Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Amazon parrot finds its way home to Gastonia doctor after five-year absence

If her wings carry her away from home again, Eunice may be able to tell helpful humans where she belongs.

“We need to teach them their address,” Jayne Stafford said, grinning as Dr. Barry Scanlan lifted the parrot from her perch. Birds that can mimic human speech could use their gift of gab to find their owners if they fly away, she said.

Scanlan, who returned Eunice to his Gastonia home last week after a five-year absence, agreed.

“You’re going to learn Daddy’s name,” he told Eunice, stroking the bird’s feathered back.

A double-yellow headed Amazon parrot, Eunice flew through an open back door and soared out of sight in 2004. Scanlan scoured the sky for his beloved pet, but Eunice was nowhere to be found.

“We drove all over the neighborhood,” Scanlan said. “It was ridiculous, we drove pretty much a mile-mile and a half in every direction looking for any sign of yellow or green in the trees.”

Amazon parrots aren’t native to North Carolina and are usually killed by predators if they wander into the wild. As months and years passed, Scanlan abandoned hope of finding Eunice.

“I thought she was dead,” he said. “I was just certain.”

Last week, Scanlan’s brother showed him an ad for a found Amazon parrot in The Gaston Gazette’s classifieds. On a lark, he called the number and described his missing bird.

Stafford had been fostering Eunice for several weeks and placed the classified ad to find the 7-year-old parrot’s missing owner. The man who had found the bird and kept it for nearly five years recently died, she explained.

“I knew this was a bird that somebody was looking for,” Stafford said. “I just wanted to make sure she got back in the right hands.”

A bird lover herself, Stafford lost her African grey parrot, Mick, in August 2005. She continues to search for Mick — whose vocabulary includes, “Oh, praise the Lord!”— in newspaper classifieds and on Web sites like

“A lot of people who do find them don’t always know there’s a way to get them back home,” she said.

Breeders of exotic birds typically attach small bands to their legs inscribed with serial numbers. Scanlan provided Stafford with his breeder band number, and she matched it to the band on Eunice’s leg.

“It was the most bizarre thing,” Scanlan said. “The odds against it were astronomical. I asked if I could come over immediately.”

A family practice physician at Riverwood Medical Associates in Gastonia, Scanlan was reunited with Eunice on Tuesday night. The colorful bird is quickly readjusting to her old home.

“It really is a miracle that she’s here,” Scanlan said. “The odds are so against it. There was a divine hand involved there.”

Eunice still speaks the phrases she learned years ago, including “Hey, baby bird” and “Hello, how are you?” Scanlan said double-yellow headed Amazons are the second-best talkers among tropical bird species.

Stafford has an African grey parrot named Joel, and she still hopes to find Mick someday. He couldn’t survive in the wild for four years, but it’s possible that someone found him and is raising him as their pet.

“The thing is, you don’t know where they’ve landed,” Stafford said. “Somebody might have picked him up immediately.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mallee Ringneck parrots nesting

Almost every day we have two or more Mallee Ringneck parrots in our garden or nearby. We love to have these colourful parrots flying around and feeding in the trees, grasses and bushes around our house. The only time they are not welcome is when they take to our ripening pears and other fruits. In many cases they eat the unripe fruit, so I hope they gets some pains in their little stomachs for damaging our fruit.

In recent weeks two of them have been hanging around one of the trees near the garage. This is an old growth mallee which could well be over a century old. Being so old it has developed several hollow branches. They have been fussing around one of the larger hollows, sitting on the branch, walking along a nearby branch, entering the hollow and sitting in it. Are they a pair? And are they preparing to nest in this hollow?

We can’t be certain that this is a genuine breeding attempt. We will just have to keep an eye on the situation - and have the camera at the ready.

Water bought to rescue rare parrots

A GROUP of conservationists have pitched in to buy water to protect habitat for the threatened regent parrot species.

A small number of Nature Foundation SA supporters donated money to buy 6.8ML of water to save thirsty river red gums at Hogwash Bend, near Waikerie, on the River Murray.

The water was pumped through a sprinkler system at four different sites over the winter months.

River red gums provide the largest nesting site for regent parrots.

