department at Southern Connecticut State University, who with his students has studied the parrot colonies for more than a decade, said last week that pairs of parrots that survived last year's fatal roundups re-nested and have had a full reproduction cycle during the summer.
"They're bouncing back," he said. Two of the 14 documented nesting-platform alternatives in southwestern Connecticut have been colonized, he said.
"Other surviving birds that immediately re-nested in trees and power poles were also successful," Smith said. "I can say that if they're left alone, they will recover fully.
"If UI dismantles nests at an appropriate time, neither UI nor animal enthusiasts will have confrontation issues."
He hopes the utility will consider the construction of artificial nesting platforms, "but so far, in four years I've tried to work with UI, no one has contacted me."
Albert Carbone, spokesman for UI, said last week that the utility remains committed to nonlethal remedies.
After crews cleared nests from 76 poles in October, birds renewed construction on 26 of the poles. Carbone said UI does not believe the birds readily take to the manmade nests.
"Monk parakeets are not platform birds," Carbone said. During last year's roundup, more than 100 nests were targeted from West Haven to Fairfield.
"Many of the birds were right at the same place in the immediate days afterwards," Carbone said of the recent nest-clearing effort. "We've been monitoring the nest rebuilds to see how many come back and see how big they grow."
A pretrial conference in state Superior Court is scheduled for April and a trial date set for mid-October of next year in the Friends of Animals case against UI.
"Obviously, with the court case ongoing, UI has acted within the guidelines of the law and will continue to do so," Carbone said. "In prior court conferences we said we have no plans to capture birds."
Priscilla Feral, president of the Friends of Animals, said last week that with the trial so far away and the discovery period of the case just ahead, she believes the utility might have some interest in settling the issue to avoid a public airing of the planning that led to the 2005 killings.
"We've heard that UI is intent on avoiding the kind of public-relations fiasco of last winter," Feral said.
"What we really need to do is go forward with a statutory change in the Legislature to get protection for the parrots as wild birds," Feral said. "I don't think we want to leave it up to UI on whether they'll get clobbered again. There is still keen interest in a remedy and I think it's going to come through the Legislature rather than the goodwill of the utility company that's intent on posturing who won and who lost."
Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Environment Committee, said last week that as long as the parrots aren't being captured and killed, he doubts there's a chance for another bill to protect the birds.
"I don't know if anything is going to be done this year," Roy said. "I think we will hear from the animal-rights people, but I don't know if we have to do anything at this point as long as UI does not capture them and turn them over to the feds for euthanizing and use for experiments."
In May, the bill to protect the birds died on the House calendar because, Roy said, there wasn't enough support in the Democratic majority. "I think what we did do is raise the consciousness of all involved," he said. "UI took steps to mitigate the large number of deaths of the birds."
He said that if the capture and killings were to resume, then he'd push for a new law. "I'd be more than happy to submit a bill and commit to telling everyone this should stop, but since UI responded with a program that's not killing them, let's see how this program is working," he said.
Roy said UI suffered from bad public relations. "This year, I think they want to avoid the sideshow," he said.
Cook and other bird lovers say that it was years of deferred maintenance that led to UI's controversial solution of 2005. But, she said, there should be a way for bird lovers to enjoy the tropical touch of the squawking flights of parrots and for UI to deliver power to customers.
"As long as they maintain their poles, there should be a balance," Cook said. "By clearing away the nests in November, their young bird can fly away and then they all come back and build fast, because they need shelter for the winter."
"We're very lucky that we can get to enjoy them," Slowik said. Ken Dixon, who covers the Capitol, can be reached at (860) 549-4670.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud

From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud

From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud

John Maxwell

The Third Maroon War

We are all Maroons now, whether we know it or not, wherever we are on the face of the Earth, whoever we are, black, white or in-between, male or female, human,as long as we are alive, animal or vegetable,on land or in the sea or the air, our very existence is under attack.

If we want to survive we have to take action. We need to resist the destruction of our own and our planet’s integrity, resist degradation and deformity and protect ourselves from extinction.

We are under siege by a system gone mad, an economic system gone berserk, unaccountable to anyone and responsible to nothing because this system has no rules. It can do anything it wants to anyone, any living organism.

It is destroying oceans, mountains and entire ecosystems, and with giant dams, even slowing the revolution of the Earth. It destroys everything in its way, creating deserts out of fertile land, submerging low-lying lands , poisoning the air we breathe, altering weather systems in unpredictable ways and producing more destructive hurricanes and typhoons,even slowing down the mighty Gulf Stream itself , destroying the ice-cover at the North Pole, breaking up the ice continent of Antarctica into icebergs bigger than Jamaica and threatening life itself everywhere on Earth.

It is a system described by George Soros, one of the world’s richest men, as ‘Gangster Capitalism.”

On the world stage it calls itself ‘Globalisation”. On the local stage, everywhere, its adherents call it “Development”.

In this system, everything and everyone is for sale. Human dignity itself becomes a marketable commodity, affordable to those with enough money to buy themselves a little time

A Father kills his son

In Vietnam forty years ago, the Americans thought they were buying time and safeguarding Progress. The Domino Theory was ascendant, and South East Asia was to be made safe for democracy. This ideal led to the killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of people, some American, some Vietnamese. Here is the story of three Americans:

The son speaks: “The areas around us were heavily defoliated, so defoliated that they looked like burned-out areas, many of them. You know, almost every day that you were in riverboat patrol, you were… being subjected to the Agent Orange factor.”

The father speaks:: “ It is the case that the particular area in Vietnam in which my son's boat operated a great deal of the time was an area that was sprayed upon my recommendation, and in that sense it's particularly ironic that in a sense, if the causal relationship can be established, I have become an instrument of my son's own tragedy.

The son is Elmo Zumwalt III, son of Elmo Zumwalt II, Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations of the USA. Elmo the younger died at 42, destroyed by cancers induced by Agent Orange. His father died 11 years later, aged 79.

While serving as Commander of US naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 the elder Zumwalt had ordered the spraying of the defoliant Agent Orange in the Mekong Delta, seeking to deny cover to snipers on the river banks.

The older Zumwalt killed his son; His son’s genes, deformed by Agent Orange, severely damaged his grandson’s nervous system resulting in serious learning disabilities. He is unable to speak for himself.

Hundreds of thousands of south east Asians were also killed and maimed by Agent Orange and many of their children have been born and are now being born dead, disabled or hideously deformed.

Agent Orange is a mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides – 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). These were developed for agro-industry – factory farming – to control broad-leaved weeds. In broad-leaved plants they induce rapid, uncontrolled growth, eventually killing them. They were used all over the world by the middle of the 1950s. At least one Extension Officer in Jamaica, my friend “Buddha” Webster, was killed by exposure to this toxin.

