Friday, June 10, 2011

Parrot Conservation and You!

Parrot people are pretty amazing. One of the things I find so wonderful about people who share their lives with parrots is that they often are the same folks who are saving parrots in the wild. Yup, it’s true. Parrot owners are a huge source of funding for parrot conservation. I love that!

The connection they make with the parrots in their home often leads to learning more about their wild counterparts and what is being done to protect them. I have to say that is exactly what happened to me. I had budgies as a child, but my first large parrot came into my life in 1987. Ever since then I have been fascinated with learning more about parrots. Not long after that I learned about a very unique parrot called the Kakapo.

This large (2000 gram) flightless bird struck me as the coolest parrot ever! I thought it was so interesting that the males climb mountains, build a bowl, suck in air and boom for a mate. For a behavior geek like me this is truly fascinating. When I also learned they were one of the rarest parrots on earth I became even more interested.

When I finally had a chance to visit New Zealand (the home of the Kakapo) I did my best to try to connect with the folks saving these birds in the wild. On my third trip to this beautiful country I finally had my opportunity.

The story of the Kakapo Recovery Programme is pretty inspiring. Kakapos were nearly wiped out completely by introduced stoats, rats, dogs and cats. Animal heroes such as Richard Henry and Don Merton went to great lengths to find safe island homes for the few remaining birds. These birds now live on Codfish Island and are closely monitored. Unfortunately they need more than an island to survive. They need genetic diversity, higher numbers and a plentiful food supply during breeding season. Different strategies have been implemented to address these issues and so far they seem to be working. Kakapo numbers are up to 131 individuals (from a low of 50). However as you can imagine 131 birds is still a small population and there is much more work to be done.

As a parrot enthusiast I wanted to know what I could do to help. As with any conservation project it requires people who care and of course funding to keep it going. We brainstormed some ideas on that day (and my head was spinning with even more on the flight home.)

Our visit took a pleasant unexpected twist. An opportunity to visit with some Kakapo chicks was possible. We only had one spare day to make it happen. The odds were against us. It was a 12 hour drive, flights were coming up as $1000! And time was not on our side. Miraculously we found a travel agent who found us reasonable flights. The next day however the airport closed down due to weather and our scheduled flight was canceled. We finally took off at 4PM. The next flight was delayed due to mechanical errors. My heart was sinking. Finally we made it into the air! We landed at our destination around 8PM and were whisked away straight to seven Kakapo chicks!

Have you ever met someone that awed you? That moved you? That made you want do important and worthwhile things with your life? Meeting the Kakapo chicks did just that for me. Knowing these individuals represented hope for the species and that each bird was so incredibly important made this encounter so emotionally moving for me. I could not stop replaying the events in my head for days. Here is a video clip of the encounter.

I hope the video gives you a little taste of the moment and hopefully moves you to take action to save rare parrot species. You can support the Kakapo Recovery Programme directly via their website. You can learn more about the Kakapo from the film The Unnatural History of the Kakapo. You can also follow Sirocco the official Spokesbird for the project on facebook.

The parrots in our lives give us such joy. I know every time I interact with my birds I will reflect upon my Kakapo encounter and be inspired to help parrots in the wild. If you have additional ideas to help raise awareness and funding please be sure to add your comments. Your ideas can help Kakapo and other species such as the Blue Throated Macaw.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011