There are fewer than 500 breeding pairs of the threatened species left in the state.

Nature Foundation SA special projects consultant Angela Hawdon said it was important to protect the regent parrots' habitat.

"The birds nest in the hollows of river red gums within 60m of the water," she said. "By watering trees, we hope to increase their leaf cover and keep the trees alive for longer, and continue to provide a food source for the birds during their nesting period from August to December each year."

A further 6ML of water has been donated to the Hogwash Bend project to be used over spring to ensure the trees are leafy during nesting season.

The Riverland West Local Action Planning Association has provided the watering with a sprinkler system that has been moved around four different sites at Hogwash Bend.

The association's Anna Reid said keeping the river red gums alive would provide a corridor to the Mallee for the parrots.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Blue tits use ‘aromatherapy’ to disinfect nests

A new study has revealed that birds called blue tits use “aromatherapy” to disinfect their nests.

These birds have been found to line their nests with aromatic plants like mint or lavender, which kill bacteria.

The study suggests that doing so helps the birds create more sterile environment for chicks, which, in turn, grow faster and have a better chance of survival.

However, individual blue tits are quite picky about which plants they use, and the study has yet not explained how they pass their knowledge on to other birds.

On Corsica, according to a report describing the study, blue tits also incorporate fresh fragments of aromatic plants, including lavender, mint and curry plants, into their nests.

“We hypothesised that aromatic plants used by blue tits had some anti-parasite properties, because most of these plants, or close species of the same genus, are traditional Mediterranean plants with well-known medicinal properties,” the BBC quoted Adele Mennerat, a biologist now at the University of Bergen in Norway, as saying.

Working with collaborators from France’s National Centre of Scientific Research and the University of Toulouse, Mennerat initially tested whether these plants deterred blow fly larvae that commonly live in tit nests and feed on chicks’ blood, significantly damaging their health.

“Despite repeated attempts we could never find any effect of these plants on blow fly infestation. So we tested the effects of these plants on the bacteria living on birds,” Mennerat says.

Writing about their findings in the journal Oecologia, the researchers said that aromatic plants, including lavender (Lavandula stoechas), apple mint (Mentha suaveolens), the curry plant (Helichrysum itlaicum) and Achillea ligustica, significantly changed the composition of bacterial communities living on blue tit nestlings.

“They reduce the number of different bacterial species, and the total number of bacteria, especially on chicks that are most vulnerable because they are both highly infested by blow fly larvae and carry great amounts of bacteria on their skin,” says Mennarat.

The researcher admitted that it was yet to be found out as to how volatile compounds produced by the aromatic plants kill the bacteria.

However, Mennerat said, blue tit chicks living in nests adorned with aromatic plants were found to grow faster and had a higher proportion of red blood cells, a strong indicator of a chick’s future chances of survival after fledging.

Mennerat suspects that living in a disinfected nest enables the chicks to allocate less energy to their immune systems and more to growing physically.

“One of the most unexpected findings we got was that female blue tits display individual preferences in their use of aromatic plant species,” she says.

“For example, in a territory with big bushes of lavender, for some reason blue tits at this site still collect mint that can only be found far away from their nests. We still don’t know why and how blue tits have such individual preferences,” she adds.

The researchers are also keen to discover how these personal aromatic preferences are passed on between birds. (ANI)

Birds learn from neighbours how to defend nests

A new study by scientists at the University of Cambridge has shown that inexperienced reed warblers learn how to stop cuckoos from laying eggs in their nests by watching how other members of their species deal with the parasitic birds.

Reed warblers live with the threat that a cuckoo will infiltrate their nest, remove one of their eggs, replace it with a cuckoo egg, and leave cuckoo chicks to be raised by the unsuspecting reed warblers.

New experiments show that reed warblers will attack or “mob” cuckoos on their territory to prevent them from laying eggs in their nests and inexperienced birds learn from observing the mobbing behaviour.

This social learning was specific to cuckoos but not to harmless control birds, such as parrots, suggesting that the warblers are primed to learn defensive behaviour only in response to true threats.