It was later learned that a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), is produced as a byproduct of the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, and was thus present in any of the herbicides that used it. This chemical is among those now present in the waters of Kingston Harbour, and as I pointed out five years ago, were redistributed in the dredging of the harbour. TCDD is a carcinogen, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). 2,4,5-T has since been banned for use in the US and many other countries. Its initial effects include liver damage, loss of energy and diminished sex drive.

During the 1970s, at the height of the destabilisation of the Manley government, I saw at Newport East, a big transformer built for JPS dropped onto the quayside, breaking open and spilling into the harbour gallons of dioxins, which remain there to this day.

The Resource Curse

Almost all the countries now described as ’developing’ or ‘underdeveloped’ share one major characteristic: for hundreds of years their people, their lands – their resources have provided the raw materials for the development of the so-called ‘developed world’.

As one American comic has said: “What is our oil doing underneath Iraq and Venezuela?”

Almost every war ever fought and most of todays wars and civil wars derive from the idea that the strong are entitled to the resources of the weak because the weak don’t know how to use their resources appropriately. In this perspective, Jamaican farmland is not serving its proper purpose by producing food. Jamaican bauxite is necessary for “Progress” – to make more planes, more frying pans, more garbage and to stiffen the GDP

In Rio de Janeiro, fourteen years ago, political leaders and bureaucrats from all over the world (including P.J. Patterson) met to agree on a new compact to define development or ‘progress’ if you will. They signed the Treaty of Rio, otherwise known as Agenda 21 and it committed the nations of the world to work together to assure the survival of the planet and all the living things which inhabit it by adopting and practicing Sustainable Development.

The first paragraph of the preamble of the treaty is worth remembering:

“Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.”

Environmentalists put it more crudely: We are living beyond our means, overdrawing our credit from the earth, destroying finite resources for greed.

The oil industry is only now waking up to the prospect that its behaviour may condemn all of us to a future of darkness, disease and destitution; only now beginning to recognise that there is am imminent threat of catastrophic changes because of global warming. Even Mr Bush and Mr Howard of Australia seem to be seeing the light. The Chinese seem to have some way to go before they emerge from their tunnel of development.

In the Rio statement on Sustainable Development, the world’s leaders acknowledged “ the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home” and proclaimed as the first principle of development that:

“ Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.

They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”

The Predator’s Progress

Progress is today defined by measuring how much of one’s patrimony can be safely delivered into the hands of developers. We offer them incentives to come to despoil our patrimony, abuse and deform our social relations and generally disinherit us. In gracious exchange they will make billions of tax free dollars and demonstrate how different they are to the rest of the miserable and oppressed of the earth. In return we can live in the Bronx.

All over the world indigenous populations are counselled to be investor friendly, to assist the despoliation of their holy mountains in Chile; the poisoning of their streams and the deforestation of their landscapes in New Guinea; the displacement, murder and rape of thousands to make way for oil pipelines in Burma(Myanmar). The Progress-bringers are destroying the glaciers of Iceland, the Jarrah forests of Western Australia and the communal tranquility of the Cedros pensinsula in Trinidad.

The 2005 Yale/Columbia Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) showed Trinidad and Tobago as having the worst percentage of negative land impacts of 146 countries, yet Trinidad's government is ignoring the protests of its people who don’t want any more pollution and degradation of their small and beautiful island.

Public protests in Chile, Brazil and Vietnam have kept proposed Aluminum smelters out of those countries The Trinidadian citizens group Cedros Peninsula United say that when they managed to obtain a copy of Alcoa's (secret) Environmental Clearance – jointly signed by Alcoa and the government's Energy Corporation they found it full of omissions, inaccuracies and outright false statements.

The Barrick Corporation of Canada, like Alcoa, a transnational despoiler of the environment is proposing to mine 500 tonnes of gold from mountain peaks in Chile. The Barrick corporation intends (Listen to This!) to relocate three glaciers (rivers of ice) to get at the gold.

As you might imagine, the people of Chile are not accepting this proposed rape of their environment.

Environmental Time-Bombs

The proposed assault on the Cockpit Country is not simply an assault on the sensibilities of a few environmentalists. It is an affront to the whole of humanity. When the great devastation comes we won’t be saved by bauxite or alumina, but by the species finding shelter in the land of Look Behind and similar refuges around the world.

A hundred years ago Jules Verne described the Gulf Stream as " the sea's greatest river,[and] we must pray that this steadiness continues because ... if its speed and direction were to change, the climates of Europe would undergo disturbances whose consequences are incalculable."

The Sea’s Greatest River is slowing down, and the consequences have been calculated

A few weeks ago the British government published a report by Sir Nicholas Stern on the economic consequences of climate change. The report says The possibility of avoiding a global catastrophe is "already almost out of reach",

Stern says changes in weather patterns could drive down the output of the world's economies by up to £6 trillion a year by 2050, an amount equivalent to almost the entire output of the EU. This catastrophic prospect is the direct result of “Progress” as defined by people who have more money than conscience.

If the Gulf Stream slows to a stop or even if it simply continues to slow down, the effects on climate, farming and the populations of the world will be in one word, Disaster.

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize Economist of 2001, former Chief Economist of the World Bank says:

“The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change … makes clear that the question is not whether we can afford to act, but whether we can afford not to act. [The report] provides a comprehensive agenda—one which is economically and politically feasible — behind which the entire world can unite in addressing this most important threat to our future well being.”

Neither Stern nor Stiglitz nor Soros is some wool-gathering tree-hugger. They are among the people recognised as the brightest in the world. I prefer to believe them rather than some PR flack from any aluminium company or the Port Authority or any other agency of the Jamaican government.

The Spanish hotels on the North coast are disasters in their own right and will soon become catastrophic losses because of sea level rise and hurricanes. And we will pay for them as we will pay for the Doomsday Highway which is already obsolete.

As I pointed out in my column, “People at Risk” in February 2002, some of the geniuses of the Jamaican “development” process tolerate no opposition to “Progress”. They will destroy our coral reefs and degrade the harbour to take bigger container ships – themselves extinct within twenty years. At that time I reported that the bottom of Kingston Harbour contained several extremely dangerous substances and warned that PAJ dredging would redistribute them unpredictably and in a manner which would almost certainly be hazardous to health particularly to the people of Portmore I reported that among toxins present were: Arsenic, Cadmium, Dioxins (including derivatives of Agent Orange), Lead, Lindane, Hexachlorobenzene, Tetrachloroethylene and good, old Mad Hatter’s Mercury.

