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Review of Parrots International Symposium 2009

By Kasmir Csaky

The Parrots International 2009 Symposium was unsurpassed - ranking right up at the top of some of the best avian related functions I have attended.

The "M" Resort Hotel

The "M" Hotel Resort pool

The "M" Resort Lobby

The hotel and the food were spectacular. When you enter the lobby of many of the other chic hotels in Las Vegas, you walk directly into the casino. When you enter the lobby of the M, you walk past two large waterfalls on your way to the check- in desk. This atmosphere conveys a feeling of elegance and a promise of pampering. The rooms were stylish and modern. They even had televisions in the bathroom mirrors. Las Vegas has some of the top paid chefs in the world. I suspect that they are employed at the M, because the food was delectable.

There were 20 speakers scheduled, but Ryan Watson from Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar had to drop out. His wife was about to have a baby, and Al Wabra has had five Spix’s Macaw chicks this year. Three Spix’s chicks had previously been announced, and two more hatched Spix’s chicks were announced for the first time at the Symposium. Last year was disappointing, since no chicks were produced. Therefore, everyone is happy this year. Mark Stafford, the Founder and President of Parrots International, played a cameo video of Ryan showing us the Spix ’schicks in Qatar. Mark also explained to us many of the key points that Watson would have made in his presentation, and updated us on the many Parrots International projects.

Photos from the Event

Gabby Vigo, Carmen Daily, Don Brightsmith (left to right)

Carlos Bianchi, Carmen Daily, Mark Stafford, Tom White (left to right)

Neiva Guedes, Tom White, Glaucia Seixas (left to right)

Rolant Jonker and Grace Innemee talking to a delegate Chris Shanks at the Friday social

Symposium planning committee members Dianna Stokotelny and Carmen Leon

Armando setting up raffle prizes

Jafet and Sun conure

Sun Conures collected dollar bills from delegates.

Free Flight demonstration by Susan Hilliard

Carol Lambert meeting Chris Biro's birds first hand

Dr. Neiva Guedes (left) and Marie Stafford

Connie and Vytas Jasinskas spending money on new toys for their feathered friends at Roonie Uehling's StarBird Booth.

Sympoisum Planning Committee - Left to right: Armando Leon, Mike Keens, Carmen Leon, Ruth Kain, Dorothy Blanchette, Mark Stafford, Marie Stafford, Dianna Stokotelny (Not picture: Pablo & Cynthia Anchante, Dr. Frank Lavac, Jennifer Kain)

The Guest Speakers

Paul Butler, from R.A.R.E. U.S, set the mood for the event during his “The Power of Pride” lecture. His focus was to instill pride for the unique birds and other animals that share the land with the local people. By recruiting the support of the people through pride, he hopes to save the environment. He spoke about the many obstacles that were conquered and the battles yet to be won, as well as the danger that has been encountered, yet his talk was light hearted and humorous. Many of the speakers echoed the rallying call of pride.

Carlos Bianchi used his research into the Pfrimer’s Parakeet Project to explain how we can improve our knowledge about endangered species. He has demonstrated a method, GIS, whereby he can predictably determine where populations may exist by examining areas where they are known to be present. Visit Carlos’ blog from the field.

Roelant Jonker, from City Parrots in the Netherlands, lectured about the changing environment and how parrots must adapt to survive. For years, he has tracked feral parrots living in areas that are foreign to the species. He has observed the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, as well as Scarlet Macaws nesting in the Netherlands. Putting his experience to work, he feels that we can help parrots, such as the Golden Conure, adapt to their native habitat, changing from wild to urban. During a conversation with Roelant, I learned that he is allergic to birds.

Chris Biro’s demonstration was breathtaking. His Sun Conures flew around the conference hall, taking money from people and dropping the bills into a donation pot. During lunch, the macaws flew around the outside of the hotel, even demonstrating prey avoidance maneuvers which experts had claimed that captive birds would never learn to do. They did not do these on cue, they were spontaneous. For the birds it was a form of play and practice.

Chris has rated outdoor flight in five levels. Level zero is indoor flight. Level 1 is outdoors in a flat area, where there are no trees, buildings or gullies, and the birds can be seen for a 1/4 of a mile in all directions. Level 5 was free flight off of cliffs in areas where retrieval was near impossible. Chris emphasized the dangers of moving birds too quickly from one level to another when they are not ready. I spoke with him privately and he made some suggestions for indoor flight. If your bird comes on recall, slowly begin to hide. Stand near a wall and do not have your entire body visible. Slowly, over time, have less and less of your body visible, until the bird cannot see you at all. This shaping technique teaches your bird to look for you and can be very helpful should the bird escape.

We also discussed how to get birds to fly that show no interest in flying. He suggested placing two T-stands at an angle to each other. He had one T-stand that was very long. Place a bowl at the end of the long T and the bird on the short T. Then drop a treat into the bowl. The bird will have to walk the distance to the bowl. Then begin separating the T’s so that at first the bird will have to do a big stretch and then a small hop, a big hop, and eventually flight. (Thanks Chris!) Visit Wings at Liberty website.

Susan Clubb gave us an update on Proventricular Dilatation Disease. For the first time in years we have a break through with the discovery of Avian Borna Virus. Find out more about recent PDD virus discovery on the CDC website.