“Our previous work showed that reed warblers distinguish cuckoos from other nest enemies and adjust their defences according to local parasitism risk. Our current work demonstrates that reed warblers can use social information to fine-tune their defences to the nature of the local threat,” said Dr. Justin Welbergen, co-author of the study.

It had previously been established that cuckoos (the parasites) and reed warblers (the hosts) are engaged in a co-evolutionary arms race. Once one had evolved an advantage, such as the reed warblers’ ability to eject the cuckoos’ eggs from their nests, the other would evolve a counter tactic, such as the cuckoo evolving eggs similar to those of the warbler.

However, although genetic adaptations were to be expected, it was a surprise to the scientists that social learning provided another mechanism by which the warblers rapidly increased their nest defence.

“Studies of co-evolutionary arms races between brood parasites and hosts have emphasized genetic adaptations and counter adaptations; however, our field experiments show that transmission through social learning provides a mechanism by which hosts can adjust their nest defence and so respond rapidly to changes in parasitism,” Welbergen said.

The findings are reported in June issue of the journal Science. (ANI)reed warblers, cuckoos, defend nests, nests, bird nests

World’s smallest parrot filmed in wild for first time

The world’s smallest parrot, which is not much bigger than an adult person’s thumb, has been filmed in the wild for the first time.

According to a report by BBC News, an expedition team filming in Papua New Guinea for the BBC programme ‘Lost Land of the Volcano’ caught two of the buff-faced pygmy parrots on camera.

Another adult, which weighs less than half an ounce, was also trapped by the expedition team’s bird expert.

On average, buff-faced pygmy parrots (Micropsitta pusio) stand less than 9cm tall and weigh 11.5g (0.41oz).

They are found across the northern lowlands of the island of New Guinea from the west to the southeastern tip, up to an altitude of around 800m.

Males and females look similar, but females have less prominent markings on the head.

The birds have green feathers with yellowish plumage on their underparts; while their cheeks, face, and crown are more buff-coloured, hence their name.

BBC wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan first discovered a tiny nest belonging to two parrots deep within pristine rainforest.

The birds nest in termite mounds, using their beaks and claws to dig their way in before laying eggs in the hole created.

Buchanan staked out the nest from within a camouflaged hide, and was rewarded after a long wait when two birds returned.

He filmed the pair at their nest entrance, as the male and female reinforced their bond by rubbing against one another.

Later, another parrot was trapped unharmed by Dr Jack Dumbacher, an ornithologist from the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, US, who had accompanied the BBC expedition team.

Buff-faced pygmy parrots do not eat fruit and nuts but lichen and fungi.

However, so little is still known about their dietary habits that it has proved difficult to rear the birds in captivity. (ANI)

Monday, September 07, 2009

The rare orange-bellied parrot (left); Ric Ressom monitors numbers of the bird
at Codrington. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

HE call usually comes in April. They've been spotted fluttering through King Island, a small squadron heading across the strait. Numbering fewer than 150 worldwide, these little birds are rarer than the Siberian tiger. After their buffeted flight through the winds of the Roaring Forties, they scatter thinly along the mainland coast - as they once did in their thousands.

Some travel east to Gippsland, others gather on the wetlands of Werribee. A dozen or so fly west to the Portland area where Ric Ressom, having taken the alarm-raising phone call, picks up his binoculars and prepares to wander the marshes near the Yambuk wind farm.

For the next four months or so, Mr Ressom and fellow observer Helen Phillips will stand sentry among the reeds, monitoring the numbers of Australia's rarest bird - the orange-bellied parrot - making sure its dwindling numbers don't fly into the blades of a wind turbine.

''Despite what some people say, they're not stupid,'' Mr Ressom says. ''They seem to know to stay clear. Even so, you don't want to take chances.''

Last year, the turbines at Yambuk were shut down twice, when the observers alerted the wind farm operator Pacific Hydro, that a number of the parrots were feeding in the vicinity.

Pacific Hydro, which has established three of four planned wind farms in the Portland region, runs the monitoring program to fulfil its environmental protection obligations to the State Government.

The company is also a funding source for a Greening Australia project to expand salt-marsh habitat for orange-bellied parrots, one of the most endangered bird species in the world. The area is now rich with beaded glasswort, the parrot's preferred food.