“Progress” has brought civil war, genocide and HIV/AIDS to Africa. It has deformed our politics, driven away our best and brightest all in search of the Holy Grail of ‘Development”,

We can eat Trelawny yam and gungoo peas. We can’t eat Red Mud, although we may have to drink it, if progress has its way with the Land of Look Behind.

Prosit !

Copyright©2006John Maxwell

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Big, smart birds have big needs

AS EVERY PARENT knows, toddlers can be a handful. They need constant supervision as their curiosity can lead them into harm's way and constant stimulation as their minds develop and change daily. Many parrot species possess intelligence on a par with a 3-year-old.
If having a precocious toddler for the rest of your life sounds good to you, you might want to consider adding a parrot to your family.

A better understanding of parrots will help ensure that your parrot has a stimulating, healthy life. Learn as much as possible before bringing a parrot home - even one as small as a budgie. Small parrots pack the personality of a much larger spirit into their tiny bodies.

Although importation of wild parrots has been banned in the U.S. for years, captive-bred parrots are not born domesticated like cats and dogs. Parrots are born with wild instincts and must learn how to trust humans and to live in our environment. Parrots respond best to positive reinforcement, not punishment, and they are a prey species, so they are easily frightened by new things and by changes in their environment. Knowing this will help you understand what might seem to be strange or unreasonable behavior.

Diet and enrichment are critical. Contrary to what many people believe about birds, parrots cannot live on seeds alone, even if labeled "fortified." They need a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, formulated pellets, healthful cooked foods and a small amount of seeds and nuts. Some foods are deadly to a parrot - notably avocados, caffeine, alcohol and chocolate - and parrots can die quickly from fumes given off by overheated, nonstick cookware. These birds need a yearly exam by an avian vet, and avian medicine is usually more costly then vet care for domestic pets.
Because of their intelligence and curiosity, parrots need enrichment. Your parrot's cage should be safe and stimulating with lots of appropriate toys and time spent with you outside of the cage every day. It needs to be in a cage when you are away, so get the biggest cage you can afford - wider is better than taller - to give the bird, at minimum, enough room to spread its wings. Its tail should not touch the bottom.

Parrots are flock animals and you will be their flock. Neglecting a parrot, forcing it to live in solitary confinement is the cruelest thing you can do.

Parrots are not for everyone, but for those willing to invest time and love, they are wonderful companions. Small parrots, such as budgerigars (parakeets) can live 15 years, cockatiels 30 years, and larger parrot species can live to their 60s and beyond and may outlive you.
Deacon, a 25-year-old yellow-nape Amazon parrot, was surrendered to the Marin Humane Society after his guardian died. Deacon, who has been known to carry on a conversation with himself in both male and female human voices, not only lost his beloved companion, he also lost his home.

Consider your parrot when planning your estate and put your wishes in writing. Some attorneys specialize in helping families make these important plans. Being a responsible parrot guardian means planning for your bird's well-being after you are gone.

Finally, pet stores are the worst place to purchase parrots. Parrots have been bred in excess, and rescue groups are overwhelmed with unwanted parrots that need homes. Buying in stores perpetuates this problem. The best way to find a parrot companion is through a reputable parrot rescue, like Mickaboo Companion Parrot Rescue - You may be giving a bird like Deacon a second chance.

This Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks for all your pets, be they feathered or furry.

Friday, November 17, 2006

In pictures: Parrots of the Caribbean auditions

Newsround's Adam went along to see parrots audition to be the official spokes-bird for the DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

The plucky parrot who wins will get to visit shops and meet fans as part of a promotional tour

The winning bird must have a good personality as it will have to do interviews with the media!

Now that's what we call a squawk-on part!

Loads of parrots and their owners turned up. The birds had to be able to learn lines and behave well. This parrot called Sweetheart came along to try out with her owner Vicky Hammond.

This blue and yellow macaw, called Gismo Baggins, showed off his driving skills - not so sure that'll get you the part Gismo!

Maxwell the macaw came along with his owner Jo Brady, who even dressed up for the event!

Budgerigars and Cockatiels

First brought to Europe from Australia by John Gould, the notable British ornithologist and artist, the Budgerigar has become the world’s favourite cage bird.

They are found wild only in Australia, where flocks running into thousands may be seen, but there are almost certainly now more domestic birds than wild ones.

Wild birds are mainly bright green with black and yellow patterns on head, nape and wing coverts. The tail is a greenish blue and there are touches of a brighter blue on the face. Intensive selective breeding has produced birds of many colours, most common being blues, yellows, greys and whites.

Gould called them Warbling Grass Parakeets but their common English name comes from the Australian Aborigines who dubbed them ‘Betcherrygah’, which is a rendering of their calls.

Apart from the beautiful colours which have been developed, their appeal lies in a vivacious manner and the ability to imitate sounds including the human voice (though not in the same league as the Grey Parrot or Hill Mynah).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Opposites do not attract

A study of budgerigar behavioural patterns has proved the old adage ‘opposites attract’ wrong.

University of California, Irvine, researchers found that the female budgie prefers a mate that sounds like her. Biologists Marin Moravec, Professor Nancy Burley and Professor Georg Striedter also observed that the males who paired with more similar sounding females gave more help when they were nesting. The small Australian parrots, which are commonly kept as pets, have a vastly wide range of contact calls. Earlier research has shown that the male of the species spontaneously imitates the calls of females that are possible mates. Additionally, females demonstrated that they prefer males that had been trained to produce calls similar to their own.

In the current study, female budgies preferred to pair with males that sounded like them at first meeting, before any imitation occurred.

The unusual characteristics of the budgie

Parrots display a rare gift, uncommon to other animals, of learning new imitations throughout their lifetime. Budgies are monogamous, highly social and are likely to use multiple aspects of vocalisations when choosing mates and maintaining long-term relationships. The new study has been important to our understanding of the social functions of vocal learning, the scientists said. It also provides an interesting avian example of a familiar mate choice strategy: choosing a mate with whom you have something in common.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I had to ask my mum and dad to budgie-sit

YOU may have heard of pampered pouches, or even cosseted canaries but the lady of one Suffolk house is besotted with budgerigars! ANDY ABBOTT reports.

FATHER and son Steve and Guy Rodwell, have been well down the pecking order in their Suffolk home.

Besotted over budgies: Karen Rodwell from Bury St Edmunds with her fifteen year old budgerigars Snowy and Joey who put her husband Steve and son Guy, 8, well down the pecking order.

Steve's wife Karen inherited a pair of budgie brothers Snowy and Joey, after they appeared in a friend's aviary as the result of a naughty liaison. The budgies have now celebrated their fifteenth birthday, and it's all down to Karen's care and attention - which Steve jokes definitely makes him the underdog in the house.

