Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!
I would like to start off 2014 by putting in an appeal on behalf of captive parrots all over Belize. 
People ask me 'how do I make my parrot happier' and my answer - in Belize  - is always give him a chance at a normal wild life. If, for physical or psychological reasons, he can't be released and he does not share a healthy bond with a human, then at the very least give him a mate, a big space, and let him live as close to a normal wild parrot-life as possible. 

I am sad beyond belief for parrots who spend their days alone in a cage. When a parrot laughs or talks, he is not necessarily 'happy' - he is just mimicking us. Only exceptional birds with years of socialisation get to the stage where they are communicating.  Parrots in Belize are wild-caught birds. They are certainly not domesticated - most of the time they are not even tame. In the very best of circumstances they could be described as 'content' with their situation, but I know from 10 years of working with these birds that they would revert back to a wild existence given the slightest chance, which speaks volumes about their level of contentment.

Unlike captive-bred birds in the USA or Europe, wild-caught parrots in Belize are reminded of their roots every single day. Every time they see a wild bird pass over, every time they hear a wild bird calling, every time they see a native tree, hear the rain falling, feel the breeze, taste a wild fruit or berry, every sunset, every sunrise, their inherent, natural instincts come to the surface. 

People will describe a certain behaviour in their bird and I can almost always tell them that it directly relates to a habit he would have in the wild: usually his desire to mate and breed. Freedom and procreation are the most fundamental processes of any living creature, and yet these are the two things we deny our captive birds. Sometimes (if the bird is 'lucky') he will have some solace in an artificial environment and human company, but this is not natural, and generally the bird would be happier with his own species.

Belize Bird Rescue is not interested in 'collecting' well socialised, human bonded birds, but birds that are caged and alone day after day would be far, far better off in our hands. We can offer that wild bird the best chance at a natural life, or the closest thing to it that his temperament and health will allow.


In case you're still unsure - I can tell you that I have had so many birds go through the rehab programme whose owners genuinely believed the bird could never be free, and yet within a week of introducing him to the rehab flock in the flight aviary, I can no longer tell them apart. The human vocalisation stops, they usually find a friend to cosy up to, they make wild bird noises, they scrap and fly and scream with the other birds - basically they revert straight back to their wild selves. And why wouldn't they? These are not domesticated animals, they are not pets and honestly, they are not 'your friend'. They are wild birds, born in the wild, designed for the wild - and most of the time, they know it. 

May I suggest a resolution for the New Year? If you know of a wild bird in captivity, please, work with the owner to get them to give up the bird. Make them realise that however 'happy' they think this bird may be he would be a million times happier with his own kind. Together, let's make 2014 the year of freedom for captive parrots in Belize. 

 Happy New Year to all living creatures!
(In case you're wondering, for the first time ever, I have dramatically edited a published blog. I was extremely harsh on people who do take care of their birds, so I have toned it down a little! My apologies - I was provoked. I have calmed down now)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A day in the life of BBR

Being blog-absent for so long, you wonder where to pick back up.  Well, I am often asked what I find do all day so that seems a good place to start...
A typical day begins at dawn, which is anywhere between 4.45 and 6.45am depending on the time of year. Our somewhat unorthodox dawn chorus of whoops, whistles, snorts and cackles accompanies that of the regular wild birds as Belize Bird Rescue wakes. 

Rolling the crazy house-birds out onto the verandah and chasing down the naughty ones playing tag  on the cabinet tops, I urge the coffee machine to work faster.
All naughties evicted and coffee in hand, it’s downstairs to begin dishing up breakfast. Pepper is my permanent helper, recently joined by Sancho, who is truly the worst helper in the world. He’s discovered that baskets flung from shelves will get me to continue the game of tag, which appears to be a favourite morning game. If I am really lucky, he won't knock a basket-full of food onto the floor, although my luck is usually not so good.

Ms Mature Pepper calmly enjoys samples from everyone’s plate until she hears that Geoff (my son-in-law) is up and about, and flies off to attack him: she usually waits until he has two cups of coffee in his hand, and is trying to open the screen door with one foot. One day this will end in tears.
Baskets filled with fruits, veggies, nuts, corn, beans and birdy-bread, and of course the ubiquitous sunflower seeds, I start distributing to my impatient customers. 

