Dot Schwarz reviews Think Parrots 2014.
What a lovely day: Parrots, shopping, friends and information. The third annual ultimate bird show Think Parrots took place at Kempton Park Racecourse on June 22nd.
If, like me, you enjoy taking your pets on outings, you are welcome here. I didn’t tally how many pet Parrots were there but there must have been at least 50 on their owners’ shoulders, in harnesses or in backpacks.
Do captive Parrots enjoy being taken out? Opinion is divided between those who think it too stressful and others like me who believe a properly socialized bird enjoys the experience. After all, in their wild state Parrots see new sights daily.
The trade stalls were selling everything your heart could possibly desire. The quality, quantity and the variety of what was on offer took my breath away. Because the hall was low ceilinged, it resembled an Aladdin’s cave.
Sacks of enticing Parrot food, books, jewellery, cages, flights, toys, pellets, accessories…. Whatever you wanted – there it was! Bargains were plentiful. Most products had price reductions for the show.
Java tree perches were popular: I saw many being taken out of the hall and packed into cars.
My own purchases were not for the Parrots for once. I’ve always coveted an Eric Peake print and bought one of an African Grey, signed, for a very reasonable price.
Artha, while I was chatting to a stall holder, jumped onto a porcelain mug with a Grey on the front so I added that.
The show offers three masterclasses given by experts in their fields.
Peter Scott kicked off the first class with an analysis of advances in avian medicine.
Last year EB Cravens flew in from Hawaii; this year Sally Blanchard crossed the pond and gave her analysis of behavioural problems.
However the master class that most impressed me was Rosemary Low’s talk of the causes of feather plucking and ways to combat it.
It is no coincidence, she said, ‘that this is frequently encountered with the most intelligent species: Greys, Macaws and Cockatoos.’
Rosemary added evidence from recent research that shows how enrichment items and foraging for food can relieve the stress that causes birds to pluck. The captive living environment of most Parrots, especially single birds in the home, does not meet a Parrot’s social and behavioural needs. This results in abnormal repetitive behaviours, including over-preening which leads to feather plucking.
Neil Forbes, who is one of the UK’s leading vets from Great Western Exotic Specialist Bird Services, agrees with Rosemary that foraging items help keep Parrots happier. The vet recommends that owners keep birds in pairs and stresses how important foraging is to help lessen plucking behaviours.
He cautions that nowadays the average owner does not always screen a new bird. He says, ‘birds live so long. It’s a tragedy to get a bird without the ability to care for it. So you ask yourself: is it right in this day and age to have a single Parrot living in cage by itself?’
At Think Parrots the atmosphere is friendlier than at many other English occasions. Nicky Roberts came up to say hello. She remembered Artha and Casper from last year’s show.
She told me seeing them on a harness was a great encouragement for her to get her first bird.
After owning Budgies, she’s now the besotted owner of Girly Bird Phoenix Firecracker, a 10- month Cockatiel.
Nicky accustomed the young bird to a harness from day one and takes her everywhere. ‘She comes to work twice a week with me,’ she said.
Nicky has achieved a brilliant result with her first larger bird.
Another success story was Andy, a thirteen year old Moluccan. His new owners after his re-homing had brought him to the show and he sat on their young son’s shoulder with all the dignity of a male Moluccan. His plumage was perfect.
Of course harnesses are not universally approved of. Greg Glendell, a noted behaviourist, attended to give information and sell his books on Parrot care. He does not recommend harnesses to his clients. We disagree on that but we’re totally in agreement that a well trained socialised Parrot shouldn’t be wing-clipped. Greg had some stern advice to prospective owners: ‘put the bird first rather than the people.’
Among the exhibitors was Steve Brookes who runs what clients claim are the best eco tours to see Parrots in the wild. Wild Parrots up Close. Steve’s stand was decorated with mouth-watering photographs that he takes himself.
But the photographs that struck me most were some shots of a Blue and Gold Macaw’s head shown me by John Hayward. John heads the National Theft Register, soon to celebrate twenty years of reuniting lost Parrots with their owners.
The bird had no microchip or ring. It was thirty years old. After it was stolen, it was resold three times; a local vet finally recognised the bird. The present owner relinquished the Macaw to the original owner, after seeing the photos of the bird’s head.
As you may know, every Macaw’s facial markings of black feathers are unique. They are as good a recognition marker as a fingerprint. What an example to everyone to microchip and have rings.
David Woolcock and Alison Hales of the World Parrot Trust had come from Cornwall. They were happy to explain to anyone interested in their conservation work. They are at present working to return captive bred Blue Throats to the wild.
Paradise Park in Cornwall, which runs as a bird and animal park, is also home to the World Parrot Trust. David told me that they have had many breeding successes this year. ‘Now would be a great time to visit Paradise Park.’
There was a lot of networking going on. Tony Pittman represented Loro Parc and was hoping more people would book a place at the symposium in Tenerife this September. This four day event is held only every four years and is a Mecca for breeders.
The show clearly satisfied its public. Anguel Jordanov said:
‘We much prefer the new venue. The mix of commercial and non-commercial stands was just about right and the talks were great too. For us it was ideal for networking and we managed to meet with everyone we wanted to see. It was a great day out and very productive at the same time.’
Although shopping was a focus there was no pressure, and vets, the sanctuaries and other Parrot bird organisations were happy to chat.
One of the benefits of Think Parrots is that experienced owners with birds on display were ready to discuss problems with anyone who asked. Monty was there fielding questions on Amazons and Oliver Fry on Greys. The display birds were mainly in aluminium aviaries. How I’d love to have one instead of my ramshackle homemade constructions.
I found the prettiest display was Stefano Salles’ exhibit of Parrotlets. The bamboo decorated flight made the bright colours of the adorable occupants stand out. Stefano was kept busy all afternoon. He says ‘These minuscule Parrots have all the charm of their larger Amazon cousins.
Their intellect will captivate and enthral you. They’re adaptable, naturally enjoy change and can entertain themselves whilst you are at work. They make ideal pets for someone who doesn’t have the right facilities to own a bigger bird. With a life expectancy of 15-20 years, they’re not a huge commitment in the long term!’
For me the show’s highlight was the presentation from A World of Wings by Mike Simmons. He showed us six trained birds. The impressive Zumba, a hand raised hornbill, gave a demonstration of stationing. This means she was asked to wait on her box and not to investigate the show.
Michael explained how 9- month old Georgie, his son, is being accustomed to the birds and them to him. Georgie’s grandma brought him into the show space while his parents demonstrated with two Patagonian conures. Georgie is becoming quite a small showman.
The display area was not large enough to see the two Blue and Gold Macaws in full flight but their calm demeanour impressed the onlookers. I’ve known Mike since he was a teenager and he is now – at not yet thirty – becoming one of the UK’s most experienced bird handlers and trainers.
Mike told me that a show like Think Parrots gave him the chance to inspire people to train their birds. He said: ‘we can’t emphasize enough how it’s not all about tricks. Training is all about structuring and enriching the bird’s lives.
We purposefully used birds from small Conures to non-Parrots of grand proportions to show that with positive reinforcement all birds can be encouraged to work with us rather than against us.
Artha and Casper appeared to have enjoyed their day out. We brought Monty home with us. Poor Monty, a three- year old Grey has lost his home due to bereavement. In a future blog I hope to describe how he is fitting in with his new flock.
If you visited this year’s Think Parrots show we’d love to hear about it, please leave your comments below…