Tag Archives: parrots

Follow the parrots

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 2.57.31 PM

Watercolor rendition of the Hague parrots.

I can’t explain why, but I’ve felt a connection with birds (all birds, but parrots specifically and much moreso than birds of prey) my whole life. Nothing really makes me happier than parrots. Some of my friends call me “the parrot whisperer,” and I somehow always manage to find the wild parrots in the most unexpected urban areas. So far I’ve tracked and observed flocks in Brooklyn (NY), Austin (TX), Barcelona, Paris, Dubai, and more.

A few days ago a friend and I were walking around The Hague, a city in the Netherlands perhaps most known as home to some of the foremost international peacekeeping organizations int he world. After leaving an artist co-op, when we happened across a park neither of us had before been. The entrance caught my eye the previous week when it was pouring down rain, but I was too wet to explore. That day the skies were gray but the weather was calm, so we wandered in and found ourselves amidst a Dutch wonderland—a juxtaposition of carefully spaced trees and rugged overgrowth, bell-shaped flowers and purplish leaves smearing color across the green backdrop. Cubed metal sculptures doubled as a play gym for kids, imposing modernity upon the aged backdrop of regal brick buildings bordering the park.

We walked along the path and through the grass, admiring nature, when I started to tell my friend about the wild parrots of Paris. Seconds after the words left my mouth, a flock of green parrots flew directly over us, chattering distinctly, and landed in a tree next to the path ahead. I stopped in my tracks and pointed up.

“OMG they’re here too!” Their squawks were unmistakable.

“No. Really?”

“Yes, look!” We watched them swing around the branches and fly onward. Looking up to the trees, we noticed new flocks joining, dozens of little green rose-ringed parrots.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 3.11.44 PM

Though I hadn’t consciously heard their calls before spotting them, maybe part of my brain is always listening for them, a remnant of growing up with a little flock of my own.

A smile spread over my face as my eyes darted around the sky, observing these carefree creatures in their pre-dusk clamor to regroup the flock and discuss an impending rain cloud over a rare assortment of tree nuts. They swung upside down from tree branches, chasing each other flirtatiously, finally landing in groups of two. I was momentarily jealous of the simplicity of their courtship rituals: pick your most genetically compatible bae and snuggle up on a branch for eternity? If only it was that easy.

My friend and I perched on the stone steps leading down to a pond patrolled by a fanciful duck, the parrots flying overhead in coordinated formations like miniature fighter pilots. It was as if nature was giving us a private show in our own secret amphitheater. We watched them until we felt rain drops and then moved on, passing cotton-tailed bunnies on the way out.

I’m beginning to notice a pattern of parrots picking the lushest and most serene environments to gather within urban landscapes—something noticeably lacking from my life, spent mostly online and within the confines of human architectural creations. I think I’ll make it my goal to find the parrots in every city I visit.

I will leave you with this video, shared with me by three people independently of each other this morning (thanks Dave, Evan, and Pilar!), featuring a member of the Saskatoon Parrot Rescue and his friend Pebble making a statement about confining captive parrots in circular cages. It may seem a bit extreme, but it is well-documented that parrots, if contained, prefer rectangular or other polyhedron-shaped cages so they have corners to retreat into. A circular cage can actually be quite damaging to a parrot’s mental health, as they leave the birds feeling exposed and deny them agency over their interactivity with the surrounding environment.

Follow the Parrots

This post was also published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: Everywhere I go, I always seem to find the parrots. Here’s an account of my latest run-in with a flock of rose-ringed parrots in The Hague. If it wasn’t already, it’s now my goal to find them everywhere I travel.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 2.57.31 PM
Watercolor: Arikia Millikan

I can’t explain why, but I’ve felt a connection with birds (all birds, but parrots specifically and much moreso than birds of prey) my whole life. Nothing really makes me happier than parrots. Some of my friends call me “the parrot whisperer,” and I somehow always manage to find the wild parrots in the most unexpected urban areas. So far I’ve tracked and observed flocks in Brooklyn (NY), Austin (TX), Barcelona, Paris, Dubai, and more.

A few days ago a friend and I were walking around The Hague, a city in the Netherlands perhaps most known as home to some of the foremost international peacekeeping organizations int he world. After leaving an artist co-op, when we happened across a park neither of us had before been. The entrance caught my eye the previous week when it was pouring down rain, but I was too wet to explore. That day the skies were gray but the weather was calm, so we wandered in and found ourselves amidst a Dutch wonderland—a juxtaposition of carefully spaced trees and rugged overgrowth, bell-shaped flowers and purplish leaves smearing color across the green backdrop. Cubed metal sculptures doubled as a play gym for kids, imposing modernity upon the aged backdrop of regal brick buildings bordering the park.

We walked along the path and through the grass, admiring nature, when I started to tell my friend about the wild parrots of Paris. Seconds after the words left my mouth, a flock of green parrots flew directly over us, chattering distinctly, and landed in a tree next to the path ahead. I stopped in my tracks and pointed up.

“OMG they’re here too!” Their squawks were unmistakable.

“No. Really?”

“Yes, look!” We watched them swing around the branches and fly onward. Looking up to the trees, we noticed new flocks joining, dozens of little green rose-ringed parrots.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 3.11.44 PM
Photo: Arikia Millikan, iPhone6.

Though I hadn’t consciously heard their calls before spotting them, maybe part of my brain is always listening for them, a remnant of growing up with a little flock of my own.

A smile spread over my face as my eyes darted around the sky, observing these carefree creatures in their pre-dusk clamor to regroup the flock and discuss an impending rain cloud over a rare assortment of tree nuts. They swung upside down from tree branches, chasing each other flirtatiously, finally landing in groups of two. I was momentarily jealous of the simplicity of their courtship rituals: pick your most genetically compatible bae and snuggle up on a branch for eternity? If only it was that easy.

My friend and I perched on the stone steps leading down to a pond patrolled by a fanciful duck, the parrots flying overhead in coordinated formations like miniature fighter pilots. It was as if nature was giving us a private show in our own secret amphitheater. We watched them until we felt rain drops and then moved on, passing cotton-tailed bunnies on the way out.

I’m beginning to notice a pattern of parrots picking the lushest and most serene environments to gather within urban landscapes—something noticeably lacking from my life, spent mostly online and within the confines of human architectural creations. I think I’ll make it my goal to find the parrots in every city I visit.

I will leave you with this video, shared with me by three people independently of each other this morning (thanks Dave, Evan, and Pilar!), featuring a member of the Saskatoon Parrot Rescue and his friend Pebble making a statement about confining captive parrots in circular cages. It may seem a bit extreme, but it is well-documented that parrots, if contained, prefer rectangular or other polyhedron-shaped cages so they have corners to retreat into. A circular cage can actually be quite damaging to a parrot’s mental health, as they leave the birds feeling exposed and deny them agency over their interactivity with the surrounding environment.

Originally published on The Millikan Daily.

 

Links from around the web

31parrots7-blog427

Photo by Jack Davidson, NY Times.

Closing some browser tabs, but not forgetting them:

Williams Gibson: On Technophobia and the Power of Film – Via Alexis Madrigal’s newsletter.

The Zika Virus is getting real, and lines are getting blurry for pro-life advocates, who are now forced to face the undeniable validity of the necessity of some abortions. -Via the Washington Post newsletter

Something to put that all in historical perspective and a great read regardless: It’s Spreading: Outbreaks, media scares, and the parrot panic of 1930:

The experts who descended on Annapolis in early January, 1930, weren’t half as baffled as the Washington Post made them out to be, but the reading public must have been at least twice as confused. Was parrot fever really something to worry about? Reading the newspaper, it was hard to say. “NOT CONTAGIOUS IN MAN,” the Times announced. “Highly contagious,” the Washington Post said. Who knew? Nobody had ever heard of it before. It lurked in American homes. It came from afar. It was invisible. It might kill you. It made a very good story.

But the parrots were innocent then, and they are innocent now. If you want to know why I love parrots, read that. – NY Times Magazine, via Rick Kot.

If you think the superbowl is all just fun and games, consider that repeated head trauma can lead to neurodegeneration and forces many football stars, such as Ken Stabler, to live out the rest of their lives trapped in a mental hell. I’d like to see a halftime commercial about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.). – Via NY Times Breaking News alerts

Hacker time killa: Nested – via Jack Donovan

A cool way to search flights if you want to find the cheapest route TO a certain city. Just input get a list of airport codes separated by commas and you can see where the cheapest connections are. – Via @markmadsen

Speaking of flying, the Dutch are training eagles to hunt drones. – Wired

Turns out a media industry that favors talent inclined to sell out as quickly as possible results in a lot of bad editors. This guy has some words for them. Don’t be this kind of editor.

Tabs staying open:

“An Equal Difference” Intellect & Gender Equality in Iceland, by Gabrielle Motola. Gaby and I met over cocktails in Iceland. The next day, we hiked a volcano with some badass Icelandic women. We met up later and traveled through England, Spain, and Morocco together. She taught me everything I know about photography, which is but a drop in her bucket of knowledge.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gmotophotos/an-equal-difference-intellect-and-gender-equality/widget/video.html

Please support her independent photographic exploration in Iceland by funding her project!

That cockatoo is probably not yelling nonsense…

Being the parrot enthusiast that I am, about five friends have sent me this video over the past few days:

Ok, I will admit it is funny. It’s amusing to watch parrots run in the same way it’s fun to watch Americans use chopsticks for the first time. But at the same time there is also something sad about this cockatoo’s tantrum. It reminds me of a passage in one of my favorite essays of all time, Parrots I Have Known, by Paul Bowles:

The next pstticine annexation to the household (in the interim came an armadillo, an ocelot and a tejon – a tropical version of the raccoon) was a parakeet named Hitler.  He was about four inches high and no one could touch him.  All day he strutted about the house scolding, in an eternal rage, sometimes pecking at the servants’ bare toes.  His voice was a sputter and a squeak, and his Spanish never got any further than the two words perquito burro (stupid parakeet), which always came at the end of one of hs diatribes; trembling with emotion, he would pronounce them in a way that recalled the classic orator’s “I have spoken.”

This description of little Hitler almost brought me to tears of laughter the first time I read it, but after our amusement subsides, we should consider what kind of torment the parrots must have endured to lash out in such a grandiose effort of futility. In the cockatoo’s case, I suspect he is the frequent unwitting eavesdropper on domestic disputes. When he runs into the other room, you can make out a mumbled “I’m so angry!” How sad to be trapped in an environment where you are exposed to the stress-inducing warfare of two members of a different species. The consolation, however, is that you can hear the couple chuckling on the other end of the camera. Parrots, very emotionally attuned creatures, will often go to great lengths to improve their human companions’ moods. Perhaps this parrot discovered that by mimicking an argument while it seeded, he could effectively derail it.

100 days not smoking

It’s true! I was going to reward myself with something, but I can’t think of anything I want. Everything about manufacturing pretty much disgusts me these days. I think I have reached the end of Capitalism. All I want now is to write, travel, and eventually to come back and get a companion parrot. I guess I’ll just calculate how much money I would have spent on cigarettes and put it in a parrot fund or something.

Since you’re definitely wondering what kind of parrot I would get, I’ll tell you the options:

1) African Gray

parrot-africangrayThey are the smartest of the bunch from a human perspective. They require a lot of attention and can get quite sassy if they are displeased. But their ability to communicate astounds me and I would love to be able to be able to provide an engaging environment for one of these creatures that require so much intellectual stimulation. Most famously, Alex the African Gray demonstrated that parrots aren’t just mimics, and that they think critically to use words in context and apply referential meaning to objects just like humans do. Anyone who’s ever had a parrot knows they do that, but Alex scientifically validated it. And he could do fucking math. He didn’t get nearly as much YouTube fame as he should have in his short life, so I’ll be sure to teach my parrot to do math and make him a YouTube celeb in memory of Alex.

2) Amazon

parrot-amazonThere are lots of variations of Amazons. This one is a yellow-crested Amazon, and it looks exactly like the parrot that first enchanted me in Puerto Rico when I was 8 or so. There was one in a cage in a hotel near where I was playing at the beach, and I went over to look at it. It looked at me, and I don’t think I left the cage for an hour. One of the hotel workers came over to say, “watch out kid, that parrot will take your finger off,” and kind of teased it by flicking the cage. I knew the parrot just didn’t like that particular worker and that he really wanted me to scratch his neck. So I did, and the workers were amazed to find that an animal they assumed was aggressive by nature actually just had standards.

Amazons have a pretty big capacity for human language as well. I used to parrot-sit for an Amazon named Jake when I was in college. Jake’s owner had rescued him from a man who had no idea what he was getting into with parrot ownership, and grew so worn of Jake’s noisy demands that he kept him locked in a dark closet with only sunflower seeds (not at all the kind of balanced diet any kind of parrot needs) for years. Jake was too traumatized to be handled in his new home, but he still delighted in interaction. One time late at night, I got quite a startle to hear a man’s low voice in the house and thought someone was breaking in. Then I realized it was just Jake imitating his previous owner’s voice.

3) Eclectus

parrot-eclectus

Eclectus are just the most beautiful birds in the world, I think. They are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning the males and females look different. Above is a female, and the males are bright green with a candy corn beak. I once knew an eclectus female named Girdy, also a rescue that I parrot-sat. She had also lost trust of humans due to a traumatic past, but she really tried and it was cute. She would sit on her stand and when I would try to pick her up she would have a neurotic breakdown, part of her wanting to step up and be a carefree parrot again, but the abused part of her holding her back. Her eyes would turn frantic and she would start panting a little bit. I succeeded in picking her up a few times, but felt bad stressing her out by the process, so I decided to just admire her from afar.

Someone once asked me why I liked parrots so much. It’s because parrots only care about three things: play time, snack time, and mischief. What better companion animal is there than that? Don’t get me wrong, I love all animals, but parrots are just the best.

My ideal future parrot is one I would raise from an egg, like I did my childhood parrot. That way you become their BFF automatically. The ethical thing to do though would be to adopt a parrot, since there are so many adult parrots out there in need of good homes. Chances are an adopted parrot probably wouldn’t be as nice as one I raised, or have the learning aptitude and vocabulary, but as long as it would let me scratch it’s neck every now and then, I would be happy.

A brief history of my bird obsession

I woke up thinking about something sad today, so I immediately thought of parrots, as my therapist has instructed me to do. I imagined I’d been admitted to the MIT Media Lab to study African Grey parrots in Irene Pepperberg’s lab where she trained Alex and the others. Then I started to think about what in the world I would ever do to get to such a place, ie: how I would translate my good parrot handling abilities into something academic that could benefit the world?

My friends joke that I am “the parrot whisperer,” but what is whispering to an animal? I think it’s simply understanding the animal, and most people don’t bother with parrots. Most people look at parrots and go into color shock. They see the colors, and they say “how beautiful,” and they feel jealousy that they can’t have colors like that—endogenous fashion. Then someone says “do you want to hold him?” and they look at the beak, which crushes down on things like walnuts or fingers with up to 700 psi of force, and they say fuck that I’m fine over here. This is because people are afraid of things they don’t understand , including other people.

When I was 5, I wanted to have a zoo full of all kinds of magnificent animals including an orca whale, which I guess was influenced by Free Willie, although I clearly missed the point. At the time I lived in an apartment building in downtown Ann Arbor, so I established that the zoo would have to go in the back parking lot. It didn’t occur to me that this might perturb the other neighbors, or that the Orca would freeze in the Michigan winter. As an only child, I was only concerned about how much fun I would have playing with all these creatures, as the stuffed animals weren’t cutting it. I drew massive architectural plans for this zoo in crayon, and pitched the idea to my mom. In her life, she’d at one time or another possessed: two siamese cats (Sasha and Tisa), two Lhasa Apso dogs (Miel and Sasuk), a large unidentifiable parrot (Caca) that she hated and purposely left outside in some South American country hoping a burglar would steal it, and a spider monkey (name unknown) that flung its feces at her and her guests. It’s anyone’s guess as to what happened to that poor creature.

So, she wasn’t having my zoo, and got me the most low-maintenance animal she could think of: a fire-belly newt.

I was ecstatic!!!! I named this small amphibian Scooter after my favorite Muppet Baby (which according to Wikipedia was “a brainy, computer-knowledgeable child”) and would play with him for hours at a time, as long as I could until his skin dried out and needed to go back in his habitat, which was a fish bowl inside a cardboard diorama I created to mimic the natural habitat of my neon wondered dreams.

Continue reading

Sunday morning cuteness

After a weekend of relaxation and some literary catharsis, it is safe to say all the toxins I enthusiastically consumed on New Years Eve are out of my system, along with 2009. Moving on, here’s some cuteness I couldn’t resist sharing, sent to me by one of my favorite scientistas, Dr. Leigh from The Path Forward. Cuz you know, happiness is a fluffy parrot: