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Hope is the Thing with Feathers

In mid-February I had the great honor to work with Otte Ottema, co-author of “Birds of Suriname,” a bird guide, who also offers birding tours in Suriname. He graciously partnered with me to assist parrot conservation in Suriname, where little is known about the status of these species. Otte has done much good work, laying a foundation for future efforts, and continues to do so. We, along with others in this country, must document the status of the birds, urgently, because Suriname legally both traps parrots for export and hunts them for food and sport. In addition, there is illegal smuggling between Suriname and Guyana, which is open to legal export as well.

Counting parrots on the Coppename River, Suriname with Erwin and Ashraf Tilburg of Tilburg Tours

Counting parrots on the Courantyne river between Suriname and Guyana

After counting birds in the interior for many days, I returned to the coast of Suriname, and the capital city, Paramaribo. There, Otte and I decided to count a roost site of orange-winged amazons at the University Hospital. We thought it could be a long-term study site to possibly document the trends in this species’ population, but also, as it is centrally located, could serve as an urban center to train and motivate parrot conservationists.

We were able to count 264 distinct individuals, trying to see and hear in the midst of the car exhaust and bustle of rush hour (video above). They came in and out of the palms lining the street, flying and calling back and forth in front of patients' rooms. One Surinamese man told me that he had been recently sick in this very same hospital, and that seeing the parrots come into roost for the evening was a sign of hope and beauty for him.

Palm trees in front of the University where the hospital and parrot roost is located

Birds are indeed a sign of hope, and like other wildlife and nature experiences, promote healing, health and general well-being. Emily Dickinson expresses this poetically in “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

She captured well my sentiment, except in the last sentence where she wavered from what my experience has taught me. Yes, we need birds in this time of a pandemic, and the many other disasters happening to life on earth. They foster biodiversity and help ease our burdens. But they are asking something of us, and it’s far more than just a morsel. Birds are under serious threat. We have lost so many, and will continue to lose more, such as the parrots of Suriname and a multitude of other countries. Sore indeed is the storm.

The birds need us, just as we need them. Hope is the thing that is a great ape, us, responding to the beauty and tragedy of our times.

So, go to your windows, or go outside if you can, and revel in the flying hope. May your spirits soar, but don't only do that. Please also give back to a bruised and aching world, so that you are part of keeping our birds soaring free.

For more information on how you can be the hope for parrots in the Americas, please contact us and consider joining our Parrot Conservation Corps, which is accepting applications now. Donations too are gratefully received!

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