Life is certainly a trill a minute as Karen, 47 makes sure “her boys” have the best.
Snowy and Joey
While Steve, 54 and eight-year-old Guy eat food from the supermarkets, the budgies get only the best. Up before the beak is daily fresh veg - the favourite being mange tout (always raw and has to be from Africa), succulent grapes (must be seedless), parsley (must be flat leafed), and mineral water, “obviously my husband has his out of a tap!!”

The budgie brothers only eat Trill, and on their birthday and Christmas always get a treat of millet and wrapped presents.

And it is not only food and drink the birds get that Steve is envious of, they have the best living conditions with lights on a timed dimmer for them, radio on for background music, their own radiator spot to keep them nice and warm in winter, and the television to keep them interested. Their favourite programmes are anything showing football, motorsport and Channel Four racing.

Steve bemoans his lot: “Sometimes when they get tired and want to roost, they go berserk so we have to turn down the lights and adjourn to the kitchen for the evening”.

The couple from Gilstrap Road, Bury St Edmunds, have been married for nine years and the budgerigars have been part of their life from day one.

Steve met Karen at her home in Sudbury for their first date, and he thought she had younger brothers and sisters because her parents arrived to “baby sit.”

Karen said: “I had this hot date but had to get mum and dad round to budgie sit because I had been at work all day and they just had to have their fly around”.

More recently, even a special 50th birthday treat for Steve with a trip to Paris meant a visit to a specialist bird market where they stocked up on fresh bird food, that could only be obtained dried at home.

And Karen thinks her TLC has made her boys two of the oldest budgies in the country.

“They normally only live five or six years, although I read recently there was one that was 17 but that was a single bird living on its own. To have a pair and brothers must be very unusual.

“They are wonderful pets, they used to fly around a lot but not now they are older. Joey has got gout so I bought them a new bigger cage so they could get their exercise flying from perch to perch - I told Steve my dad bought it because he might have been angry I spent all that money on them.

“At the end of the day if you have a pet you should look after it well and that is all I am doing,”

Deep down Steve even has a soft spot for the family's feathered friends. Karen reveals she found him crying over his cornflakes one morning after he found Snowy was ill.

He said: “The missus thinks the world of those birds, I dread to think what will happen if I come downstairs one morning and one is flat on its back with his legs in the air.

“I'll have to sneak out and get a stuffed one and stick it on the perch. If she looks after me like she looks after those budgies I will live to 130!”

I had to ask my mum and dad to budgie-sit

YOU may have heard of pampered pouches, or even cosseted canaries but the lady of one Suffolk house is besotted with budgerigars! ANDY ABBOTT reports.

FATHER and son Steve and Guy Rodwell, have been well down the pecking order in their Suffolk home.

Besotted over budgies: Karen Rodwell from Bury St Edmunds with her fifteen year old budgerigars Snowy and Joey who put her husband Steve and son Guy, 8, well down the pecking order.

Steve's wife Karen inherited a pair of budgie brothers Snowy and Joey, after they appeared in a friend's aviary as the result of a naughty liaison. The budgies have now celebrated their fifteenth birthday, and it's all down to Karen's care and attention - which Steve jokes definitely makes him the underdog in the house.

Life is certainly a trill a minute as Karen, 47 makes sure “her boys” have the best.
Snowy and Joey
While Steve, 54 and eight-year-old Guy eat food from the supermarkets, the budgies get only the best. Up before the beak is daily fresh veg - the favourite being mange tout (always raw and has to be from Africa), succulent grapes (must be seedless), parsley (must be flat leafed), and mineral water, “obviously my husband has his out of a tap!!”

The budgie brothers only eat Trill, and on their birthday and Christmas always get a treat of millet and wrapped presents.

And it is not only food and drink the birds get that Steve is envious of, they have the best living conditions with lights on a timed dimmer for them, radio on for background music, their own radiator spot to keep them nice and warm in winter, and the television to keep them interested. Their favourite programmes are anything showing football, motorsport and Channel Four racing.

Steve bemoans his lot: “Sometimes when they get tired and want to roost, they go berserk so we have to turn down the lights and adjourn to the kitchen for the evening”.

The couple from Gilstrap Road, Bury St Edmunds, have been married for nine years and the budgerigars have been part of their life from day one.

Steve met Karen at her home in Sudbury for their first date, and he thought she had younger brothers and sisters because her parents arrived to “baby sit.”

Karen said: “I had this hot date but had to get mum and dad round to budgie sit because I had been at work all day and they just had to have their fly around”.

More recently, even a special 50th birthday treat for Steve with a trip to Paris meant a visit to a specialist bird market where they stocked up on fresh bird food, that could only be obtained dried at home.

And Karen thinks her TLC has made her boys two of the oldest budgies in the country.

“They normally only live five or six years, although I read recently there was one that was 17 but that was a single bird living on its own. To have a pair and brothers must be very unusual.

“They are wonderful pets, they used to fly around a lot but not now they are older. Joey has got gout so I bought them a new bigger cage so they could get their exercise flying from perch to perch - I told Steve my dad bought it because he might have been angry I spent all that money on them.

“At the end of the day if you have a pet you should look after it well and that is all I am doing,”

Deep down Steve even has a soft spot for the family's feathered friends. Karen reveals she found him crying over his cornflakes one morning after he found Snowy was ill.

He said: “The missus thinks the world of those birds, I dread to think what will happen if I come downstairs one morning and one is flat on its back with his legs in the air.

“I'll have to sneak out and get a stuffed one and stick it on the perch. If she looks after me like she looks after those budgies I will live to 130!”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cuban Biosphere Shelters Parrots

A victim of human predation, a native Cuban parrot has found shelter at Guanahacabibes Peninsula, Pinar del Rio Province.

Parrots are easy to tame and delight breeders for they imitate human voices, are cheerful and smart.

They can transmit joy by repeated whistles, but also anger and fear by flapping wings repeatedly along with screeches.

The colorful 12.99 inch bird chooses as its natural nesting sites palm and pine trees and mangroves, preferably near fruit plantations.

Green color prevails but the skin around the eyes and forehead are white, while cheeks and throat have some red that at times extend to the stomach.

Education of local residents and other conservationist actions are directed to help the "talking bird" friend of humans multiply.

Rainforest Birds Keep Dying Out Long After Logging Stops

Fragmented rainforests can keep losing biodiversity for a century, according to new research in the October issue of Conservation Biology. While the bad news is that many more species are likely to go extinct, the good news is that we can save them if we act now.

"There is no room for complacency," says Thomas Brooks of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who did the study with Stuart Pimm of Columbia University in New York City and Joseph Oyugi of the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.

Brooks and his colleagues studied the extinction of bird species in five fragments of Kakamega Forest, Kenya's only rainforest. The researchers determined the rate of bird extinction based in part on how long the fragment has been isolated and on the number of bird extinctions during that time. To check their method, they showed that it accurately accounts for the number of species that have been lost in eastern North America, where deforestation peaked 150 years ago.

Brooks and his colleagues found that within 50 years of isolation, 2,500-acre fragments of Kakamega Forest lose half the bird species likely to go extinct. They concluded that it will take about a century for fragmented tropical rainforests to lose all the bird species that will ultimately die out.

"Our results provide both encouragement and warning," say Brooks and his colleagues.
The warning is that without action, half of the world's 360 threatened forest bird species will be extinct in about 50 years. The encouraging conclusion is that because the most-recently isolated fragments probably still have most of their species, conserving these fragments will mean saving the greatest number of species.

Birds Going Extinct Faster Due To Human Activities

Human activities have caused some 500 bird species worldwide to go extinct over the past five millennia, and 21st-century extinction rates likely will accelerate to approximately 10 additional species per year unless societies take action to reverse the trend, according to a new report.
Without the influence of humans, the expected extinction rate for birds would be roughly one species per century, according to Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment

Brazil's rare grey-winged continga is among
bird species in danger of extinction.
and Earth Sciences, who is one of the report's principal authors.
"What our study does, for the first time, is provide a well-justified and careful estimate of how much faster bird species are going extinct now than they did before humans began altering their environments," said Pimm, whose research group pioneered the approach of estimating extinction rates on a per-year basis.
"Extinction rates for birds are hugely important, because people really care about birds," he said. "People enjoy them, and bird watching is a big industry. So we know the rates of bird extinctions better than the rates for other groups of species."
"Habitat destruction, selective hunting, invasive alien species and global warming are all affecting natural populations of plants and animals adversely," added Peter Raven, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden, who is co-principal author of the report and a longtime collaborator with Pimm.
The report will appear in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of July 3-7, 2006. Other authors are Alan Peterson, a physician in Walla Walla, Wash., and Paul Ehrlich and Cagan Sekercioglu, conservation biologists at Stanford University.
The researchers calculated that since 1500 -- the beginning of the major period when Europeans began exploring and colonizing large areas of the globe -- birds have been going extinct at a rate of about one species per year, or 100 times faster than the natural rate.
And the rate has been faster in recent times. "Increasing human impacts accelerated the rate of extinction in the 20th century over that in the 19th," the report said. "The predominant cause of species loss is habitat destruction."
These findings do not mean Europeans have caused all of the extinctions of birds over the course of time, the researchers said. "Europe's exploration of the rest of the world merely continued to extinguish species at rates similar to those caused by the earlier Polynesian expansion across the Pacific," they said in the report.
The new assessment considerably exceeds previous scientific estimates that 154 bird types disappeared during that past 500 years, according to the researchers.
One factor contributing to such large differences in estimates is that "more than half of the known species of birds were not discovered until after 1850, an important point that previous estimates of extinction rates have failed to take into account," Raven said. "One can't register a bird as extinct if it was not known to exist in the first place."
According to Pimm, as recently as 1815 scientists were aware of only about 5 percent of the world's birds. "The reality is that scientists did not know about most remaining bird species until about 1845 or 1850," he said.
The new report is not all bleak, Pimm said. "The good news in this report is that conservation efforts are reducing extinction rates to about one bird species every three or four years," he said, but he added that even this improved rate "is still unacceptable."
Of the 9,775 known species of birds, "an estimated additional 25 would have gone extinct during the past 30 years if it were not for human intervention," Raven said.
Despite conservation efforts, "some 1,200 more species are likely to disappear during the 21st century," he warned. "An equal number are so rare that they will need special protection or likely will go extinct, too."
The forecast may be even bleaker for other types of animals, the researchers said.
"We do not give the kind of special attention to other groups of organisms that we do to birds, and extinction rates for them are likely to be much higher over the 21st century and beyond," Raven said.
The researchers derived their estimates using a large database of threatened and endangered species compiled by Bird Life International in Cambridge, England. They also used a compilation by report co-author Alan Peterson of the first scientific descriptions of bird species.
"Knowing when species were first described to science turned out to be a hugely important part of this story," Pimm said.

Polly Wants A Cracker - Maybe A Big Mac, Too

A parrot is a bird belonging to the family Psittacidae.

Parrots have a characteristic curved beak shape with the upper mandible having slight mobility in the joint with the skull and a generally erect stance. All parrots are zygodactyl, having the four toes on each foot placed two at the front and two back. Along with the cockatoo family Cacatuidae, the parrot family makes up the order Psittaciformes. The term "parrot" can be used in either the narrow sense of the parrot family Psittacidae or the broad sense of the order Psittaciformes.

Birds of the parrot family can be found in most of the warm parts of the world, including India, southeast Asia and west Africa, with one species, now extinct, in the United States (the Carolina Parakeet). By far the greatest number of parrot species, however, come from Australasia, South America and Central America.

Many species can imitate human speech or other sounds, and at least one researcher, Irene Pepperberg, has made controversial claims for the learning ability of one species; an African Grey Parrot named Alex has been trained to use words to identify objects, describe them, count them, and even answer complex questions such as "How many red squares?" (with over 80% accuracy). Other scholars claim that parrots are only repeating words with no idea of their meanings and point to Pepperberg's results as being nothing but an expression of operant conditioning.

Parrots are kept as pets, particularly conures, macaws, amazons, cockatoos, cockatiels, and budgerigars (also known as parakeets). Often the wings of such birds are clipped, but many people keep flighted pet parrots. Some parrots species have very long life-spans of up to 80 years. In 2004, Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper carried the story of a female macaw supposedly born in 1899, and subsequently a pet of Winston Churchill during the World War; the aged parrot, called Charlie, was reputed to curse the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. [1] Subsequent research strongly suggested that the parrot had never belonged to Winston Churchill, [2] [3] although Charlie's great age was not in question.
The attractiveness of parrots as pets has led to a thriving - often illegal - trade in the birds, and some species are now threatened with extinction. The scale of the problem can be appreciated in the Tony Silva case of 1996, in which a world-renowned parrot expert and former director at Tenerife's Loro Parque (Europe's largest parrot park) was jailed in the US for 82 months and fined 0,000 for smuggling the birds 1. The case rocked conservationist and ornithological circles, leading to calls for greater protection and control over trade in the birds.

