Of Parrots and Macaws; & Pallvi of Buarani

I regurgitated ‘Gange rama churi khani aa…’* to my grandson Madhav’s ‘first sight love’ of a golden- blue macaw that prompted him to an impulse buying at Houston . Though I had   seen macaws at the ‘pet shops of ‘Chandni Chowk’ ,  yet I am a novice. I had grown with the recitals -“Lat pat panchi chattur sujan; sab ka data sri Bhagwan”* ; in the Northen Indian houses with ‘green parrots’ as pets.

  • Newly married , in 1968, we showed a parrot in at our ‘Lady doctor’s residence’ Dharamshala (Kangra); & the doctor, my wife BuaRani christened it ‘Miya Miththoo’. For many years it remained an object ‘to chat with and to chat about’ in the family ; at least  , till the day it flew away from the let- loose  cage exit .
  • I, having crafted a special cage, soon we were in the company of Lovebirds. It is a small genus of parrot. They have short, blunt tail feathers, unlike budgies (parakeets). Social and affectionate, the paired birds spend long periods sitting together. It is important to use wide cages as large as possible. Subsequently  , with  our frequent ‘stays out’; with heavy hearts, we parted  with the birds.
  • Years later, back home in ‘Kirti Cottage’, Dalhousie , I could not resist the desire to bring home another parrot. Buarani named it ‘Pallavi’ ; parrots exhibit little sexual dimorphism in the visual spectrum.
  • Sharing his vivid memories, my son Manu Maharaaj , has come out on WhatsApp :- “Tortoise on the wall ….Pallavi  at the rear used to wake me up… Her cage used to be kept on the cupboard adjacent to my bed…” Alas! the poor bird succumbed to a bite on Karachi Halwa.
  • He & his wife Meenakshi, are  great  environmentalists;  being ‘enthusiasts in wildlife conservation.’ Presently, they rescued a family of parrots in distress; having lost their nest to a storm. The couple rehabilitated the shattered birds in a makeshift refuge; before putting them back to Nature oncoming of their own.
  • “We Tibetans are basically Buddhists, we preach love and compassion towards all other living beings on Earth,” says H H Dalai Lama. “Therefore, it is the responsibility of all of us to realise the importance of wildlife conservation.”

  • In the artful emblem ; to the left of Padmasambhava , the pioneer of Buddhism in the Himalayas is the parrot with two heads, representing translators with two languages. “For Tibetans, Lotsawa is a title meaning bilingual” says Tenzin Norbu,former chief representative of Tibetans in Himachal Pradesh.

Due to an increasing number of homeless parrots, they are being euthanised like dogs and cats; and parrot adoption centers and sanctuaries are becoming more common. One of the largest parrot conservation groups is the World Parrot Trust. They are protected by CITES ( Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species ) which came into force in 1975.

Madhav’s  pursuits , aroused my curiosity to know more about the parrots and  the macaws:-