The result is that the wetlands around the Yambuk turbines have become an orange-bellied parrot hot spot. Of all the sightings on the mainland last year - recorded by a network of about 100 Birds Australia volunteers as well as government and privately funded observers - the biggest group, nine birds, was seen near Yambuk 30 times.

''They're not to easy see,'' Mr Ressom said. ''They're pretty cryptic.

''Their alarm call [a repeated, hard-edged buzzing] is the best indicator … we flush them to see what numbers we've got. Once one bird takes off, the others go with it.

''They're easily spooked and will climb to a great height with a tinkling sound … or they'll fly low across the water with the reeds behind them. They're very crafty in the way they avoid detection.''

It's ironic that the parrot has found sanctuary near Yambuk, given the bird is probably best known for nearly shutting down a wind farm development at Bald Hills in Gippsland three years ago and was also named as a potential threat to the planned desalination plant at Wonthaggi.

Former premier Jeff Kennett blamed the bird for ruining his plan to relocate the Coode Island petrochemical plant (in truth, scuttled on economic grounds).

''The bird's been used as a political football for many years … yet it hasn't been responsible for blocking a single development,'' says Glenn Ehmke, Birds Australia's mainland recovery co-ordinator. ''Even at Bald Hills, [former Environment Minister Ian Campbell] did block it [the wind farm] at first, but went back on it very quickly.''

What's so special about a bird that could easily hide in a school shoe? Along with the swift parrot (also under threat), the orange-bellied parrot is one of only two parrots in the world that is fully migratory - meaning its entire population makes the perilous run across Bass Strait each year from its breeding grounds in southern Tasmania.

Aside from the parrot program, Pacific Hydro employs dog handlers to do monthly surveys for any birds and bats killed at its three Portland wind farms. Mr Ressom is also kept on through the year to monitor the impact on raptors. Says Pacific Hydro's Emily Wood: ''Our obligations for this kind of monitoring finished two years ago, but we have continued to do it as it gives us reliable information.'' On that note, Birds Australia has no complaints.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Carolina Parakeet

The Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis)[1] was the only parrot species native to the eastern United States. It was found from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf of Mexico, and lived in old forests along rivers. It was the only species at the time classified in the genus Conuropsis. It was called puzzi la née ("head of yellow") or pot pot chee by the Seminole and kelinky in Chikasha (Snyder & Russell, 2002).

The last wild specimen was killed in Okeechobee County, Florida in 1904, and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo on 21 February 1918. This was the male specimen "Incas", who died within a year of his mate "Lady Jane." Coincidentally, Incas died in the same aviary cage in which the last Passenger Pigeon, "Martha", had died nearly four years prior.[2] It was not until 1939, however, that it was determined that the Carolina Parakeet had become extinct.

At some date between 1937 and 1955, three parakeets resembling this species were sighted and filmed in the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia. However, the American Ornithologists Union concluded after analyzing the film, that they had probably filmed feral parakeets. Additional reports of the bird were made in Okeechobee County, Florida until the late 1920s, but these are not supported by specimens.

The species may have appeared as a very rare vagrant in places as far north as Southern Ontario. A few bones, including a pygostyle found at the Calvert Site in Southern Ontario came from the Carolina Parakeet. The possibility remains open that this particular specimen was taken to Southern Ontario for ceremonial purposes

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Parrots as pets: Caring for parrots is no simple task

Many high schools have student clubs that meet after school to hone their Latin, skiing or golf skills, but Magnificat High School in Rocky River has an unusual student group.

About 30 students at the private Catholic school for girls join the Animal Outreach Club each year to help animals. They collect supplies for local animal shelters and rescue groups, make catnip toys and treats and raise money for local and national animal welfare groups.

The group meets monthly and occasionally invites animal rescuers and their adoptable dogs and cats to the school to help socialize the pets.

Animal Outreach was founded by two students 10 years ago, when art teacher Kathleen DesForges agreed to be the group's advisor. She remains enthusiastically involved.

"I was so honored and jumped at the chance to work with these compassionate students and provide some measure of comfort to the homeless dogs and cats in our area shelters," she said. "What a joy it has been these last 10 years."

