There are three sides to Think Parrots. Imagine an equilateral triangle - captioned - A Superb Day Out. One side is commercial, one side is educational and the third side is social.
Arriving at Kempton Park Racecourse in Surrey on the second Sunday in June, (previous day’s rain had thankfully stopped) the colours are mind-boggling. I felt envious of the many Parrots attending with their carers (more of them later) as birds can see more colours than we can. Visitors trickle in and begin examining the riches laid out before them.
Whatever Parrot- related object you want or are persuaded you need is displayed or dangling in front of you. Everything is on offer. An idea perhaps - could we not vote for the best stand? Northern Parrots (sponsors since the first show) have the largest area selling food equipment and toys – similar to their comprehensive website.
Many exhibitors of commercial products offer discounts on show day. Five companies are offering every sort of Parrot seeds pellets.
Many present bowls of samples, so, if you’ve got a Parrot with you - you can offer a nibble. Will provision of fresh food eventually overtake pellets and seeds as the diet of choice? At Think Parrots every alternative is available.
Several well-known vets’ practices have stands. One of the advantages of Think Parrots is being able to discuss issues with friendly vets.
An innovation last year has been continued this year when Dr Alan Jones microchipped 13 birds thus providing an essential service at a modest cost.
If you’ve decided to insure your bird Exotic Direct (their first visit to the show) and British Pet insurance are there to help.
Eric Peake one of our best-known avian artists has been joined by some newcomers. And other stands are selling Parrot-related porcelain and decorative objects.
Several sanctuaries and charities also demonstrate the scope of their activities. That wild Parrots are in peril has become an accepted fact but how far are we prepared to go to help them? World Parrot Trust, a charity that works hard to improve captive and wild birds were selling homegrown plants and handmade Parrot toys.
Eco tourism helps conserve wild birds habitats and what better way to do that to see them in the wild. If you cannot do that up close, Think Parrots offered two slide show presentations by Steve Brookes, who guides eco tourists of bird watching expeditions.
Steve presented two shows; on the clay licks of Peru and on Hyacinth Macaws in the Pantanal. One of Steve’s ecotours is on my bucket list.
Some visitors attend almost entirely to stock up for a year’s supply of toys and equipment. They can be seen struggling to the carpark with bulk purchases looking pleased with themselves.
Other visitors attend as much for the educational side of the triangle as the commercial. John Catchpole, the editor of Parrot Magazine, he and his team organise the show, told me how thrilled he is at the continuing success of the event.
As soon as one ends, he starts organising for the following year. Parrot keeping, he says, has progressed to a higher level. ‘Many people want to get into the heads of their Parrots. The idea of a Parrot stuck in a cage is going out of the window.’ I assume he doesn’t mean that literally.
The three Masterclasses presentations and free flying displays
Entrance to the classes is free, included in the ticket price which remains reasonable at £9 pre-ordered and £10 at the door. The first master class at 11am, The Colour of Flight, was given by Dr Brian Stockdale, an authority on nutrition.
His subject today is how feather condition is affected by what the Parrot eats. Diet even controls the colour of the feathers. The condition of the feathers indicates the health of the bird. He said, ‘When you see a problem with feathers, don’t just think feathers think nutrition.’ Beautiful feathers he told us have also evolved for sexual display.
After a too short an hour wandering round the stands and chatting, I return to the lecture theatre to hear David Woolcock’s presentation of The Kiwa Centre. David is fine raconteur. He tells us the story of how 200 neglected and sick Parrots have been rehomed from a facility totally inadequate for their welfare. David warns his audience that some of the slides presented are gruesome. They are indeed; I’m not the only visitor who cried.
In 1956, a 15 year-old boy Sam Davenport acquired a Macaw from a breeding facility. For several years Kiwa, a blue and gold, became his close companion, sleeping with him, accompanying him to school and flying back home by herself.
However, when Sam went travelling as a young adult, eventually settling in Australia, Kiwa was taken back by the breeder and provided with a mate. When Sam visited in a few years ago, the cramped conditions, the lack of ventilation or any enrichment and the terrible state of many of the Macaws horrified him. How such a facility could disintegrate into those dreadful conditions is hard to understand with some cages being underground in the dark. The elderly owner had simply lost control.
David Woolcock and a team of 4 visited the facility in 2016 and carried out some essential vet work on ten handicapped birds. Many were plucked raw by their bored fellow cage mates, overgrown beaks, mutilated feet. David tells us he doubted a vet had visited the facility for years.
With Paradise Park unable to accept for reasons of space so large a number of birds, Sam bought a farm site in Berkshire and aviaries were constructed and the site named - The Kiwa Centre. And last year the Macaws and Cockatoos were transferred there.
A zoo has taken 10 Macaws for educational displays. Paradise Park itself hopes to reintroduce some dozen red and green Macaws (Ara chlorpteris) to the wild. For now, the remaining 120 birds have spacious aviaries, correct nutrition and enrichment.
Kiwa centre is not open to the public but volunteers are accepted. Sam Davenport the benefactor will underwrite the expense and Paradise Park are also fundraising.
Alan Jones chaired the masterclasses. He commented on the increase of veterinary knowledge over the last few years. He and Brian Stockdale were enthusiastic about the younger vets coming through, one such was Stephanie Jayson, the last speaker, who works for the RSPCA and also in private practice.
She presented on From Complex Cognition to Enriching Environments. She explain how Alex the grey Parrot working with Dr Irene Pepperberg transformed our knowledge of avian cognition. The second part of Stephanie’s talk emphasises how enrichment is essential for the continued health of the companion Parrots. As hobby owners we know this anecdotally from observing our own birds. Stephanie gives us details of research work which underlines the same theme.
I guess most of her listeners are already convinced of the value of enriching a Parrot’s environment. But it’s agreeable to hear how research confirms your own observations.
Meet and Greet
I’ve taken Artha and Casper Grey to the last 7 shows. Early years we met a small number of other birds on harness or in travel cages. This has completely changed in the last couple of years. Numbers of Parrot attendees has rocketed.
I lost count after 50 last year and this year, I don’t even try to count. The numbers that have increased are for Macaws and also small birds – Conures, Cockatiels and Parrotlets. Strangely this June, fewer African Greys are in the halls or on the lawns. Is there a health hazard from mixing too many strange birds in proximity to one another? Possibly. But the birds accompanying their owners are all looking alert and healthy.
Dr Alan Jones, wife Maria has Lucien their Mollucan with them for the 2nd year. This stately bird impresses all who meet him; he is in his 50s.
My Artha (20 years old) charmed everyone she meets as she always does. I’m lucky to have a bite-free Parrot who can always be trusted with children. I put that down to her breeder Barrett Watson who, as he’s done for the last two years, brought some of his own Macaws along.
I can’t ask Artha if she remembers Barret whom she sees rarely but she never seems to mind being on his shoulder.
Craig Young a new trainer on the avian scene a brought three free flying Macaws down from Scotland and also some Conures. It is their first public exhibition, so they can be excused vanishing around the building for some minutes before returning to Craig’s call. They are tame and well-handled birds.
So many Parrots in one spacious area brings out the best in humans. Everyone’s smiling and chatting amongst themselves and to newcomers, who remark how friendly it feels; old timers remark how glad they are that they’ve come again.
And finally, as a triangle is one of the strongest shapes in nature. We can note that to produce a happy Parrot and carer, both need the right education and training; the Parrot needs the best nutrition and enrichment and both companion Parrot and carer need the company of like-minded people.
See you all and the newcomers at Think Parrots - number nine.
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