  • Parrots are among the most intelligent birds, and the ability of some species to imitate human speech enhances their popularity as pets. The verb “parrot” in the dictionary means “to repeat by rote”. They do not have vocal cords, so the sound is accomplished by expelling air across the mouth.
  • Parrots have a long history as pets, stretching back thousands of years, and were often kept as a symbol of royalty and wealth ; they have often featured in human writings, story, art, humor, religion, and music.
  • As pets, they require a long-term commitment from their owners. Lack of toys and of companionship may lead to boredom, stress, and psychological or behavioral problems (nervousness, aggression, feather-plucking, screaming, depression).
  • Their longevity is considered a positive trait as it reduces instances of the loss of a pet. Some large cockatoos, amazons, and macaws have very long life spans, with 80 years being reported, and record ages of over 100. Even lovebirds and budgies, life spans up to 15–20 years.
  • As a group, parrots are unique; all have short, hooked bills, flexible muscular tongues, an upright stance, strong short legs, and clawed feet, having their first and fourth toes pointing backward, which they often use like hands. Cockatoos have a preferred “footedness” analogous to human handedness. Most species are left-footed using their left foot to eat, but a few species favour their right foot.
  • Parrot species that are commonly kept as pets include conures, macaws, amazon parrots, cockatoos, lovebirds, cockatiels, budgerigars, caiques , parakeets, and a few others. The rose-ringed parakeet or the ring-necked parrot, have been prized  for  their beauty and ability to talk. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, so in terms of appearance, there can be no winner. Temperaments and personalities vary even within a species, just as with dog breeds.
  • Conures belong to a long-tailed group of the New World parrot subfamily.
  • The budgerigar is a long-tailed, parrot usually nicknamed the budgie, or in American English, the parakeet.
  • Amazon parrot is the common native to the New World^. Most Amazon parrots are predominantly green.
  • The caiques are species of parrots, relatively small and stocky, with a short, square tail and very bright colors. They can live up to 40 years.
  • Toucanshave many advantages over parrots as pets. They do not scream or make loud noises. Since their beaks are not powerful, they cannot bite hard and, in fact, have difficulty squeezing a grape. “The toucan is a tribal symbol that is carved on totem poles by native tribes.
  • Cockatoos on average, are larger than other parrots; however, the cockatiel, the smallest cockatoo species & is easiest to maintain. The movable head crest, which is present in all cockatoos, is spectacular in many species.
  • Macaws are long-tailed, colorful, New World^ parrots. All macaws are parrots, but all parrots are not macaws. They are witty and easy to train. Macaws are usually bigger than parrots, with larger beaks and bodies. They include the largest of all parrots ; though the smallest member of the family, the red-shouldered macaw, is no larger than some parakeets. They are popular as companion parrots,  are hard-headed and stubborn birds; extremely intelligent, and try to outsmart their humans.

  • A macaw’s facial feather pattern is as unique as a fingerprint. Macaws and their feathers have attracted the attention of people throughout history. Feathers were often used as adornment and were found at both ceremonial and burial sites.
  • #Peanuts bit Madhav the first day. Macaw bites do hurt and the tenderness takes time to heal;correct behavior is to blow into your pet’s face to hopefully distract the bird from biting. Because of the dominance and the territorial nature of the bird , I suggested Madhav keep Snoopy (the Beagle) away till the two were confident of each other. “The  therapist who adopted  our two lovebirds , already had a dog and a parrot ; now all the four are good friends,” says Er. P S Attli of Mohali.
  • When the bird may venture into inhouse flights, he has to be careful to protect the furniture, electrical wiring & the things that could possibly be chewed on.  To  be aware of  the open toilet bowls for drowning; clear glass walls which might be rammed in full force by the bird ; chemical fumes from regular household cleaning products etc. When the toenails need to be trimmed  , it can be done with the help of an assistant carefully holding the parrot wrapped in a towel. ‘A macaw that loves and trusts you is almost puppy-like in its affection’.
  • Parrots learn mainly by mimicry and will be easily encouraged to try new foods by observing another bird eating the food, or by placing the new food on a mirror. It is likely, the food we eat our bird can eat. However, the most important comp onents of most parrots’ diets are seeds, nuts, fruit, buds, and other plant material. A study reveals that parrots and macaws use the clay licks as a source of cobalamin , vitamin B12.
  • Because of their acidity, most veterinarians suggest not offering fresh tomatoes to parrots, as they could potentially cause ulcers. Onions and garlic should also be avoided because the chemical compounds they contain may cause anemia. Mushrooms must all be avoided due to their very high oxalic acid contents. Freshwater must be available at all times. Nowadays, it is commonly accepted that the caffeine in coffee is toxic to birds.

‘The Green Scene’ of the Delhi Golf Club has published‘a parrot’s dance of joy’.

Every year 31st May celebrates the World Parrot Day.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

With inputs from Madhav Mahajan of Houston(US)

*Often taught to Parrots, in India.

#Nickname of Madhav’s macaw

^The new word is the majority of Earth’s western hemisphere, especially the Americas( including nearby islands)

Prof. (Er.) Chander P Mahajan is an art critic & a free lance journalist. The Environmentalist stays in Shimla and Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India.

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