Thankfully, I have the lovely Celeshia who is BR's full-time bird lady, plus two great guys that help us to distribute the 40-50 dishes , so on weekdays, everyone gets breakfast by 8:00am.

 There are usually one or two 'special' dietary needs too: mice and chicks for the meat-eaters; bugs, worms or soldier-fly larvae for the omnivores; fish for the stinky sea-birds. Every new beak that passes through presents a challenge and has resulted in us cultivating a healthy mouse colony, a meal-worm farm and a soldier-fly bin. Next on the list are crickets, earth worms and lizards if we can manage it. Nature really is cruel...



Washing the dishes, chopping veggies for the next day, preparing various treats (sweet potato, scrambled egg, cooked corn, chopped chilis, fresh coconut, birdy-bread, wild berries and fruits) takes up most of the morning and I thank Celeshia every day for taking control of all this!


Most days I go shopping in nearby Belmopan. Thank goodness we don’t live 20 miles out on a rocky tyre-busting road, as many of our friends do – I could never be that organised with my shopping lists. For those keeping count, it's currently around $70BZ ($35US) a day to feed our charges.

Although a very important part, food is only one aspect of the operation. The enclosures need to be swept, scrubbed or raked daily. The parrots need enrichment: branches with leaves and berries, flowers and toys, and we regularly need to add or change out perches.

Fighting ants, particularly the fire ants, is a continuous task.  Sometimes we have birds that require medication or special handling, and new intakes need a health check and we band all of our parrots. We often have to go out and collect/rescue birds and transport any injured ones on to the wildlife clinic, and of course, our favourite part: release!



Construction, modification and improvement never stops. This year we built three 20'x20' enclosures, put a 4' extension on the 5 quarantine enclosures and built a set of 4 low-level enclosures for the delicate non-flighted birds such as our permanently grounded aracari pair and two olive-throated parakeets with crippled wings. We also installed an enclosure within the rehab flight aviary which will enable us to catch the birds more easily before we can ship them off to the release site. We have 26 red loreds who will be testing the efficacy of that new feature when their release time comes.


We often have to move birds around into different enclosures as their needs change and new birds arrive. Introducing a new parrot to an existing group is always interesting, and very necessary if we are to build release flocks.  Most fun for everyone are the yellowheads - trying to find that magic combination of boy-meets-girl. It’s not proving easy, I'm sorry to say. We are supposed to be getting them to breed, but they are having none of it. We recently abandoned the yellow-head flight enclosure (renamed Fight Enclosure) and have instead turned it over to this year's wonderful white-fronts. I only hope our gracious hosts at the release site are ready for these 20+ devil-birds when the time comes. 

I made a disastrous decision to split our original flight enclosure into two in a move more commonly referred to as ‘throwing good money after bad’. I am not too big to admit that even after 10 years of learning, I am still making mistakes. Mr Jose is still tutting at me and shaking his head. No panic, he'll fix it - somehow he always does.

This year I have been totally blessed with several wonderful volunteers and helpers: it’s actually been our busiest year in terms of birds, but my easiest as I have had so much help and (yes!) time off. Thanks to you lovely ladies and gents - you all know who you are!! It has been an amazing year and Celeshia and I learned an awful lot. So much so, that we realised how much more we have to learn, so Celeshia is headed off to the frozen North to enjoy 6 weeks of on-site training and workshops at various specialist centres. I think she's in for a shock when she experiences Quebec in November, poor gal.

Around 5pm we can begin to slow down and enjoy a well-deserved rum and coke on the verandah as the soft-release birds come in for their afternoon feed. Here are a pair of white fronts scrapping over the table with the red loreds. (spot the boys!)

So there you have it: a little of what we do at BBR. So far, 2013 has brought us 86 birds and we have 94 in total at the centre: hopefully we will be able to liberate over half of those throughout the next 6 months which will add to the 40 birds already released this year.


And finally, in August we had our first documented breeding success: two banded and released ex-pet red loreds were photographed feeding their baby . This is without doubt the best reward we could possibly ask for.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stork Storkers Club


We’ve had a busy couple of months here at the madhouse. Several new arrivals: a baby toucan, two winged parakeets, baby white-fronts, baby red loreds, a volunteer here and there – some survived, some didn’t -but the highlight has to be our extremely tall friend Mr Jabiru Stork (aka Roo, Storky, Bert and Ernie).







