Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bird’s brain: Nature center’s parrot stays sharp with movies, mischief

Tino, a scarlet macaw at the Prairie Park Nature Center, can shout out hello and goodbye to visitors as well as mimic several other laughs and bits of communication.

Tino, a scarlet macaw at the Prairie Park Nature Center, can shout out hello and goodbye to visitors as well as mimic several other laughs and bits of communication.

Twenty-year-old Tino’s favorite movie is “The Wizard of Oz.” He likes to dance and sing along when he watches.

And if that’s not absurd enough, it gets better: Tino’s a bird. He’s a scarlet macaw — a colorful type of parrot native to South America — who lives at the Prairie Park Nature Center, 2730 Harper St.

“He seems to get a kick out of anything musical,” says Marty Birrell, nature interpretive supervisor. “He’s alternately adorable and obnoxious.”

According to workers at Prairie Park, Tino’s got rhythm. He likes to strut his stuff whenever he can. He loves movies — particularly musicals — bobs his body back and forth rhythmically with song. Singing along also comes naturally. He’s been known to spout out lyrics to the Oompa-Loompa songs from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

And he also likes cartoons. Birrell speculates that’s because the programs are as animated as Tino himself. A neurotic attention hound, Tino likes to mess around with the kids who come to see him. His antics can be entertaining or annoying.

Entertaining: When children say hi to Tino, he waves his wings back and says “hello.”

Tino - Scarlet Macaw

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Tino is a Scarlet Macaw at the Prairie Park Nature Center who can welcome visitors with a "hello" or a "goodbye" plus vocalize other bits and pieces of conversation and laughter. Two of Tino's favorite things to do is to get a spray water bath and watch musicals like "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" Enlarge video

Annoying: While children are at the center, Tino randomly shrieks or screams, using, as Birrell calls it, his loud voice.

“Here at the nature center, he’s best known for frightening small children,” Birrell says. “We have a big sign up warning everyone. It’s kind of tiresome.”

When kids shuffle into the nature center, they tend to crowd around Tino in awe. They instantly try to beckon a response. They’ll call out things like, “pretty bird,” and “Polly want a cracker?”

Tino usually sits smugly on his perch, unresponsive, until the children grow bored and amble off. The moment their backs are turned, though, Tino launches into a loud shriek, evoking tears and screams in the youngsters. Older kids get a charge from Tino’s scare tactics, but toddlers react differently.

“He can make a small toddler’s ears hurt,” Birrell says. “We’ll hear his shriek and then hear the sobs and know he’s gotten another victim.”

But Tino doesn’t shriek and scream to be malicious. It’s all in fun. After screaming loudly, he throws his head and wings back and cackles, as if it’s all a big joke.

And Tino doesn’t just play tricks on visitors. He also works. He’s a regular prop in the nature center’s educational programs that feature rain forest animals. The programs are designed to educate children about birds, rain forests and adaptation.

Tino loves participating, but when he’s not working, he gets to have some fun: The center is closed on Mondays, known to Tino as “movie night.” Viewed as enrichment time, movie night serves to stimulate Tino and the other birds at Prairie Park. Parrots are intelligent birds, and they crave interaction. If they aren’t properly stimulated they will misbehave, self-mutilate or can even go insane.

All of the parrots at the nature center watch movies on Mondays. Duncan and Maury, brother and sister African Greys, enjoy wildlife movies the most. Anything featuring other birds is a big hit. And cartoons also are a favorite. To top it off, Birrell sometimes will cart in the crow, Edgar, to watch movies with the parrots. The birds talk, sing and have a good time.

Andy Wolff has worked at the nature center for three years, and it took him two just to get comfortable handling Tino without gloves.

Now Wolff and Tino have a good relationship,

and Wolf more or less trusts the bird. Andy Wolf and Tino have a pretty good relationship and Wolf can handle the scarlet macaw without gloves. Tino can’t fly, so he can’t physically hurt visitors, but some children get upset when Tino shrieks loudly for attention.

Andy Wolf and Tino have a pretty good relationship and Wolf can handle the scarlet macaw without gloves. Tino can’t fly, so he can’t physically hurt visitors, but some children get upset when Tino shrieks loudly for attention.

“Tino has a gentle side too,” Wolff says. “He’ll hold my hand and preen my arm hairs, taking care of me. He’s a pretty sweet guy, really.”

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