Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rare, exotic birds on show at new bird park

A UNIQUE array of birds from around the world, collected by East London resident Owen Sanders, can soon be viewed by the public.

Sanders approached the municipality for permission to establish a registered bird park at his Bunker’s Hill home several years ago. It then took several years to plan and build.

In the last five years, suspended stainless steel aviaries were constructed. This hygienic method allows for any food dropped by the birds to fall onto a cement floor and be washed away.

Into the cages of his Flamingo Gardens bird park, Sanders has put birds indigenous to Africa and others from Indonesia, Australia and South America.

Among them are toucans, macaws and even a pair of highly endangered Cape parrots.

“Their interaction with humans and the way they mimic different sounds fascinates me,” said Sanders, who acquired his first bird when he was six. He has been interested in birds ever since.

There are only about 500 recorded sightings of Cape parrots each year and they are usually confined to the Amatola mountains, Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal.

In the last 10 years, Sanders developed a fascination for the more rare and exotic birds. “People can see a collection of birds here that they won’t normally be able to see in the average zoo,” he said.

If cared for properly, birds can live for a long time. Included in Sanders’ collection are a pair of blue-fronted Amazon parrots that have been in captivity for 30 years: “Unlike humans, birds don’t show their age.”

Also in his collection are female Jardine and Ruppells’ parrots which are more colourful than the cocks – unlike the rest of the bird kingdom where males usually outdo females.

There are also three varieties of toucans in the park – all of which make completely different calls.

According to Sanders, these birds are the most expensive to keep in captivity as they require a specialised fruit and pellet diet. Ingredients are imported from Belgium.

Another interesting bird is the military macaw, which gets its name from the distinct red band across its forehead. “He is prone to blushing – his cheeks turning a variation of light-to-dark pink when he is embarrassed or nervous,” said Sanders.

The park is wheelchair-friendly and set in an indigenous garden that consists of a large number of cycads, some rare, from all over Africa. “Having an indigenous garden gives a flavour that this is Africa,” he said.

He is also planning to put indigenous yellow fish into his pond and bring a variety of indigenous water fowl to the park.

The park, in John Bailie Road, will be open to the public for the first time from Friday – by appointment only.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Local Bird Lovers Flock To Parrot Event

Parrot Picnic
The South Western Ontario Parrot Club held a Parrot Picnic at the Masonic Temple early last week. The club holds annual meetings to encourage bird socialization, provide important training and discipline techniques, as well as, offer bird sitting within the group should a club member go on holidays. The club boasts a wide variety of parrots ranging from as small as 3 inches (love birds) to as large as 44 inches (Blue Hyacinth). Parrots are highly intelligent companions that can mimic a vast array of sounds, including cell phone rings, squeaking doors, alarm clocks and the human voice. The birds are capable of being potty trained on command and perform several tricks. The club is currently accepting new members and meet every 3rd Tuesday of the month at the Masonic Temple. For more information you can email Kelly Adamski at:

Friday, August 25, 2006

Charismatic island dwellers saved from extinction

Conservation action saved 16 bird species from extinction between 1994 and 2004. Although they represent just 1.3% of the world’s threatened birds, these successes demonstrate that, given political will and resources, we have the knowledge and tools to turn back the tide of extinction.
In their paper How many bird extinctions have we prevented? (Oryx, July 2006), BirdLife authors Stuart Butchart, Alison Stattersfield and Nigel Collar explain how they identified these 16 cases: the first time anyone has attempted to quantify the results of global conservation action in this way for any group of organisms.
The majority had populations of fewer than 100 birds in 1994, with only four known breeding pairs of Chatham Island Taiko Pterodroma magentae, just four breeding female Norfolk Island Green Parrots Cyanoramphus cookie, and five pairs of Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula eques (three of which had bred without success).
Conservation actions for 11 species were implemented through a mixture of governments and non-governmental organisations, with governments alone responsible for the rest. BirdLife International contributed to action for seven species.
“By 2004 some species had undergone very significant population growth,” Stuart Butchart explained. “Norfolk Island Green Parrot increased almost ten-fold from 32–37 individuals to 200–300 individuals, and Mauritius Parakeet ten-fold from five pairs to 55 pairs.”
However, these 16 species are not a representative sample of the world’s threatened bird species, since 10 are confined to islands, where small-scale action can be more effective, while more than half of all threatened birds are continental, and often affected by broader-scale habitat loss and degradation.
Three-quarters of the species could also be considered “charismatic” (parrots, raptors, pigeons, large waterbirds etc.) while just 48% of all Critically Endangered birds would qualify. Butchart suspects that charismatic species may capture conservationists’ attention more easily, and are certainly easier to raise funds for, and to change public opinion about.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Parrots call their baby chicks by name, German experts say