Donald Brightsmith talked about the clay licks at the Tambopata Research Centre in Peru. There had been much speculation on why the parrots eat clay. These include aiding digestion by providing grit, and the removal of toxins from poisons in the food that the birds consume. He believes that the answer may be the birds eat the clay for sodium. This belief is supported by extensive research at clay licks where parrots actually eat soil. In areas of the tropics where the same species eat the same food sources, there is no source of clay, yet the species’ distribution is not affected. Don showed that clay eating is inversely proportional to the natural level of sodium in the parrots’ environment. The soil tested where the birds were feasting was high in sodium and it was not as high in other areas of the cliffs. However, he compared this to people eating ice cream for calcium. Visit Don’s blog from the field.

Neiva Guedes talked about the subject of her doctorial thesis and her lifetime work - the propagation of Hyacinth Macaws in the Pantanal. She discussed the many factors that influenced reproduction, from weather and nest availability.  Visit the Projeto Arara Azul website.

Bennett Hennessey, who is well known for his work with Blue Throated Macaws, has had a lodge built at the Red-fronted Macaw nesting cliffs in Bolivia, and would like to offer a tour during which people will see 10 difference species of macaws. The dilemma at this time is a lack of beds for the lodge. A friend and I spoke to him after his talk and my friend is going to try to find someone to donate the needed beds.

He also developed a program to stop people from using macaw feathers in their headdresses, funded by Parrots International. During traditional festivals in the Beni Department of Bolivia, hundreds of people wear headdresses filled with macaw tail feathers. These headdresses were made from the feathers of many dead macaws. Bennett proposed a contest, funded by Parrots International, to see who could make the best headdress using alternative materials; first place was $500 or the equivalent of six month’s salary for the local people. The first place winner’s headdress was beautiful and he is now teaching others to make and sell these featherless headdresses.

Yarra Barros is one of the speakers who really touches my heart. She has been working for IBAMA many years, trying to save the Spix’s Macaw from total extinction. She talked about their failures as well as their successes. Most people only discuss their successes. Her passion, courage and conviction are inspiring. She no longer works for IBAMA, however, her new employer is allowing her time to continue to work as the captivity coordinator on The Spix’s Macaw Recovery Program.

Robin Bijork talked about her work in using a radio transmitter that she devised that will withstand the bite of a macaw . Using this radio transmitter, she tracked the migration of Mealy Parrots across the Guatemalan lowlands, and the movement of the Great Green Macaws in Costa Rica. She is currently working on a project to reintroduce Scarlet Macaws to El Salvador.

Mathias Dislich is the staff veterinarian at Foz Tropicana Parque das Aves. His topic was the about the reintroduction of a viable population of Green-winged and Blue and Gold Macaws into the Iguassu Falls area of Southwestern Brazil.

Steve Martin’s talk was also superb. He showed many of the videos that Susan Friedman uses in her lectures. However, he also had videos of lions and hyenas that learn to move their sides against the bars of an enclosure to accept shots. He had some amusing videos of primates. Steve emphasized the use of scientifically sound, non-aversive techniques to teach parrots and animals of all kinds to behave in a way that is harmonious with humans.

Frank Lavac provided a veterinary Q&A that is always well received. He gave a talk that was practical for anyone who keeps or works with parrots. He also discussed first aid and avian health concerns.

Jafet Velez-Valentin, the Luquillo Aviary team leader for the US Fish and Wildlife Service Puerto Rican Amazon Recovery Program, informed us about the progress of the Puerto Rican Amazons. He explained about the difficulties getting the new Iguaca Aviary up and running, and compared the difference, problems and appeal of each facility.

Roan Balas McNab’s talk was fascinating to me, since I am a Scarlet Macaw enthusiast. Roan presented data on his pioneering use of GPS transmitters on Scarlet Macaws, the signals of which are received by satellite and the data transmitted to a real time display. The problem they encountered was insufficient battery life on the GPS transmitter. However, I found his videos of forest falcons going into Scarlet’s nests in Guatemala - and killing the baby Scarlets - very upsetting. Since falcons do not have zygodactyl feet, it was assumed that they would not be able to exit a macaw’s nesting cavity. Therefore their preying on macaw chicks was unexpected. The falcons just flew in killed the chicks and flew out with the dead babies. They are looking for a way to prevent these deaths..

Glaucia Sexias focused on the Blue-fronted Amazon in the Pantanal. She is fearful that this species will soon become threatened. Her comprehensive long-term study of the species, that spanned a 12 year period, includes radio telemetry monitoring, reproduction, diet, release of confiscated parrots and education of the local population.

Darrel Styles discussed the many diseases that affect parrots. However, his primary focus was on the terrifying bird flu or H5N1, and how it, or some change in it, may affect us.

Mark Stafford presented an overview of sixteen Parrots International supported projects. His presentation included updates from the field projects, video footage and extensive still photography. Mark introduced three new projects to the Symposium attendees: The Pfrimer’s Parakeet Project (Central Brazil), The Slender-billed Conure Project (Southern Chile) and the Iguassu Falls Macaw Reintroduction Project (southwestern Brazil).


I have attempted to say at least a few lines about everyone’s lecture and I have not done them justice. All the speakers were enthralling and they had superior videos of their work bringing the action to the audience. We were able to see all the highlights at their best angles in the comfort of the lecture hall.

Attending a Symposium like this one permits more than the opportunity to hear a lecture and indulge in good food. So much learning takes place when socializing with speaker and anyone else who is attending the symposium. This is as valuable as any aspect of a symposium. However, it is spontaneous and there is always some pleasant and unexpected experience. Today I look forward to the 2010 International Parrot Symposium.

Important Note - Mark your calendars - Save the Date:

The Parrots International Symposium 2010

May 13-15, 2010

San Diego, California

at the US Grant Hotel

blogs from the field - parrot conservation in real time