Escaped parrots can represent a threat to local ecosystems if they become established in the wild. This is now occurring in Spain, in Barcelona and Tenerife. Several species, including Red-lored Parrots (Amazona autumnalis), Lilac-crowned Parrots (Amazona finschi), and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri), have become well established in Southern California. A sizeable population of feral Indian Ring-necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) exists in and around London, England, thought to have descended from escaped or released pets. The largest roost of these is thought to be in Esher, Surrey, numbering several thousand. There are also feral Monk Parakeets in Hyde Park, on the south side of Chicago, USA. [4]

Macaws face possible extinction

A U.S. bird expert says one of the world's most colorful birds -- the macaw, the largest member of the parrot family -- is in danger of becoming extinct.

The number of macaws has been declining during recent decades and Don Brightsmith at Texas A&M University's Schubot Exotic Bird Center is studying ways to make sure macaws will not become just photographs in a book one day.

Brightsmith says there are 17 species of macaws, and of those, one is extinct, another has become extinct in the wild and seven other species are endangered.

There are several reasons for their declining numbers. The birds are highly prized by the pet trade industry and they are losing their native habitat due to construction and other factors. Also, some South American natives kill them either for food or for their bright feathers.
But little is known about macaws, except that they are highly intelligent creatures and can live up to 50 years.

Macaws can also be affectionate birds.

"It's believed they are very sensitive to human emotions," he added. "The more we learn about these birds, the better our chances to save them."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Budgie show displays the best of genetic engineering

You can hear the birds from out on the street long before you pull into Bill Mitton's driveway.

Theirs is a riotous sound ­­ disorderly, unruly and unrestrained.

At the same time it is a sound that reminds one of life itself ­­ of a time in our distant past when we were not the dominant force in our environment. It is a primordial screech.

As you pull up the drive you begin to realize that the screech you hear is coming from a detached cinder block building just across the driveway from Mitton's house.

And unless you have any idea what Mitton's passion is, you would not know that the screech is the joyous sound of 100 budgerigars ­­ a colorful tropical bird, indigenous to Australia and New Zealand.

The budgies, as they are commonly known, bear little resemblance to their distant relatives. According to Mitton, they have become "English parakeets."

Except perhaps for their cacophonous screech.

In the wild they are green in color. But a peek inside of Mitton's cinder block aviary would leave one wondering just how this formerly tropical green bird evolved into an "English parakeet" that now sports no less that 23 color variations.I

t is actually a lesson in genetics. And in a sense, an act of love.

Mitton is a member of the Budgerigar Association of America, one of several worldwide organizations that breed, show and, in a word, appreciate budgies.

Today, Saturday, and Sunday, Mitton and his fellow members of the club will hold their Grand National Budgerigar Show in the gymnasium at the Camp Verde Community Center.

Having the event in Camp Verde is no small accomplishment. The last three years it has been in Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas.

It's a big deal for the town and a testimony to Mitton and his partner Darvin Jenner's stature in the community of budgie aficionados.

Mitton has been raising budgies since he was a kid. He got out of it for a brief period in his life, but eventually returned after helping his daughter raise some budgies as pets.

Over time he has become one of the nation's top breeders with several birds placing in the national championships.

"The truth is, I love the competition," Mitton said. "That's what motivates me.

"No surprise, considering Mitton spent over 30 years as a high school football coach in Phoenix until retiring to Camp Verde this last year.

The secret to his success, at least with the birds, is a simple matter of knowing what will happen when birds of a feather get together.

"The whole process of breeding good birds is a lesson in genetics. You learn which genes are dominant, which ones are recessive, and how to calculate the odds," Mitton said.

The results of those calculations are what you see in Mitton's aviary. Shades of blue, yellow, green and brown abound in his gender specific cages ­­ as do variations in eye color, body size and temperament.

"There is a computer program on the market to help you keep track of the breeding process and help predict the outcome. But the bottom line is, you have to know your birds," Mitton said.

His ability to recognized each of his 100 or so birds and relate each one's lineage is testimony to that knowledge.

On Saturday, from around 9:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m. all of their colors, including lutino, harlequin, spangle, pied and lace wing, will be on display as some 400 budgies and about 100 breeders compete to see which bird is the National Grand Champion.

It will be an extravaganza of both sight and sound, in which you will be treated to their joyous screech, the one truly original characteristic that connects them to their antipodean ancestors and their distant cousins.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cage bird society celebrates centenary

Club president Peter Pennycook

Established in 1906, Loanhead and District Cage Bird Society has fought against dwindling interest in this dedicated past-time and is still going strong.

On Saturday, society members are expecting around 800 entries from across Scotland and the north of England to attend its 99th show. The popular show will take place in St Margaret's Church Hall, Clerk Street, Loanhead, from1.30pm to 4pm.

To mark the society's milestone, every exhibitor is to be presented with a specially-engraved pen and certificate. Additional medals will also be awarded to champions and novices at the show, which normally attracts around 600 entries.

A special invitation to attend has been sent to the society's oldest member, 92-year-old Robert Pentland, who lives in Gilmerton. Mr Pentland, who won the British Cup in 1951 with a first class goldfinch cock, keeps British birds, mules, hybrids and new colour canaries.

Judges at this year's show include Mr R Purdie (Norwich, Fife Fancies, British, Mule and hybrid), Mr D Anderson (Borders), Mr P Fleming (Glosters, Yorkshire and any other canary variety), Mr B Meichan (new colours), Mr D Lumsden (Fife Fancies), Mr R Rae (foreign) and Mr D Burnett (budgerigars).

The Loanhead show is the second biggest in the Lothians behind the Linlithgow show. The Scottish National Show in January remains the top attraction in the cage bird calendar.

This year there will be better prizes than normal this year thanks to the support from many of the specialist clubs. The Scottish Norwich Plainhead Club has donated prize money and the Fife Fancy Canary Club is to present 17 rosettes.Research carried out by society members, scanning the pages of the Midlothian Journal, revealed that the newly-formed Loanhead Cage Bird Society held its first show in October, 1907.

More than 200 birds were exhibited with the main prize-winners being Mr A Thomson and Mr J Thomson of Newtongrange, who were awarded the medal for the most points received.
The sterling efforts of the society, which continued to hold its annual show throughout World War One, were recognised in its early years by the town's then Provost Hugh Kerr, who remarked: "A man who has a hobby is a much better man as a rule than a man who has none."
President Peter Pennycook (70) has been a member of the society for more than 30 years and took over the presidency from Jimmy Lowe 10 years ago.

A resident of Moorfoot View, Bilston, Mr Pennycook first became interested in cage birds as a young boy. "I was a lad, just about eight or nine. My dad and I started with pigeons. I was a pigeon man first but when my dad died I put the pigeons away and started with budgies.
"I carried on from there getting more and more and the number just got bigger and bigger. In fact, I am having to make more cages as I have bred that many beautiful young ones," said a proud Mr Pennycook, who specialises in foreign birds including lovebirds and cockatiels.
With a host of rosettes to his name, Mr Pennycook, a former miner, won the Scottish National twice in 1993 with a barraband parrakeet and in 1997 with a crimson winged parrot.

