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The Freedom Parakeets

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Karasabai Village, Guyana

We finished our annual count of the endangered sun parakeet that consisted of 11 days of boating, camping, hiking, motorbiking, biking, trucking, ATVing, and scratching insect bites. As each day passed, I was more and more in awe of the sun parakeets. Here is what I mused about in those long hot (or cold) bright (or completely dark) treks to and during counts...

We arrive at our counting locations when it is still mostly dark,

because we don't want to miss a single parakeet.

You can hear these small parrots from 1 kilometer away or more. This gives one ample time to jump up and say “Here come the suns,” and scan the sky to find them. How can such a small bird, which weighs only 120 grams, call so loudly, and why, especially since they do so even though their size makes them so vulnerable to predators? Makes me think that, even though one might consider oneself small and that one doesn’t matter much, none of us should be afraid to proclaim our precious power and beauty!

They fly so high. It is impossible to measure exactly how high these birds fly, but we frequently mark them at over 100 meters. When we finally spot the specs in the sky, our mouths go agape as the sun hits their orange and yellow feathers. I don’t know why they fly so high. Maybe it’s because they need altitude to move great distances. They seem to travel a long way in a day and also seem to be a migratory species. Notice how I use the word, “seem,” as not much is really known about sun parakeets. After 11 days of seeing such beauty and looking up a lot, it’s as if we soar with them and reflect that same vibrant beauty (looking up has been scientifically shown to grow your compassion and impact mental health). These birds touch the sky, and because of them, so do we.

Unfortunately many parrots cannot fly high anymore, or at all, because they have been trapped for the pet trade and are often housed in cages or have clipped wings.

They play as they fly over. I would think that a serious parrot, especially small ones traveling in clear view of predators, wouldn’t dally up in the air. They would instead make a straight line to reach food and protection. Instead, sun parakeets swoop and climb, mixing up their order in the flock and altitude. I am not sure this is play, some other form of communication, or social connecting exercises, but it sure looks like fun to me.

Young and older sun parakeets exiting their cavity (Photo by Andrew Albert).

They roost and possibly breed in family or larger social groups. As we don’t have cameras in nest cavities, we don’t know exactly what they are doing away from human eyes. We do know that different ages and groups (up to ten observed so far) might spend the night in one cavity and then split up and be in two different cavities the next night. Their high sociability and family bonds remind me of a communitarian ethic where homes of multiple generations contribute to the general welfare of all. Such is the dream of the good life.

It's hard to tell where parakeets end and flowers (or us) begin! (photo by Agnes Coenen).

They are like flowers in the trees. One might wonder why these small vulnerable birds are so brightly colored. And why yellow? This year, though, there were abundant different kinds of yellow flowers from shrub to tree. It was hard to spot a parakeet among all the natural camouflage. I’d be sure I was seeing a flower, but then it would move, and when I was sure it was a parakeet, well it was a flower. We are looking over great distances so it can be hard to tell one beautiful organism from another. Maybe that’s because they're all beautiful?

Parakeet rangers packing up for a long hike to Corona Falls

to count sun parakeets (Cain is front right).

These are "Freedom Birds" who liberate us. All these characteristics point to a mighty bird that inspires our admiration, imagination, and commitment. The way they dare to survive - loudly, boldly, and despite dramatic pressure from the pet bird trade - demands our attention. We imagine that if they can fly free, so might we. The counting team celebrated our last night together and each said what the experience had meant to them. Cain said it best.

I need the parakeets. I need freedom.

They welcome us home. When it was my turn to share, I spoke of how the parakeet rangers of these three indigenous villages in Guyana had welcomed me as part of their conservation project, upon which I was presented with several gifts, including a carved parakeet with a sign saying, “Welcome Home.”

The sun parakeet carving now welcomes all into our home in New York.

These people and these parakeets do indeed welcome us to earth, empowering us to return the favor to them and to others.

Here comes the sun do, do, do (do conservation) Here comes the sun And I say

It's all right

- The Beatles

Sunrise near Rukumuto village one morning counting parakeets.

Thank you so much for these gifts of being able to keep the parakeets close to my heart.

Thank you village of Nebruti for this traditionally styled necklace full of nesting parakeets.

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