This year's co-president is senior Olivia Biello, of Olmsted Falls.

"We need to be the voice of the animals," she said. "This club gives Magnificat High School the opportunity to help local animals and give them the voice they need."

More Animals in the News:

London is a Timneh African grey parrot available for adoption from the Parrot Education & Adoption Center based in Olmsted Falls.
Parrots as pets: Caring for parrots is no simple task, so the local Parrot Education & Adoption Center hosts seminars on the long-lived, highly intelligent birds. Learn about parrot personalities, including the popular cockatoos and African greys from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Independence Technology Center, 6801 Brecksville Road. It's free. But psychologist and animal behavior expert Susan Friedman's two-day workshop on living with parrots costs $75. It runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 17 and 18 at the Hampton Inn, 10305 Cascade Crossings in Brooklyn. Register for the events at or call 440-669-0082.

Turk needs a home.
Michael Vick protests: Protesters are expected outside each NFL stadium across the country where there is a game opening day, Sept.13. In Cleveland, protesters will gather at 11:30 a.m. at the West Third Street parking lot and walk to the Cleveland Browns Stadium carrying signs and passing out fliers about dog fighting. Get details at After serving nearly two years in prison for dog fighting and killing six pit bulls, quarterback Vick signed a $6.8 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Dog fights in Ohio: The Humane Society of the United States has paid $14,470 in reward money to three tipsters since 2008 for information that led police to three dog-fighting rings in and near Dayton, where law enforcers have made wiping out dog fighting one of their priorities. Anyone with information anywhere in Ohio is asked to call 877-TIP-HSUS.

Almond needs a home.

Gala in Summit County: The Humane Society of Greater Akron's ninth annual fund-raising gala will have a James Bond theme. It's set for 6 to 11 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Akron City Centre Hotel, 20 W. Mill St. The price is $65 for hors d'oeuvres only and $125 for a full dinner. Partygoers will play roulette and other games of chance and participate in auctions featuring a vintage 25-inch strand of Mikimoto pearls, an Accutron 10 diamond men's Chronograph watch, a catered dinner with wine for 10 at your home and a Cavaliers jersey signed by Shaquille O'Neal. Learn more at or call 330-657-2010, Ext. 103.

Donating wisely: The 2009 Watchdog Report on 162 animal and environmental charities helps donors and people preparing

Merritt Clifton

their wills find charities that share their priorities and get the most out of a dollar. The report looks at each group's top salaries, their programs and how they spend their money. Most donors don't want their money spent on seven-figure salaries, plush offices and glossy fund-raising appeals, says investigative journalist Merritt Clifton. The Watchdog lets you know which groups spend most of their money directly helping animals. Get it for $25 at or Animal People, Box 960, Clinton, WA, 98236, or call 360-579-2505 to use a credit card.

Biased parrots better at problem-solving than ambidextrous counterparts

Parrots that are strongly right- or left-footed are better at problem-solving tasks than their ambidextrous counterparts, according to a new study.

Lead researchers Maria Magat and Culum Brown at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, worked with eight species of Australian parrot, some of which are primarily left-biased - gang-gang cockatoos, for instance, are 100 per cent left-footed - others right-biased and the rest “ambidextrous”.

They studied their side preference by noting which eye they preferred for looking at food.

During the study, the researchers put the birds to various tasks, including foraging for different seeds sprinkled in a tray of pebbles and raising a hanging seed basket up to their beaks using their claws.

They found that the birds that had a strong bias towards using one side or the other were faster at the tasks than species that showed no preference between left or right.

All animals have cerebral lateralisation, meaning that their brains are divided into two hemispheres responsible for processing different tasks.

Strongly lateralised individuals are strongly “handed” - or strongly “footed” in the case of birds.

“Our study shows that strong lateralisation improves problem-solving ability and foraging in birds, which is an evolutionary advantage,” New Scientist quoted Brown as saying.

“It allows each side of the brain to become specialised at different tasks, so, for instance, the right side of the parrot’s brain can process foraging tasks without being slowed by interference from the left side of the brain,” the expert added.