"When I first started birds, there were 20 to 30 clubs in Scotland. Now you are lucky if there are half a dozen."If it wasn't for secretary Douglas Munro, member Dave White and I, there would be no club. I think there is determination in a few people left, who would like to see the club carry on."

Mr Pennycook, who retired as a kitchen fitter, admitted it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract new members."Young people have got computers, PlayStations and all that now. They are not interested," said the president, a member of the Lovebird 1990 Society, the Cockatiel Club, the Parrot Society, the Scottish Foreign Bird Society, the Java Sparrow Club and the Strathclyde Foreign Bird Society.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Brothers preserve garden oasis

One of the five dams on the property provides water and scenic views

GREENTHUMBS Harry and Noela Duncanson couldn't bear the thought of a
developer bulldozing their botanic garden and nursery business when they put it up for sale early this year.

Harry and Noela Duncanson with one of the new owners of Burnside, Mick Lohman.

The pair had spent the past 23 years turning the 5ha property at Nambour, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, into a nature lovers' oasis. "To see that cleared for houses would have been really sad," 68-year-old Harry said.

Happily for the Duncansons, the new owners shared their vision for the future of Burnside Gardens, which encompasses Nambour Nursery.

Brothers Mick, 45, and Paul Lohman, 38, who live in nearby Kiamba and Mapleton, are opening the garden to visitors next weekend through Australia's Open Garden Scheme.

"What Harry and Noela (63) have created is a legacy that should be open to the community – not turned into brick veneer," Mick said.

The property, on the fertile slopes of the Blackall Range, changed hands in August. The Lohman brothers, who had no horticultural experience, knew they would be up to their armpits in flowers and fertiliser.

"We were a bit overwhelmed and stunned at first," Mick said.
"They have many years of hard work and knowledge between them so we are doing some crash-course learning."

The Duncansons, avid collectors, will live on at the gardens for six months to teach Mick and Paul all they can about the grounds.

And the Lohmans had better pull on their gardening gloves because there's something to learn in every corner of the undulating grounds.

In the south-facing front garden, a rich tapestry of colour, shape and textures covers 4000sq m.

Harry, who wants to start a new garden at nearby Woombye on 2000sq m while he still has the energy, says he'll miss Burnside's 30 varieties of conifers.

"There are ground covers and pyramid shapes and conifers with a gold, purple or silver look – and they look nice grouped," he said.

Bird of paradise, purple passion (like wisteria), hippeastrums and bougainvillea provide brilliant colour to contrast with foliage plants such as grass trees, ferns and tricolour groundcover.

Standing guard over these hundreds of specimens is a mature red cedar, whose leaves make perfect mulch.

"We planted that before the house was here and we grow all the shade-loving plants underneath it," said Harry, who played host to 1400 visitors when Burnside last opened to the public.

Other mature trees include an endangered bottle tree prized for its unique shape and a Leichhardt tree – home to two possums.

Birds, such as lorikeets and king parrots, are attracted to the native garden on the east side of the home that features grevillias.

Perhaps the rarest specimen of the collection is the amherstia nobilis. The Burmese tree hasn't yet flowered (it can take 10 years to do so), but it will be spectacular when it does, bright crimson flowers hanging from a long flower stalk.

"It needs to be among a forest of trees," Harry said.

A fine selection of tropical plants is showcased in the north-facing back garden. Yellow Fraser Island vine, golden chain tree, and yellow saraca, to name a few.
A brilliant jade vine grows up a trellis. "The flowers are so unusual, nature's wonderful the way it has combined the mauves and blues," Harry said.

"The only thing is they like their roots to be cool with plenty of light for the flowers."

Harry has planted a brownea grandicep that flowers from August to October. "It's beautiful – it has these huge clusters of orange flowers."

Water for the informal gardens comes from five dams surrounded by more plantings.

"There's very little that needs to be done to maintain the gardens once they get to maturity," Harry said.
"The density of its plants keeps out the weeds."

• Burnside Gardens, 171 Burnside Rd, Nambour, opens to visitors October 14 and 15.

Water worries Steve on his way to Kew gardens

UWA plant conservation biology professor Steve Hopper warned this week that drawing water from Yarragadee would be a big mistake.

Dr Hopper was head-hunted for the job of running the Royal Botanical Gardens in London, a post he will take up when he leaves this Sunday.

A strong advocate for conservation, Dr Hopper's dedication to preserving natural heritage and resources is one of the reasons he was chosen for the job.

He said the push for WA to draw groundwater from Yarragadee in the South-West would result in irreparable environmental damage.

"Yarragadee is going to have a major impact on local communities and on the globally unique plants and animals down south and in the area around Nannup," he said.

"If you start putting bores in and drawing groundwater, the first things affected are shallow bodies of water, like ponds, which are groundwater-fed.
UWA professor Steve Hopper, who will become head of
Kew Gardens in London next week, said Perth shouldn't
draw its water from the South-West.

"A drop in ground level of half a metre will affect them ahead of deep lakes and rivers because they are full of plants and animals unique to south-western Australia and are significant globally.
"The environmental impacts are pretty scary and Yarragadee is only a short-term solution.
"People need to think long and hard about it; is it the start of a solution or a stop-gap that's going to cause long-term environmental damage?

"It doesn't solve the basic problem which is the expanding human population without a change in how we use water."

Dr Hopper said the Water Corporation was on track, looking at a mix of strategies to source water, including establishing a desalination plant and recycling grey water.
But Yarragadee was a repeat of the Gnangara Mounds strategy.

"If you look at Gnangarra Mounds it's pretty disturbing," he said.
"Some dams in Perth have had a decline in rainfall up to 50% and the Gnangara Mounds supplies are dwindling rapidly."

Dr Hopper said the community needed to embrace recycling water as a long-term strategy with local councils working together with householders.

"Hundreds of gigalitres go off the roads and our roofs every year," he said.
"If we got only half of that back, that's the same amount the South-West Yarragadee is going to deliver.

"There's a huge catchment of water that, with adequate treatment, would be perfect.
"If we want to live here for hundreds of years we've got to start doing things slightly differently."

As head of Kew Gardens, Dr Hopper will be in charge of the world's largest living collection of flora, with over 30,000 different species covering 120ha on the Thames in London.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Disease in captive endangered parrots mystifies scientists

An orange-bellied parrot

Tasmania's endangered orange-bellied parrot is facing a mysterious threat.

Birds at the Environment Department's breeding centre near Hobart have been quarantined since January, when 46 young birds were killed by the disease.

Months of testing, in Australia and overseas, has not pinned down the cause.
Mark Holdsworth from the Parrot Recovery Program says the wild population does not appear to be affected.

"Wild population appears to be stable and we didn't detect any decline in the nestlings produced," he said.

"But before we can release birds from Taroona into the wild population we need to determine if this potential disease, which we believe may be a type of herpes virus, is in this population.

"It may in fact be that this disease is a native disease to orange-bellied parrots and we've just discovered it through captive breeding."

Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister David Llewellyn says the deaths of the 46 birds earlier this year was a regrettable incident, but it will not have any effect on the overall recovery program.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Badger Creek Budgie Show

On Sunday, 8 October, more than 100 budgies will go on show at Badger Creek.

Local budgie enthusiasts are presenting an exhibition of show budgies at the Badger Creek Old School Building (opposite Healesville Sanctuary) from 11am to 3pm.

The aim of the exhibition is to improve awareness of showing and breeding and to share information with other budgie enthusiasts.

The show will also gauge interest in setting up a local budgie club.For more information phone 0419 591 617 or 5962 4640.

Friday, September 29, 2006

J-Bird, the adventuring parrot,

On a Saturday morning in mid-August, Oxford Road resident Daniel Rinehart cleaned out the cage usually occupied by his pet parrot, J-Bird, and left it outdoors to air-dry.
Nothing too unusual about the activity, until Rinehart opened the door to carry the sizeable cage back inside. At that same moment J-Bird decided to take flight and instead of settling on his favored perch — his owner’s shoulder — the bird started off on what would become a different kind of vacation for the parrot.
J-Bird has traveled all over the United States, his owner explained, but usually as a passenger sitting on the front seat or the steering wheel of an automobile. The bird had never tried solo travel, said Rinehart, at least not until that day back in August.
“It was just perfect timing on his part,” recalled Rinehart about the day J-Bird … well… flew the coop.
For the rest of that day, as well as the next several days, Rinehart searched the surrounding woods, whistling and calling for his best friend, which he has owned for six years and which typically follows him around like a little puppy dog.
Having no luck finding the bird, Rinehart became disheartened.
“J-Bird always answers my calls,” said Rhinehart, admitting that he began thinking the worst, fearing a vehicle on the heavily trafficked U.S. 158 had hit the bird.
“I left the cage outdoors for four days,” he said, explaining he thought that perhaps if the bird saw his house he might fly back into the familiar safe haven. But after several days and still no sign of his green-feathered friend, Rinehart said, he had “pretty much given up” any hope of ever seeing his beloved J-Bird again.
Meanwhile …
About three miles away, later on that same Saturday J-Bird took flight, Beth Farabaugh was outdoors and out of the corner of her eye, she caught the glimpse of a flying green streak.
Farabaugh recalled thinking at the time, “What in the world is that?” Once the parrot landed on her roof she wondered, “Where in the world did it come from?”
Farabaugh, with assistance from her father who stood on the porch banister, attempted to scoop the bird into a box only to have the parrot fly to the neighbor’s roof.
Then the wandering bird decided to attempt a landing on the slippery hood of Farabaugh’s father’s truck, not an ideal landing surface for a parrot.
“The bird kept slipping around and my dad slowly backed up to the bird and it just stepped onto his shoulder,” explained Farabaugh.
“We gave it some oats and water. It was drinking water, but we didn’t know what to do with it.”
Then Farabaugh remembered that one of her co-workers owns parrots and made a call for help to Steve and Sherry Carpenter.
The Carpenters lost no time coming to the aid of the little lost bird and promptly rode to the Allensville Road location with a cage to pick up the willful traveler and, hopefully, solve the mystery of the little lost bird by locating its owner.
“We looked over the bird and it was in good shape,” said Steve Carpenter, who is manager of Person County when he’s not out rescuing parrots. And once they realized the bird was banded, both Steve and Sherry admitted they thought it would be an easy course to locate the owner.
“We knew it was a Meyers parrot,” said Steve, describing it as a “pretty green bird with a black cape — not rare,” he said, “but not that common either; and they are prone to fly,” he added
“Sherry spent the night on the Internet,” said Steve, explaining she spent time e-mailing aviary veterinarians and contacting breeders throughout the state, since the Carpenters had no idea where the bird had come from or how far it had traveled.
She also contacted Person County veterinarians and even called 911. The following Monday she took the bird to the animal shelter to have it scanned for possible microchip identification.
The Carpenters even contacted seed places and pet stores in case the owner put up notices of the lost bird — all to no avail.
From the bird’s band number the Carpenters could tell the bird’s age and that the bird had been bred in North Carolina. There are about six to eight Meyers breeders including one in nearby Haw River, said Steve.
But when they contacted the branding company, which generally keeps track of breeders and birds through records coinciding with numbers on the band, the Carpenters learned the company was no longer in business. They were advised there was no way to assess the defunct company’s records.
The sleuths had reached a dead-end.
Without knowing the bird’s given name, Steve and Sherry began calling their guest “Doc,” after a local veterinarian.
Armed with experience and knowledge on how to care for parrots, the Carpenters integrated the little bird into their own household, while keeping their two jenday conures and umbrella cockatoo isolated from the newcomer.
And just in case Doc decided to again take flight, the Carpenters clipped their new houseguest’s wings to ensure that he stop his nomadic ways.
“We clipped him, and he gained altitude; and we clipped him again. He still could go the length of the house. These birds are notorious for flight,” emphasized Steve, referring to Meyers parrots.
After two weeks and seemingly no closer to finding the owner, the Carpenters decided to put a classified ad in the “Lost and Found” section of The Courier-Times. The ad came out in the next Saturday edition. Without identifying the bird, the ad requested that the owner identify the band number to verify ownership, explained Steve.
That Saturday, the Carpenters received a few calls offering to give the bird a home if the owner could not be found, but still no owner.
And then Sunday morning came a call from a gentleman who identified the bird, but admitted he hadn’t a clue to the band number. Instead, he offered to bring photographs for positive identification.
The Carpenters were comfortably sure it was caller’s bird.
Rinehart was trembling with anticipation when he arrived at the Carpenters’ home, explained Steve, and when the owner and bird re-united, the bird’s response immediately affirmed the bond and relationship.
“From the bird’s reaction, I knew this was definitely his bird,” said Sherry.
A happy ending for bird and owner and yet another missing bird case resolved thanks to the tenacity of the Carpenters, for which Daniel Rinehart is grateful. He also is appreciative of the care given to J-Bird by the Carpenters.
“They are super people,” said Rinehart.
Yet despite the very good care he enjoyed at the Carpenters, J-Bird seems to be happier still to be back home — clipped wings and all.