Hamburg - In a discovery that is likely to rekindle the debate about language in the animal kingdom, researchers in Germany have discovered that some parrots appear to give their offspring individual names.
Animal behavioural scientists at the University of Hamburg say that spectacled parrotlets use a distinctive call for each of their chicks, with no two chicks being given the same 'name' call.
The small South American parrots also apparently have name calls for their mates.
'The birds very definitely use a particular call exclusively with a particular bird and never for any other bird,' says Dr. Rolf Wanker, head of the Hamburg University Zoological Institute's behavioural research laboratory.
Wanker and his team have spent years assessing video and audio recordings of parrot chatter and squawking.
'What is not yet clear, however, is whether these calls can be equated with what we would call names such as Hans or Fritz or whether they could be more generic labels such as 'my baby' or 'my mate',' he adds.
'For that reason we prefer to refer to these calls as labels or name equivalents,'
The studies were inspired by observations in the spectacled parrotlet's natural habitat in Colombia. There, researchers from Hamburg noted that individual parrots seemed to respond to specific calls that other parrots in the same flock ignored.
'A mother bird had the uncanny ability to utter a cry that would result in her chick returning to the nest immediately amidst the cacophany of the other parrots all around,' Wanker recalls.
'It was obvious that the baby knew it was being called,' he says.
At the Hamburg lab, studies showed that these name equivalents are fractional cries lasting between 90 and 120 milliseconds.
The cry is distinctive enough to provide acoustic clues as to the identity of the individual uttering the call and also to the identity of the intended recipient bird.
'A mother bird uses a different call for her baby from the one she uses for her mate, and they respond with calls that correspondent to her identity,' he says.
Similar findings have been achieved with certain primates and with dolphins. Many years ago, British TV science producer David Attenborough showed that macaque monkeys use distinctive alarm calls to alert other monkeys to danger.
Macaques will use one call to identify a panther, thus telling other monkeys to climb up a tree. But they will use a different call to identify a python, thus ensuring that all the monkeys climb down a tree that has a snake lurking in its branches.
The Attenborough findings are of interest because they involve primates in the wild that have had little or no contact with humans.
That contrasts with studies involving chimpanzees and gorillas in captivity in America over the past four decades which have produced startling but highly controversial evidence that primates can learn and use deaf human sign language.
Other studies have determined that birds develop regional 'accents' and 'dialects' depending on their location. Sparrows in the eastern United States, for example, are known to have subtly different chirps from their cousins on the west coast.
The German findings are the first involving parrots. The spectacled parrotlet is among the smallest parrots, only slightly larger than budgerigars. The bright green birds with a distinctive yellow ring around their eyes live in eastern Panama and northern Colombia.
In the Hamburg study, parent birds and their chicks were placed in separate cages within earshot of each other but out of view of each other.
The birds' calls to each other were recorded and later played back to the individual birds to ascertain their response. The findings demonstrated that name-specific calls were used by each bird.
Wanker shies away from calling this labelling behaviour any form of language, noting that it has yet to be proved conclusively whether humans are the only animals capable of abstract linguistic structures.
He also notes that a fierce debate has been raging for decades among ornithologists and linguists over whether songbirds might be using a form of language. But he points out that, in the avian world, parrots are a special case.
'Parrots are unique among avians,' he says. 'They are the primates of the avian world and are very highly developed creatures with complex social systems and prodigious cognitive skills.'
The Hamburg research group plans to expand its study to include macaws at the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg.