For the Birds Radio Program: Macaws

Original Air Date: Dec. 6, 1989

Macaws belong in the wild. (4:18) Date verified.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Macaw)

Last week a vigilant listener alerted me to the fact that B.L.Stryker, a Burt Reynolds television character, has pet birds. Sure enough, I checked it out and he has two Blue-and-Yellow Macaws, long-tailed relatives of parrots. These natives of the Amazon Basin are supposed to make wonderful pets—they tame and train easily, are gentle, intelligent, loyal, and have an extremely high life expectancy.

I can sure understand the attraction people have for birds from this family. Rosie, our pet lovebird, is sitting on my head as I type this—she had been playing with the computer keyboard for a while, but I made her hop off after she made sixteen solid lines of ‘y’s and started the computer to beeping. She found the little high-tech obscenities wonderfully entertaining, but I’m not really an 80’s kind of person and get nervous whenever the computer makes any sounds. Rosie is not only high tech, she’s absolutely fearless. We must be careful to lock up our cat Sasha whenever Rosie comes out of her cage, because Rosie would most assuredly fly right up to Sasha for a friendly first and last hello. Rosie is a valued member of our family, and we plan to keep her for a long time.

Being sociable and curious birds with relatively slow body rhythms, almost all parrots are somehow easier for humans to relate to than other families of birds. But as sympathetic as I feel about the human desire to own a parrot, I really think the only acceptable ones are those raised in captivity. Unlike lovebirds, budgies, and cockatiels, virtually all macaws are stolen from their nests in the South American rain forest and shipped to America. Dealers search out nesting trees, and as soon as the babies are old enough to have a chance at survival with hand feeding, the tree is chopped down. Some babies die when the tree crashes down, and many others die during the long voyage to the U.S.—for every macaw sold, at least one or two others have died. The labor intensive process of capturing and hand feeding them, plus the shipping costs, account for much of the huge price for these birds—the most abundant species cost at least two or three thousand dollars, and the rarest species, which are illegal to possess, bring in well over five thousand on the black market. Even though some species are legal pets, like Stryker’s blue and yellow macaw, their numbers are nonetheless dwindling in the wild.

A very few of these birds are finally being bred in captivity, but the expense of maintaining a huge and exotic aviary to large enough to resemble the rain forest, along with the fact that even under the best of conditions they breed very seldom, makes captive-bred ones even more costly than those taken from the wild. Some species now must wear closed leg bands, which can only be put on while the foot is very tiny, in the first couple of days of life. This prevents adult birds from being passed off as captive-raised, but since most parrots and macaws are taken from the wild while they are young nestlings, they can easily be passed off as legitimate.

As if it weren’t enough of an outrage that macaws and other parrots are stolen from their natural homes, many of them are smuggled into the United States so that the dealers can avoid keeping them in quarantine for the required period. One outbreak of Newcastle’s disease, which caused literally a billion dollars worth of damage to the domestic chicken industry, was traced to a parrot-smuggling operation. If you decide to own a parrot, do your best to verify that it was truly raised in captivity. B.L.Stryker’s pair of macaws may look exotic and give him an upper-class sheen, but these playthings of the rich belong in their wild homes, not on TV movies.

(Recording of a Macaw)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”