In case you haven’t already been bored rigid by the tale, mid July we received a call from Mr Dyrk Fransisco, the PR guru at Belize Audubon Society. A jabiru stork had been hanging out at the bar at the end of the Municipal Airport runway. A leggy blonde frequenting bars, you say? What’s wrong with that? Well, unfortunately, this particular leggy blonde was using the runway as a footpath and had already caused a couple of aborted landings. All very amusing if you don’t own one of the planes and you’re not one of the passengers. So here were the choices presented to us by the airlines: get shot of the bird, or the bird gets shot. Hmmm.

Cue the Belize Wildlife Conservation Network (BWCN) response team (pause for ooo’s and aaah’s) We are ready to spring into action at a moments notice, just like Spiderman. So, armed with nets, gloves, cages, crates and blankets, plus numerous representatives from Belize Forest Department, Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, ISIS, Belize Humane Society and Belize Audubon Society, we launched ourselves at Belize City.
We didn’t find the stork, but we did find the bar.
I don’t remember a whole lot else.

Everything went quiet and we assumed (ass + U & me) the problem had solved itself. Nope.
A week later Dyrk called again. ‘The bird is back and they are going to shoot it.’
We moved a little quicker this time and actually found our quarry as he was tucking into the contents of the swamp behind St John’s College. I have to say, we didn’t expect the warm welcome we got from the Dean, but I think the policemen managed to calm him down. Tree-huggers are such dangerous animals… but that’s another tale probably best told by someone else.

Okay, remember that library scene in Ghostbusters where Dan Akroyd has a 'plan' that consists of a single instruction:  “Get Her!”? Well that was us for the next half hour, flailing around a swamp in oversized wellies with giant butterfly nets trying to catch an (excuse me he most certainly does fly) stork in a massive open field.  I bet that was hilarious to watch – good call not inviting Channel 5.  

Guess where we went after that?
 
So, sitting at the bar, we formulated a cunning plan. “We’re gonna draw him into the shallows. Draw him in and drown him” (well, drug him, actually, but that’s not in any movie I want to own up to seeing) However, being as it was past our bedtime, we decided to wait until tomorrow to put our plan into action. Actually, we all decided it would be best if Dr Stacy from BWRC and Gillian from Belize Humane Society did all the work, and we would swoop in and take the glory. Which is pretty much what happened. 

I’m not going into detail because it was a simple capture with no dramas: they crawled out of bed at 6am, fed him the drugged fish and bam, 6 hours later he was in the bag. Easy. All this talk about crying and wanting to go home is just Stacy being a princess.

So our extremely happy (read comatose) stork was cuddled by the good doctor all the way back to Bird Rescue where he refused to wake up. And when he finally opened his eyes he totally refused to stand up. Three days and several minor coronaries later, he finally started doing stork stuff like standing and eating. Phew is an understatement but it will do for now. At this point Audubon were already getting calls like ‘why did you kill our stork?’ No pressure or anything.

Okay, so closing off the long story, he thankfully went from strength to strength and just about cleared out our entire fish-pond with his 20-a-day habit.  

Almost 2 weeks after capture, his day of freedom finally rolled around. Massive thanks to Dyrk for the assistance in finding a site, we could not have done it without him. For those that are interested, rainy season is not the best time for a stork – the wet-land swamps become lakes and their prey have way more places to hide out. Many wading bird head to Mexico at this time of year but cross-border travel was out of the question for a leggy blonde with no passport.

Final destination transportation became the subject of many late-night discussions. After consultation with several experts, we opted for the ‘cuddle and run’ approach to stork travel. Stacey once again hugged her baby for the 80 minute return trip to swamp-land. As we speak, just north of Sandhill at Greys Swamp there is one solitary jabiru, snacking out on frogs and fish and waiting on the return of his cousins. If you see him, please say ‘hi’ from us, maybe take a picture and give us a call to let us know he’s okay… 610 0400

The full photo-story can be found here at Picassa: https://picasaweb.google.com/105423328709960595857/JabiruStorkRelocation

Just like the Oscars – Belize Bird Rescue would like to thank (no particular order)
Belize Audubon Society (Dyrk Fransisco)
Belize Wildlife Conservation Network, Dr Stacey Green, Gillian & Gordon Kirkwood, Dr Isabelle Paquet- Duran, Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, Belize Humane Society, Iris De La O, Chelsea Canon, Lara Berland, Philip De Shield, International Crane Foundation (Milwaukee) & Belize Zoo
Belize Forest Department, Tropic & Maya Air (for their patience), Admirals Bar (for giving up their baby)
 



Saturday, March 3, 2012

Duck!


