Saturday, May 9, 2015

When Parrots Go Cold Turkey

The sad lot of the opium addicted parrots of India. This article, in its entirety, appeared on the Times of India website, May 1, 2015:

The parrots who have been feasting on the poppy seeds for the past few months, will not survive without their regular dose of addiction.

CHITTORGARH: Around this time in the poppy fields of Chittorgarh district, many a parrot will perish. The carcasses of these dead birds will be dismembered by crows, that wait for this opportunity. The opium season has ended around 15 days back and the pods have been removed from the fields. These parrots, who have been feasting on the poppy seeds from these pods for the past few months, will now be without their regular dose of addiction, without which, they will not survive.

"It is inevitable," Nandkishore Dhakar, an opium farmer in Sukhwara village of Chittorgarh district is sure that this dance of death will be enacted again. "This phenomenon has never failed," he continues. "These birds break open the pods and devour the seeds still drenched in the milky fluid." This fluid has a cocktail of alkaloids that can enslave the mind. Soon these parrots become addicts and this drug becomes essential for their survival.

"Once we cut the pods, they are deprived of their addiction. They lose their appetite, start behaving strangely and even lose the will to live. Eventually, they just die." It's a sad truth, but for these parrots, their first taste of poppy seeds is also their first step towards death. And death is a certainty , says Nandkishore. "Each one of them will die," he proclaims in a matter-of-fact way.

Of course, for Nandkishore and his ilk, it also means wastage of precious opium, which fetches them huge profit. This farmer is one of the 25 in the village who has been able to hold on to his licence granted by the narcotics department to cultivate opium.

Nandkishore has devoted half-a-bigha of his farm for poppy . From a quintal of opium production, he earns Rs 30,000. When you compare that with other farmers who grow lady finger and earn just Rs 3,000 for the same amount, you would know why Nandkishore continues to nurture poppy plants in the winters despite all the problems associated with it.

Parrots are not the only reasons for loss. Nilgai are a much bigger menace, more so when they come in the darkness of night. "Parrots damage a few pods, but Nilgai destroy the entire crop," Mukesh Dhakar, who lost his opium-farming licence around 10 years ago, informs. "They come in groups, trample crops, eat the plants and run away before we can do anything."

The solution: spend night after night on the field with enough arsenal to scare away these mammals. The narcotics officials are rarely willing to accept nilgai or parrots as excuses to revise the minimum acceptable yield set for the season.

Nilgai too become addicts, says Mukesh. "If a Nilgai gets the taste of opium, he will come every night, disregarding the dangers." But unlike parrots, they are a lot more resistant to the change when the opium season is over. "If the nilgai doesn't get poppy, he will soon start eating other crops. There are no side effects to show," informs Mukesh.

However, for the fragile parrots, this addiction is a matter of life and death. Next season, a new group of parrots will sink their beaks into opium-rich pods and become addicts. And their days will be numbered.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Secret Sex Lives of Parrots

Smokey is a male Congo African Grey parrot that we fostered for a time. He has one particular toy in his cage that he favors. On occasion in the middle of the night, in the pitch black dark, we would hear the bell on the toy start ringing. Now we know why.

We discovered that Smokey's amorousness (if that's a word) was not solely focused on his bell. Hands would suffice just as well.

And since we're on the topic of birds masturbating, we know your life is not complete if you've never seen a hummingbird masturbate. So here you go.

We are happy to report that Smokey's new mom hears that bell ringing on occasion in the middle of the night. Now she knows why!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rainbow Lorikeet Parrots Eating Meat Leave Experts Astonished, Or, So Perfectly British

Wildlife carer says she is 'horrified.' "I'm absolutely amazed and horrified!" We love this story because it's so British. Even if it is set in Australia.

The following story, in its entirety, appeared on the ABC News Australia website, March 23, 2015.

By Matt Watson

The behaviour of a population of rainbow lorikeets who frequent a backyard feeding station on a property north of Brisbane has left bird experts baffled. The lorikeets are eating meat and Griffith University's Professor Darryl Jones is shocked. Professor Jones, who is researching the impact of backyard feeding on bird populations, said lorikeets usually eat nectar and pollen which they obtain from native plants and shrubs. "I have researched what birds feed on all around the world," Professor Jones said. "I'm up to date with all the kinds of crazy things that birds are eating all over Australia." To see a lorikeet eating meat astonishes me completely. I have never heard of such a thing before. "For years, Bill, who owns the Elimbah property, has put out pets mince for magpies, currawongs and kookaburras. He also puts out seed for vegetarian birds like galahs, king parrots and the lorikeets. He feeds about a dozen birds each day and knows they are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Bill's property is home to native trees and shrubs, and there is untouched forest nearby. He is happy to offer a few scoops of mince and seed to the birds that come in for a free feed. It was about seven years ago when Bill first noticed the lorikeets eating meat, and they have been eating it ever since. "At first they went for the seed but then they started chasing the other birds away from the meat, which surprised me," he said.

Professor surprised lorikeets are defending meat. Professor Jones said the availability of food on the property made the lorikeet's decision to eat meat mystifying. "It makes no sense at all," he said. "It makes me wonder very strongly that these particular birds, the individuals in the picture, are probably needing some protein. "But the birds look extremely healthy in those pictures." He said lorikeets always get around in pairs and tend to be nasty with other bird species when it comes to food. He said it is not surprising that the lorikeets are chasing magpies and kookaburras away from the meat. "What is unusual is that the food that they're defending is actually meat," Professor Jones said. "That's the strange part about it. "Maybe the lorikeets saw what the other birds were eating and simply decided to try it and liked it. "It's extremely unusual. "Professor Jones believed that lorikeets eating meat had never been documented before. "If it was a genuine idea that lorikeets would eat meat I'm sure it would've come up by now," he said. He said the lorikeet population had increased dramatically in south-east Queensland in the past decade. What once was a common species has now become the most abundant bird in the south east. Professor Jones said people tend to plant native, nectar-bearing plants in their gardens and local councils do the same in their parks, which provides ample food for lorikeets and other birds. He said lorikeets are also being fed by thousands of Queenslanders in backyard feeders. "I would very much like to know if people who put out meat for other birds are getting lorikeets coming and eating it as well," he said.

Wildlife carer says she is 'horrified.' Licensed wildlife carer Fran Sanders has been looking after native animals and birds in Brisbane for 25 years. She has never seen lorikeets eating meat or heard of them doing it. "I'm absolutely amazed and horrified," Ms Sanders said. She has assisted hundreds of people who backyard feed mince to carnivores like butcher birds and magpies and kookaburras. "I've never heard any of them talk about lorikeets coming down and eating mince," she said. "I know when people are backyard feeding, lots of birds will come down and eat because it's easy. "Like us I suppose they get a little bit of a lazy streak and they come down and it saves them hunting or finding food. "They will eat things that aren't really their food." Of the lorikeets eating meat at Elimbah, Ms Sanders has no answers. "Whether it's just a habit they've started because it's there and they've found it, I don't know," she said. "They're not meat eaters, that's for sure. "It's incredible, I'm just so stunned." Ms Sanders said although people enjoy backyard feeding birds, they need to be careful with the food they put out. She said birds do not naturally eat seeds, which can damage their tongues, preventing them from naturally feeding on pollen and nectar. "And meat like pets mince can cause fatty liver disease in carnivorous birds." Professor Darryl Jones would like to hear from anyone who has observed lorikeets eating meat. He can be reached at

Two rainbow lorikeets tuck into pets mince in a backyard feeder in Elimbah

A population of rainbow lorikeets enjoying a feed of meat while a bird waits patiently on the fence for its turn

Rainbow lorikeets have baffled scientists with their meat-eating behaviour

Rainbow lorikeets take over a backyard feeding station as the bird they kicked out waits patiently on the fence for them to finish

A pair of rainbow lorikeets take turns at getting a beak-full of meat

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bhopal Man Buys Thirty Parrots Every Month

File this under One Man Can Make a Difference. This story, in its entirety, appeared on India's Daily Bhaskar News Network, March 31, 2015:

Bhopal: Dharmendra can't stand the sight of birds being caged. But there is precious little that he alone can do to make birds free again, fly in the sky.

Every month he purchases around 30 parrots from the bird market. Then he takes the cages to an open space, opens the doors and makes the parrots fly out.

"It gives me immense pleasure to see the birds embracing freedom again, living the life God bestowed upon them," says Dharmendra.

He has a message for all of us: Stop keeping birds as prisoners, let them fly as freedom is dear to all.

Editor's Note: Naysayers will criticize Dharmendra's actions as tantamount to encouraging illegal bird sales. But these illegal bird markets (illegal under Indian law) will continue their activities whether Dharmendra makes his monthly purchases or not. The lives of the thirty parrots every month will be immeasurably improved however.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Organized Parrot Drug Gangs Ravage Jaipur

The problems India's farmers face are a bit different from the problems American farmers face. This story, in its entirety, appeared in ZeeNews India, March 8, 2015:

Jaipur: Poppy farmers in the Indian State of Rajasthan's Chittorgarh district are facing a unique problem. (Editorial Note: Or, When Good Parrots Go Bad).

Parrots in the Indian State of Rajasthan slurp on the milk oozing out of cuts made in poppy pods

Come March, parrots descend on their fields in large numbers to slurp on the milk oozing out of cuts made in the pods to ripen the yield.

Opium poppy Papaver somniferum with white latex milk

"Once they have their fill they sit on trees and sleep there for hours. Some of them can be seen circling or staggering before falling from the trees due to overdose of opium," says Kishore Kumar Dhaker, a poppy farmer in the Sukwara village of Chittorgarh. Several parrots are also found dead on the ground, some killed in their somnolent state by predatory birds. There are other birds in the area, but parrots seem particularly to be attracted to the intoxicating produce. No one seems to know why.

