Rosemary Low explains how pet birds have been affected by Covid-19.
Some owners of companion birds are concerned that Covid 19 could be passed from a human to a bird or vice versa. One lady telephoned me because she was worried that the Cockatiel that was to stay with her while its owner was on holiday could pass on the virus.
This seems to be extremely unlikely. The World Parrot Trust advises that “your bird cannot become infected by this strain of Coronavirus and so you cannot get the virus from your birds.”
In the USA the Lafeber Company specialises in veterinary care. One of its veterinarians, Stephanie Lamb, advised on March 15 2020, that there was no evidence that Covid 19 could be transferred to pet birds. She stated that corona viruses are not likely to transfer between mammals and birds.
Covid 19 is having a significant impact – good and bad – on many Parrot owners. The good aspect is that many more people are now working from home, thus they are able to spend much more time interacting with their birds.
This is partly because they no longer have long commutes to and from their employment. One friend in the Netherlands told me that the bank that employs her has actually found its employees are more productive when they work from their own environment.
Video conferencing has eliminated personal contact in many circumstances. In fact she has been advised that she can work form hone for at least the rest of the year. As her only companions are Grey Parrots, who relish her attention, she is very happy.
What other impact is there on our Parrots in the home?
Many, especially those who live with a single human, must be missing the visitors they are accustomed to see, especially if they have a favorite visitor.
Even (as I write) after three months of lockdown, items in the supermarkets that are usually always available, might be missing. On the last three weekly shopping trips I have made I have been unable to buy an acceptable brand of Madeira cake.
Most of my birds receive a small square daily. I remember once being asked (in a disapproving way!) why I feed it and I replied, simply: “Because they love it.”
I have tried the uncoloured part of angel cake or lightly fruited Madeira but these are not accepted by my fussy birds!
Onto a more serious aspect. How is Covid 19 affecting Parrots of conservation concern? In Central America Sarah Otterstrom founded the NGO Paso Pacifico in 2005.
One of the species she works with is the Endangered Yellow-naped Parrot (Amazona auropalliata). She told me: “While I was working in Nicaragua I came to know the cultural importance of the Yellow-naped in rural communities where families keep these birds as uncaged pets. When I started Paso Pacifico I knew immediately that this species would need to be one of our conservation flagships”.
This Parrot survives there in only a few small areas, including a narrow strip of land between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific coast. There forest fragments are surrounded by agriculture and ranching and, along the coast, by tourism developments. In the 20-year period from 1990 to 2010, Nicaragua and Honduras lost more than 30% of their forests.
The Yellow-naped Amazon was hit very hard. Undoubtedly one of the most handsome and loquacious of Amazons, its mimicry abilities are legendary. For this reason it is the most poached Parrot in Central America, along with the Scarlet Macaw.
Loro Parque Fundacion
With support from the Loro Parque Fundacion, Paso Pacifico commenced giving incentives to people with nests on their land. The organisation paid them more for each chick that fledged than if they had stolen the chick from the nest. The incentive payment system requires careful accounting, and normally payments are made with bank cheques.
However, in order to reduce trips to the bank during Covid-19, Paso Pacifico had to begin paying some incentives in cash. This can create other risks for staff working in rural areas.
Luis Fernando Díaz Chávez (September 12, 1988 – June 3, 2020)
Sadly, the most dedicated ornithologists are not immune from this terrible virus. Sarah reported: “We are in mourning for the loss of a brilliant young ornithologist to Covid19. Through his love of nature, Luis Fernando Díaz Chávez (September 12, 1988 – June 3, 2020) rose above his difficulties in life. He came from a situation of extreme poverty in urban Managua and consulted for 9 years with us in bird conservation research.”
He was working as a high school teacher when he contracted the disease. In the words of his mentor Marvin Torrez, “Luis was the ultimate underdog. He had every adversity in his life, and yet overcame it all to become one of Nicaragua’s best and most passionate birders.”
Luis often worked with Paso Pacifico’s Parrot programme, particularly during nesting season when the chicks needed to be measured, weighed, and banded with a careful hand. Here is a link to a video of Parrot banding in 2014
To contribute to the GoFundMe campaign created for Luis’ widowed mother, click here
Sarah and the organization Paso Pacifico also works in neighbouring El Salvador, with support from Loro Parque Fundacion and Sea World Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.
There they were forced to close down field activities before Yellow-naped nests could be validated. This was due to the country-wide shutdown enforced strictly by the military. She hopes that this strict enforcement reduced poaching pressure.
National Yellow-naped Parrot alliance
There is some good news from this country. Citizen scientists in San Salvador have provided many detailed observations of Yellow-naped Parrots foraging throughout this urban capital city and Sarah’s organisation has located key roosting sites in the city.
At the same time, the organisation spearheaded the formation of a national Yellow-naped Parrot alliance, which has already developed five actionable Parrot conservation plans for the next year, when hopefully the critical moments of the pandemic will be in the past.
Unfortunately, in areas where there is much poverty and a high rate of Covid 19 infection, economic hardship may result in increased exploitation of the natural world.
Poaching Parrot chicks could increase because of their value and the fact that stealing chicks from nests is a quick way to make cash.
Parrot conservation projects
The other factor is that, throughout countries where Parrot conservation projects exist, field workers on the ground protect nests, either directly or because their presence deters poaching; they also educate local people about the importance of preserving such precious and declining birds.
The Indonesian Parrot Project works to save Cockatoos and other Parrots in Indonesia from extinction. It is led by Bonnie Zimmerman. She reported that they were able to get their field researchers out of Jakarta and into Ceram before lockdown.
The team there is making a census of the Moluccan Cockatoo population in the Manusela National Park. The island is completely closed to anyone going in and out but appears to be a safe area. They can communicate with WhatsApp but only when they are outside the research location.