Shockingly long time since the last blog. I am not even going to try and catch up – you can do that with the newsletter if you like. Yes, there are now two quarterly BBR newsletters spanning 10 months: what do you mean, lack of commitment??

It seems we are into kite season again with its drying breeze and fire-fanning gusts. I am hoping for enough of the odd rain-shower to dampen the tinders of the forest floors, but I don’t suppose we will be that lucky.It's also the season for barn owls as proven by the 5 hissing, smelly little darlings living in the office right now.  If anyone you know is complaining of owls in the attic, please steer them toward our factsheet

Embarrassingly for a bird sanctuary, we’ve had a bad year for domestic fowl so far.
We were called out to pick up a (very) small croc in Roaring Creek. It had string embedded in its neck so it was obviously once a loved and appropriate family pet. Acting on good advice, we removed the string and put the croc in our duck pond for observation. If anyone wants to know, this is precisely how you turn a duck pond into a croc pond.
A few days later, we noticed that our land-lubber ducks and a lot of our chickens were disappearing at an alarming rate thanks to the neighbouring dogs. 

We decided to erect a lovely new fence between the dogs and us, but once the river dropped, they easily found their way around. Then we discovered that a jaguarundi had also been busy around the pond, so there was nothing for it but to fence in the chickens entirely, catch the darned croc and in doing so, give the ducks back their refuge. I won’t bore you with details, but 4lbs of chicken pieces later, the croc is still there, the croc-trap has become a lawn ornament and Jerry is in the process of draining the pond.
Moral: crocs don’t belong in duck-ponds.

Mating season is in full flow at Belize Bird Rescue. Buzz and Spike are guarding the Crazy Aviary, the yellow-heads are worse than they ever were, the peacock (yes!) spends the entire day about six inches from our workers heels, Harry is humping his perch and Pepperito is relentless in his attacks on son-in-law Geoff. In fairness, Geoff takes it very well, Pepper is not exactly silent in flight as he launches himself from his broken nest-box, so a well-timed duck has Pepper sailing overhead and Geoff’s leg muscles aching by the end of the day. The only time Geoff comes unstuck is when the fly-catchers nesting outside his bedroom door join Pepper in the attack.


Lastly, I am pathetically excited about our posters which are now printed and awaiting distribution to all 480+ schools in Belize. I must once again thank the World Parrot Trust 2011 Parrot Lovers Cruise passengers for their fantastic donation which made this possible. More details on that are also in the newsletter.
Let’s hope that the messages on the poster provide some food for thought this nesting season, and save one or two parrots in the process.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nobody cares


It appears that the Gift of Space that the construction of the Trekforce Aviary gave to these poor, unfortunate yellow-heads has come back to, quite literally, bite me in the Azkaban. I am trying to elicit a little sympathy from my Facebook friends, but it appears they have none to spare, so I am appealing to my Blog friends. Not that sympathy will fix the problem, of course, but it makes me feel a little better and generally more loved.

I already knew that Norman had issues with me – hence his stable name ‘Norman Bates’ but I honestly believed that space would be the solution to his psychosis. What I didn’t bank on was that during confinement in adjacent solitary cells, Norman and Sombrero the Slayer had formed a Kray Twin-esque alliance, and after only a few days in the new aviary had rehearsed a rather efficient pincer movement accompanied by battle cries of ‘You’re an Animal (cue maniacal laughter) and ‘Asshole!’ (in perfect Spanish) as they launch themselves at a random body part with extraordinary and uncanny co-ordination.
Thankfully, I only have to attend to the little burgers on weekends and holidays which means I usually have five whole days to come up with new strategies. I have tried defending myself with towels, sticks and my personal favourite, the laundry basket, all of which work once – rather like the octopus with a crab in a glass jar - me, of course, being the crab.

In a rare moment of solitude and reflection, it occurred to me that an umbrella could be a scary implement and an effective means of defence. That also worked once, and overnight the Krays planned their strategy for going around and under the pesky brolly to get at the fleshy bits.  I tried switching umbrellas for one with more gaudy colours, twiddling it madly and singing at the top of my voice. Once was a charm for that particular innovation, too, before I got the old up-and-under. The worst is, I then find myself with two crazy yellow-heads trapped on the wrong side of my brolly, giant beaks snapping dangerously close to my face. I have to fling the brolly as far as I can and leg it, leaving the little darlings flying through the air on their crazy parrot-fairground ride, cackling hysterically, chewing and spitting bits of brolly as they go.

My original amateur psychoanalysis of Norman concluded that there must have been a female tormentor somewhere in his past and he now firmly believes that all women must die. My male workers walk in and out of the aviary as they please and last week I even had our friend Graham go in to test the theory and he too wandered around unscathed, emerging with a silly smug grin, which of course helped my mood no end.
 
Refusing to be outdone, I donned an over-sized shirt, Russian faux-fur hat, bandanna, sunglasses and leggings. Even I didn’t recognise me… but then, I am not a yellow-head with psychopathic super-powers and infrared vision.
I didn’t even get through the door.

I've now given up trying to enter the aviary. Norman and Sombrero slam against the wire of the door the second I appear and will not budge for anyone or anything.

I withdraw any previous declarations of yellow-head intelligence, since it is perfectly obvious to me that preventing the hand that feeds you from entering your dining room is pretty bloody stupid. Now, instead of beautifully presented meals, their trays are flung through a barely open door, occasionally landing upright, but mostly face-down in the mud.
 
More recently, my trusty helper, Jose has also been branded an asshole and the birds have not had fresh water for 4 days. I guess it’s time to construct some external feeding hatches like those in a maximum-security prison wing
.
All theories of racism, sexism, ageism and height-ism have been disproved. Norman and Sombrero are homicidal yellow-headed monsters and I am beginning to appreciate and understand the endangeredness of their species.
Roll on hatch day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Something Useful Gets Done

A quick email from Team Leader Mark, followed by an equally rapid site inspection to confirm our existence, saw Trekforce Expeditions piling onto Bird Rescue territory for a 5 day visit in which to “do something useful”.

Although I had compiled a mental list of such useful tasks, I didn’t actually reach the final decision until the day of their arrival. Seven eager faces smiled and nodded as I explained the Yellow Head’s precarious situation in Belize, and the Forestry Department’s sanction of a facility in which to hold and hopefully breed former captive birds. Seven wide-eyed, smiling faces remained fixed on mine as I explained that what we really needed was an aviary no less than 40’ wide by 60’ long by around 18’ high. Nobody moved. I guess they were waiting for the punch-line… or looking around for the cameras…
Armed with my very informative sketch (picture the illustration accompanying a 6 year-olds diary entry entitled ‘my house’) they trotted off into the bush to string up their hammocks and mull over their assignment during lunch.

As deaf, dumb and blind luck would have it, one of the Trekkers was a civil engineer. That qualification put Jeff in charge: I think we were all relived that someone was going to be.
Wobbling into day 2, we began to realise three niggly little details: 1) I had seriously underestimated the materials required, 2) the structure would be too weak to hold the weight of the wire, and 3) five days was about a quarter of the time we really needed to finish this project. There was a considerable amount of thinking-rum drunk that evening, I can tell you.

More luck: 1) On finishing my sums I realised the fundraiser we had in May brought in almost enough money to cover all the additional materials required. 2) Tito, who is a genius, turned up the very next day, giggled a bit at my choice of supports and then put his team of scaffold-scaling welders to apply cross beams and uprights to fix the damage. 3) The Trekkers held a board meeting and decided to forgo their scheduled R&R and stay on the project until it was finished. I vaguely remember we had some celebratory rum that night too.

Whilst Tito’s team got on with the strengthening work, the Trekkers made a nest in the garage and began the most tedious job in the world - clipping the rolls of wire together. With Radio 1 live-streaming and a barrage of British dialects singing along, I felt a tiny bit homesick -until I remembered how cold it was in the UK and then I was cured.
As days passed, tedium gave way to excitement as we realised this challenge may actually reach completion before the Trekkers had to leave.

With much cheering and fanfare, the final roll of wire was clipped together, hauled into place and secured to the frame. I think there was also a little bit of rum, beer, wine and Chinese food consumend that night… but don't quote me.
On the morning of Trekforce’s departure, a few finishing touches were required, and then confident that the enclosure was sealed – in fact, confident that this was the best aviary I have ever had built – I went about catching Norman, Sombrero and their happy band of psychopaths.It wasn't pretty so the less said about that, the better.

Cameras poised we waited to see how the birds would react to all this space. The result was better than I could have imagined: the cacophony of laughter, calls and swooping flight had every eye tearing up – especially mine. These bird had never known such freedom. My only regret is forgetting to video the event.

The Trekforce Team hurriedly planted the obligatory tree, posed for the obligatory photos, and with much hugging, crying and waving, departed Belize Bird Rescue, leaving behind a happy corner of yellow-head paradise.

Thank you Trekforce Belize 2011: Risky, Emily, Lauren, Jeff, Diamond, Gratton, Mark and my trusty volunteers, Kevin, Hayley and Sarah. You are all amazing!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

About time too

Blogging is a bit like that phone call to your mad Auntie. You know you should do it, but you keep putting it off until it’s way past the time when a simple apology will do. I’m just going to pretend I tried to blog a hundred times, but the power went out, or the internet went down, or there was a bird emergency…

Through no fault of my own, I have ended up with volunteers. Ordinarily the very mention would cause an outbreak of hives, but surprisingly enough they are rather helpful and quite pleasant to have around. What they think of me really doesn’t matter: as I have to constantly remind them, they are doing it for the birds. In my grudging, half-complimentary way I would like to say a public thank you to Amanda for her knowledge and practical administering amongst my indecisive ditherings, and Hayley who didn’t even like birds when she got here and only came for a holiday to visit my daughter. Thanks ladies – lovely job.

So, what have we been up to? Well, we now have 5 yellow-heads, all of them totally bonkers and I am pretty sure they are all different sexes (yes, of course there are 5 sexes of yellow-head). We released 6 red lored and 2 white-fronts in May, but even so we still have 43 birds in total, which is quite ridiculous. Thankfully, 16 of them are on the downhill slope to release. Another six are living in the house with us, for pity's sake, and three of those are cockatoos. Don't ask. And no, it's not funny. We’ve had broken things that, thanks to Isabelle-The-Vet, we've managed to fix, and some that sadly, we haven’t. We’ve had baby parrots and older parrots and some things that weren’t even parrots at all. The highlight of that category has to be Arnold, a baby armadillo who’s mother had become someone’s lunch and who in turn was destined to be an Early Learning toy for some bored children. Arnold came from Maya Center, a village adjoining Cockscombe Basin which is next on my list for a stern lecture on Wildlife in the Wild. Since his arrival at less than a week old, Arnold has stuffed himself on a mix of dairy, eggs and cat food and has doubled in size in a month. Even so, he still fits in the palm of one hand.

In May we had a 'Night Out For The Birds' fundraiser. A huge thanks to everyone who came, helped out, donated and supported and particularly to the British High Commission who donated so much including the fabulous venue. Final count was just short of $6000bz which got our broken aviaries up and running and should give us enough to make a good start on the yellowhead aviary.

Excitement this week as we tested out our new soft-release site. We decided that Bibi & Daphne would be first to go – not that they are good release candidates or even appropriate release candidates, but because they are so bad at being captives. Bibi is the red lored who had an argument with our neighbours’ sling-shot at the expense of his eye and Daphne is his inappropriate white-fronted girlfriend. Since they spend most of their day tying to escape, we figured they would be happier hanging out in the bush, miles from any humans with murderous intent. The owners of the property are fully aware that these are ‘parrots’ and that they will ‘make noise’ so I have high hopes for this relationship. It seems that researchers have observed parrots with eye issues doing very nicely in the wild, and since Bibi will be fed, watered and sheltered if he chooses, then this is the best option for a shot at a wild existence. I just hope the babies get Daphne’s brains.