Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Visiting Sirocco the Kakapo One Year Later

We found Sirocco on this hillside
Waiting for Sirocco to appear
Wow. I am tired. But it is a good tired. I was up at 3:30 AM to catch a flight and then a boat to Maud Island, current home of Sirocco the kakapo.  We headed out to find the nocturnal parrot around 7:30 PM, hoping he might be out and about a little early. He wears a telemetry transmitter so we zoned in on an approximate location. The problem was he was waaaaay down at the bottom of a steep incline. It was up to Sirocco to come visit us, not the other way around.

Sirocco is one of only 125 kakapo left in the world. He plays the role of ambassador for the Kakapo Recovery Programme raising awareness and funds to save his kind. When off duty he roams gorgeous Maud Island. Hand raised due to an illness he does enjoy human companionship (unlike his wilder counterparts.)

Tonight we were counting on his desire for our attention to lure him out of the forest. Our group of five chatted, laughed loudly and called his name. Two hours later a rather large green parrot crawled out of the brush onto the pathway near us. Our group took a seat on the ground and no sooner had we done so, Sirocco climbed in our laps.

Last year I worked with Sirocco to address a few behavior problems and improve his interactions with his handlers in general. This was my chance to see his progress. I was floored! Sirocco had blossomed. He clearly knew his behaviors well. He also had learned new ones. Normally a very solitary and non-tactile species of parrot, Sirocco was allowing and appeared to be enjoying being touched.  We started brainstorming ways to use this to help with his care, such as training him to allow his telemetry transmitter to be replaced with minimal or no restraint. He also readily offered a number of vocalizations including the infamous “Skraaaak!” He had only offered the call a few times last year.  We started working towards capturing the behavior right then and there he offered it so much. He also readily hopped onto the arms and legs of different members of our group when cued.

Sirocco also displayed some of the problem behavior we had experienced last year. At times he showed some aggressive behavior and thought about climbing up towards people’s shoulders. However he was very easily redirected to acceptable behavior and would relax quite quickly. This was HUGE! It was clear his handlers had learned what things might trigger bad behavior and were quite good at responding appropriately to prevent doing things that might escalate his problem behaviors.  This was very encouraging. As breeding season gets closer Sirocco is anticipated to be a bit more motivated to present some of these undesired behaviors. The more opportunities we get to reinforce acceptable behaviors now the more likely we will be able to get him on track when things get more challenging. 

We ended up sitting with Sirocco and enjoying his company for several hours. Our very pleasant interlude was interrupted occasionally by little blue penguins walking the trails to feed their chicks. Around midnight we finally decided to head back. Sirocco needed to continue his night of foraging and dining on plants in the forest.  It’s time to put on weight for booming season!

Read more about Sirocco’s training in this blog

Learn more about how you can help save kakapo parrots from extinction at the Kakapo Recovery Programme website.

More updates on Sirocco to come. Stay tuned!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2012
Good Bird Inc


IamMesmerized said...

That bird is so beautiful. I bought a T-shirt at the Canadian Parrot Conference a couple of years ago and am very pleased to show it off Andrea tell anyone who will listeners about him. It must have been a big thrill to see in him again, Barbara. I'll await more updates on him. Thank you._

Unknown said...

Barbara--This post leaves me almost breathless---by the beautiful kakapo, by your work (and of course of those in NZ), but mostly by the two combined--the thought that this work may keep such a marvelous creature from extinction. Way to go!
Stew Metz

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being the voice of the voiceless!
Well, haha...you know what I mean! :)
I'm so amazed at how well your training works!
Even with parrots in the wild! How beautiful...
This really touched my heart.
Thank you Barbara, for everything you do.

Royse Robbins
Ohio, USA