Let me tell you about two Parrots that I’ve met recently.
Mia’s story is how a Parrot’s life changes for the better with a suitable home. Rio’s story has that element, too, but also how Rio has changed Josh’s life.
First Mia. She now lives with Nimal and Claire Atallah; they’re a vibrant young couple from Wimbledon. Self-confident in their jobs, they work in photography and they alternate their working hours between them so one of them is home. They were equally confident when they acquired their first Parrot. Some would say that a Macaw isn’t a suitable first Parrot.
Claire says, ‘I did a lot of research and was aware of the difficulties.’
However, the couple met Mikey where he lived, mostly caged, with a family who no longer had time or interest to keep a young Macaw. They were told Mikey was 9 months old but they believe he was at least 18 months old.
The young bird was socialised and not hard to handle. Nimal says that although Mikey had not picked up unwanted behaviours, he'd not had any positive reinforcement training. They took him for walks in their local park. They used a leash clipped to his leg. Then came a transformative moment in their lives. They learned about free flight. Seeing a Macaw in the sky thrilled them.
Leaving Mikey with a C.J. Hall, the London vet for ten days, they went to New Zealand (Nimal had grown up there) where they learned the basic principles free flight from Caleb Probet, an experienced free flyer. On their return, Nimal and Caleb were in daily contact about training for free flight.
Serious training began in February of this year. And on June 18th Mikey took his first free flight – a short hop between his handlers.
‘Mikey is, says Claire, ‘like a son to us.’
I suspect Mikey may have been clipped as a youngster, his flight is not as steady as other free flying Macaws. Every second day the couple before work take Mikey to the park where he flies circuits and lands on one of them. So far in these early months of free flight, there has only been one mishap. Mikey, chased by crows, landed at someone’s outdoor barbecue and was soon reunited.
The couple considered a second bird, as they learned that birds are better with an avian companion. They dreamed of acquiring a young, unclipped, well- socialised Macaw. Then they met Mia. Her previous owner's advertisement, showing her in a small cage with no toys made the couple want to see her even more.
Caged and clipped and 18 months old.
‘I couldn’t leave her there in that environment,’ said Claire.
Within a couple of weeks, Mia had bonded with Claire and accepted the two males (one two-legged, one two winged) as flock mates.
On Claire’s shoulder, she accompanies Mikey on his free flight excursions. Unlike MIkey she has accepted the Aviator body harness. In my opinion the safest harness to use. She goes along to his play dates and free flight dates (organised by a group of fellow enthusiasts in the South East.}
Both Macaws are young Blue and Golds. Nimal and Claire are confident that once Mia has moulted and regrown her flight feathers, she will join Mikey in the sky. Have the couple envisaged a breeding situation developing? Clare says, ‘If and when it happens, I am sure we will make the right decision.’
They plan eventually to move to the country where a more full-on Parrot life will be easier.
I intend holding a Parrot party again this Christmas where the winged guests will be at liberty indoors to open their presents and create birdy havoc. (This situation only works with Parrots socialised to other birds.)
Another guest will be Rio, the Blue-fronted Amazon. Rio will be with Josh his carer. They are never apart.
Rio’s early life was not ideal. Bought as a Christmas present for a young lad, the handfed but not socialised young bird growled. He scared his new family. Unable to handle him, they donated him to a pet shop.
The pet shop owner routinely clips all his birds’ wings. Note: most modern Parrot owners consider this an unnecessary and cruel practice.
Josh Morley was at that time working in the pet shop. Rio and Josh formed one of those bonds that are not unusual between Parrot and person. That Parrots can become emotional support animals is now well known.
Two years ago, Northern Parrots put two blogs online. One was mine, Parrots and PTSD, the other was a republishing of a New York Times magazine article of January 2016 by Charles Liebert, What Does a Parrot Know about PTSD? Charles Liebert described the aviaries set up by therapist Lorin Linder attached to a clinic treating traumatised war veterans.
The Parrots were themselves victims, rescued or donated from terrible conditions. For over 20 years, veterans and Parrots have discovered healing takes place through their interactions. Lorin Lindner has now described her work in Birds of a Feather: A True Story of Hope and the Healing Power of Animals - published in May this year.
Parrots can show empathy. Liebert wrote:
We often think of empathy as a skill rather than the long-ago, neuronally ingrained bioevolutionary tool for survival that it actually is: the ability to inhabit the feelings of fellow beings (the word empathy derives from the Greek en, which means ‘‘in,’’ and pathos, meaning ‘‘suffering’’ or ‘‘experience’’); the ability to feel, for example, their fear over a threat; or thrill over a newly found food source; or sorrow over a loss, which has as much to do with the fabric of a community as any other.
Without empathy there can be no compassion such as the compassion the Atallahs felt for caged Mia. And empathy can go in both directions like the empathy that Rio transmits to Josh, enabling Josh to overcome his crippling shyness.
Josh had kept Budgies is as a child. Six months working at Colchester Zoo as a volunteer convinced him of his profound love for animals especially birds.
As a child, he suffered from Cystic Fibrosis and endured many hospital interventions. At twenty, he is now in reasonable heath. However, as he grew up, he found difficulty relating to people. Not until he was 18 was he given the diagnosis of autism.
The pet shop job did not last more than a few months as the owner dispensed with his services claiming that Josh was ‘too emotional’ around the animals. Josh persuaded the owner to sell him Rio. This proved a life changing event for both of them. They have been together since early this year.
Rio goes everywhere with Josh. In Chelmsford, where the family live, they are a familiar sight. In the flat, Rio is never caged. When out with Josh, he wears a short leash clipped to his leg ring.
Josh’s mother Kim says, ‘Before Rio came - Josh was daunted speaking to strangers. He did not even like going on errands for me. Now - as so many people inquire about the bird - Josh has conquered his shyness and will chat easily to strangers.’
Josh, Kim and Rio visited my home at Greenacres where a group of Parrot lovers had gathered for a free fly and a social afternoon. Nimal, Claire, Mikey and Mia were there. Mikey, who must have sensed Josh’s affinity with Parrots, flew frequently to his shoulder.
We took a walk around the reservoir on a gloriously sunny October afternoon. Some Parrots on harnesses, some accompanying us flying free. Josh came with Rio on is arm and Kim remarked, ‘before Rio joined our family, Josh would have been unable to go out for an hour’s walk with people he did not know. Now you see he loves it.’
Everyone at the Parrot party admired the empathy between Josh and Rio. Kim and Josh plan to get Parrots accepted as emotional support animals. I wish them luck.
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