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Desperados and Parrots

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

These past two weeks in Paraguay the song "Desperado" kept coming to mind. In part it was because we were with cowboys every day, crossing fences to get to parrot nests. The song also seemed to sing of humanity's condition....

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?

You've been out ridin' fences for so long now

Oh, you're a hard one

I know that you got your reasons

These things that are pleasin' you

Can hurt you somehow

Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger

Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home

And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin'

Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?

Come down from your fences, open the gate

It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you

You better let somebody love you

(Let somebody love you)

You better let somebody love you before it's too late

Lyrics by the Eagles, "Desperado" sung below by Linda Rondsdtadt

The situation of parrots in Paraguay is desperate. We may only have 100 red-and-green macaws left, and there hasn’t been a documented successful nesting of blue-and-yellow and hyacinth macaws in years. On top of this, the habitat continues to undergo intensification of use with eucalyptus crops removing the pastures, trees, and termitaries that the yellow-faced parrot uses.

Peace-fronted parakeet (photo by Dr. Andres Alvarez)

Enter into the equation the cattle ranches that are considering becoming reserves and ecotourism destinations. We work in the north Concepción area along the Apa river that separates Paraguay from Brazil, and there is a growing consciousness of the plight of the parrots and what must be done to protect them. (I can’t honor these ranches by naming them because we aim to keep locations of parrots vague to discourage international criminal buyers from targeting our project areas). Desperados are disappearing our parrots.

Lead cowboy showing me his "Fly Free Parrot" wrist band that he still wears after having received it two years ago

Out model is to work with local people and communities, and in the case where these don’t exist where parrot nest, with owners of agricultural lands, such as in Guatemala, and here in Paraguay. This means working with cowboys (or should we call them parrotboys) who on their daily rounds discover macaw nests and report them to us. With their presence they also protect them.

Inspecting a possible macaw nest on the ranch

Local ranch hand helping us inspect a parrot nest

In some areas this partnership with estancias (ranches) has lowered the poaching rate and it appears as if the macaw population might be increasing, although the breeding season of 2021 so far is yielding scant nests. We don’t know why and it might be a combination of things: climate change, annual variability in precipitation, and the wildfires. While we were surveying nests in August 2021 we couldn’t see the sun for most of the day except when it set blood red into the horizon.

Red sun through the smoke of nearby wildfires

"Parrotboy" showing me his burned hat, "that happenened when I was saving parrot nests from the wildfires."

Thanking the workers for their participation

Thanking the workers for their participation

After inspecting a nest, thanking the workers with posters, stickers, and patches

Some say that the time of parrots on the earth is setting, but as long as we can support the people who live and work on the land, we can find a way together. This is not some romantic fairy tale of cowboys riding off into the sunset, but of a rising bright hope. Our prison, and that of caged birds, is walking through this world as if we were alone. We are not. If we can come to understand that, then we might all one day fly free.

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