Farmers are annoyed with the 'winged thieves' as the avian addiction eats into their profit. Moreover, the narcotics department officials look with suspicion at their explanation of a shortfall. According to the terms of their licence, low output can result in the permit being denied in future. Poppy farming is a highly controlled activity since its product, morphine, commands very high prices in the illegal narcotics trade.

Farmers say five to seven per cent of their yield is eaten up by the parrots, despite precautions to frighten them away. "It is difficult to control these parrots. We have to spend hours in our fields to shoo them away," says Bhairulal Jat, another poppy farmer from the same village.

Some farmers use nets to cover their fields, some try to scare them away by beating on tin cans while a few carry catapults with them. "We are not able to sleep fully in the night," says Jat.

Dhaker, whose family has been in opium farming for over four decades, says the birds are addicted to opium because he has been seeing this happening for several years, in March and April, when the poppy seeds are cut to make their milk turn brown for harvesting.

Traditionally poppy farming is carried out in Chittorgarh, Baran, Jhalawar, Udaipur and Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan and usually at the start of March when the plant blooms.

As per the Central Bureau of Narcotics website, opium poppy farming involves lancing and collection of latex from the incised capsule or pod. It is a skilled and laborious job requiring considerable manpower to accomplish the task in a short time span. The capsule is the most important part of the plant as it provides raw opium - a milky exudate. It contains about 70 percent of the total morphine synthesised by the plant.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Meant To Be Free

We have a soft spot for mushy stories about parrots that have happy endings. This article, in its entirety, written by a columnist under the name Chauburji, appeared in The Nation Pakistan, March 9, 2015:

One of my domestic help hailed from a village in Mohmand Agency. This individual stayed with the family for around fourteen years, serving us faithfully and then bid us goodbye to take care of his meagre land holding, which had become unproductive because of his continued absence. Like all good people, he was a great animal lover – a quality which resonated perfectly with me and my brood.

It was one of those bright sunny afternoons, when he turned up carrying a green ball of mud splattered feathers in his cupped hands and gingerly handed it over to me. I held the little parrot and to my horror found that one of its legs was dangling at an unnatural angle. The nature of the injury convinced me that it had been inflicted either by a callous human or by an animal higher up in the food chain. We gingerly set the limb in makeshift splints and bandaged it, while a small red beak tried weakly to sample our fingers. We then tended to the bird day and night and watched nature’s marvelous healing process take hold.
The latest member of our family gradually adopted me as its surrogate parent. He (the gender discovery came about much later) was named ‘Mian Mithoo’ simply for want of a better name and turned out to be a standup comedian par excellence. His favorite perch was on top of a metal piece of art on the mantelpiece, where he would sit all day long giving ‘I dare you’ looks to anyone who tried to approach him. As I returned from my office and entered the gate, he uncannily became aware of my arrival and emitted strange sounds, turning round and round on his perch. My appearance at the door would generate a fresh burst of energy signified by the flapping of wings and a change of perch from the mantelpiece to my shoulder. Efforts to dislodge the wonderful rascal, so that I could have my sustenance were foiled, forcing me to have my mug of tea and biscuits much like Long John Silver.

As ‘Mithoo’ reached his prime, his flights became longer and more and more oriented towards the window. Around this time we decided to move our residence to another sector and had barely settled into our new home, when an open door provided the sought after opportunity to ‘Mian Ji’. A panicky shout from one of my children was enough to tell me that our green feathered family member had escaped. I rushed to the first floor terrace and saw the familiar figure flying round in circles above the house, oblivious of all the commotion he had caused on the ground. Suddenly he appeared to have decided on a destination and was soon beyond our sight. Utterly crestfallen and sad, I bid him goodbye and rejoined my family downstairs.

As dusk arrived, I began coping with horrific scenarios, where our parrot always ended up becoming cat-meal. I made one last trip to the terrace and stood watching the sun slowly sink behind the Margalla Hills, when something ‘whirred’ out of the gathering darkness and I felt a familiar weight on my shoulder followed instantly by a cold nibble on my ear lobe. I gave a whoop of joy and rushed down the stairs with the news, and a somber evening turned jovial to celebrate the ‘return of the prodigal’.

‘Mian Mithoo’ took flight twice more after this incident, but always returned, till I was advised firmly to clip his wings. I ignored the suggestion on the plea that birds were created with the ability to fly and that neither I nor anyone else was empowered to change what nature had provided. Then one day, carrying ‘Mithoo’ out on the lawn, I heard and then saw a flock of green parrots flying overhead. As on cue, the bird in my hands began squirming and biting in the most frantic manner. Seconds later, realization dawned on me and with a tearful look at my wonderful companion, I released him. A most wonderful thing then happened – ‘my’ parrot raced to join the flock, raising a cacophony of sounds and I watched in awe as the whole group turned back and circled above the house as if performing a final farewell manoeuvre. I never saw ‘Mian Mithoo’ again, but I have been happy in the knowledge that he is amongst his own kind and free as he was always meant to be.