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Here’s Looking At You Parrot

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Vinaceous amazon parrot in an Atlantic Forest remnant in Paraguay

during our monitoring in August 2021 (photo by Dr. Andres Alvarez)

It’s a good thing that mirrors are scarce during field work in parrot conservation. I mean, I don’t really want to know what my face looks like after getting up at 1:30 a.m. to begin a day of parrot counting and observation. On some days we get to sleep in until 4:30 a.m. during our two weeks of nest monitoring and population in two ecosystems in Paraguay – the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado.

There may not be mirrors but there are brutal selfies in the cold pre-sunrise light

But perhaps looking at parrots is like looking into a mirror, for aren’t they really the expression of this earth’s beauty and characteristics molded into DNA, just as we are? (We share 65% of our DNA with birds, and about that much as well with bananas and slugs!). What made them also made us, and what is unmaking them is also humanity’s undoing – extraction economies, inequality, consumerism, and climate change, to start. Underneath all of this is a false sense of separation from nature and other beings that gives permission for fickle and plastic cultural sculpting of human individuals and societies who treat others as having less worth and dignity.

How do we address this “othering” that causes us to think that those different from us are not as deserving of our concern or rightful sharing of earth’s bounty, and hence causes great harm to species, from humans to corals? One cure is to encourage more empathy. By looking deep into the lives of others, by really seeing and listening to them, we can understand and even feel with our bodies the plight and perfection of life around us.

Our inspection camera for looking into nests in Paraguay

(thanks to Henry Krauer, pictured above, who builds our parrot monitoring equipment)

Using the camera - on a cloudy day you might only need two people

On a sunny day - it takes three!

Here's what we hope to find - a parrot chick!

(a 2 week old red-and-green macaw in this case)

Sometimes it only takes one person, such as above where Dr. Andres Alvarez is preparing the inspection camera to look in a termateria where a peach-fronted parakeet might be nesting

(photo below by Dr. Alvarez)

Watching birds, such as in parrot conservation, for long periods of time, changes one. I remember a prominent avian veterinarian once remarking on how I had gone rogue, leaving caring for captive parrots behind, unless strictly for conservation efforts. He said that all those hours of looking at wild parrots had turned me into one!

Watching birds begins well before sunrise, and also well after, on most days

Conservation also means watching not just yourself, but also helping others to see

(Guarani children in Paraguay accompanying a parrot count- Photo by Dr. Diana Pesole)

Perhaps he was right, except that I didn’t turn into one, I had always been one. The veil has been slowly dropped away over the years so that I don’t know where feathers end and hair begins. Without a doubt, parrots are different species than humans, and individuals within each species are distinct. I cannot equivalate my experience or cultural shaping to theirs, or expect to speak for them.

We not only watch and see, but we listen. What do the parrots say to you?

(Dr. Diana Pesole listening for parrot chicks in the nest)

Still, the long hours watching nests and seeing their behavior means that they have spoken to me abundantly. And what they have said is, “Look into our being as if into a mirror and drop your childish ways. And remember the greatest of ways forward is love."

What does the turquoise-fronted parrot say to you?

(This is a female that heard us and popped out of her nest cavity, and then flew away with her mate - photo by Dr, Andres Alvarez)

Please join us and others for a Birding for Life Walk this weekend in Central Park, NY. We will listen to what the birds there, and each other, have to say.

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