Sunday, October 30, 2011

Zygodactyl: One of Our Favorite Words


 adj \ˌzī-gə-ˈdak-təl\

Definition of ZYGODACTYL

: having the toes arranged two in front and two behind —used of a bird


International Scientific Vocabulary zyg- + Greek daktylostoe
First Known Use: 1831

Our Greenwing macaw and Diva parrot Roxanne
shows off her zygodactyl feet

We know that many dinosaurs were feathered. There is considerable scientific debate regarding the age of avians, and when birds first appear in the paleontological record. 

Fossil of feathered Sinosauropteryx from Inner Mongolia, China

Some paleontologists claim Archaeopteryx as the oldest bird, dating 150 million years ago.

Berlin specimen fossil of Archaeopteryx

The feathers of Archaeopteryx can clearly be seen in this fossil specimen. There is no dispute that birds lived among dinosaurs, and may be descended from dinosaurs. Parrots, however, are living dinosaurs. No word says living dinosaur like zygodactyl! It is known that parrots are among the oldest of the avians. Fossilized zygodactyl tracks have been found dating to 120-110 million years ago (early Cretaceous period), 50 million years before the first identified zygodactyl fossils.

We know that the thing that makes parrots different from other avians is that they are zygodactyl. That is: Parrots have two toes forward, and two toes backward. Surprisingly however, parrots are not the only zygodactyl birds. Woodpeckers (including flickers), cuckoos (including roadrunners), and some owls are also zygodactyl.

We have fossil evidence that parrots lived among dinosaurs. Identified by a University of California-Berkeley graduate student, the oldest known fossil of a modern land bird in North America is a jawbone believed to be from a parrot found in eastern Wyoming in 1960, and reported in the British journal Nature in 1998:

The fossilized jaw of a parrot dating from the last days of the dinosaurs is the earliest known fossil of a modern land bird, says Thomas Stidham, a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology. The find provides the strongest evidence to date that modern birds evolved long before most scientists thought.
An analysis of the find, excavated from Cretaceous deposits in eastern Wyoming, appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of the British journal Nature.
"This find suggests that by the end of the Cretaceous period, around 65 to 70 million years ago, modern birds were an important group, at least in North America," said author Stidham.
"These data also indicate that modern bird groups, including parrots, may have been relatively unaffected by the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period," he wrote in a scientific correspondence in Nature.

Potential morphologically modern psittaciform mandible fragment of fused dentaries, from a find in the Hell Creek Formation of Wyoming. This jaw is remarkably parrot-like.

While some paleontologists dispute the identification of the Wyoming fossil as a parrot, the oldest undisputed parrot fossil ever found was located on Denmark's Isle of Mors, and nicknamed Danish Blue in honor of the Monty Python Ex-Parrot sketch.

Artist conception of the 54 million year old Danish Blue parrot

Reported by National Geographic in 2008, this find is important because it suggests that parrots evolved in the Northern Hemisphere before branching into widely diverse species in the Southern Tropics.

Scientists speculate what dinosaurs may have sounded like. We have no doubt what dinosaurs sounded like! Anyone who lives with macaws or cockatoos knows exactly what dinosaurs sounded like. The full-throated honking of a Hyacinth macaw would probably scare a Tyrannosaurus rex!

A living honking modern dinosaur, our Hyacinth macaw Princess Tara

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Making Crumb Coffee Cake in a Coffee Mug in Under 5 Minutes

We live for coffee. First thing we do each and every morning is make a cup of coffee.With us coffee is a religion. Along with beer and pizza, we believe coffee is one of the three essential food groups! Wouldn't it make sense then to be able to eat out of a coffee mug? And we're not talking instant oatmeal. Although we do that too.

We're on a mission to find as many practical recipes as we can for meals in a mug. The recipes should be simple and short. And involve no more cooking than a microwave. Since life is short, we're starting with dessert first! Here is our first Howto YouTube video for making meals in a coffee mug:

Making Crumb Coffee Cake in a Coffee Mug in Under 5 Minutes

Obviously, you start with a microwave safe coffee mug!
The Parrot Cafe Mug mug
And we're assuming you have a microwave? Who doesn't, anymore? The ingredients to make Crumb Coffee Cake in a Coffee Mug couldn't be more basic. You probably already have them in your kitchen:

Sour Cream or Yogurt
Baking Powder
Brown Sugar
Crumb Topping

Whenever recipes call for sour cream, we generally substitute yogurt, because we like yogurt and we tend  to keep yogurt around more than sour cream. Plus, it doesn't seem to make any difference.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to microwave safe coffee mug. Zap in microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. The idea is to soften the butter, not melt it.

Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is fluffy and creamy. Add one egg. You can choose not to add an egg. That will just make your Coffee Cake in a Coffee Mug more crumbly and less cakey (if that's a word, and we say it is)!

Stir in 1 tablespoon sour cream or yogurt. Add a couple of drops of vanilla extract. The key word is drops!

Stir in 1/4 cup flour and 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder. Your mix is ready.

Take a separate bowl for the crumb topping. Add 1 tablespoon butter. Add 2 tablespoons flour. Add 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Add a dash of cinnamon. We like to use cinnamon sticks. Add your topping of choice. Bread. Cereal. Nuts. Etc., etc. Our parrots love organic Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, so we tend to keep it around. Plus it tastes great! Smoosh the mixture in the bowl with your fingers or a spoon. Wooden spoons work great! You can crush the topping or not. We tend to not. Add the topping mix to the coffee cup.

Lastly, top off the coffee cup with crushed nuts, if you wish. We love crushed walnuts.

There you have it! Crumb Coffee Cake in a Coffee Mug!

Now we're ready for the microwave. Stick the microwave safe coffee mug in the microwave on High for 1 minute. After the minute is up, continue to microwave the coffee mug at 10 second intervals for up to 20 seconds. We're talking a MAXIMUM total of 1 minute, 20 seconds.

Your Crumb Coffee Cake in a Coffee Mug is ready, in under 5 minutes! CAUTION: The coffee mug will be extremely hot when it comes out of the microwave. Set on the counter and let cool a sufficient amount of time. Then dig in!

Bon Appetit!

If you have any recipes for simple and practical meals in a coffee mug, please share. We'd love to try them out, and if we like them, feature the recipes in future blog posts. And please visit our online organic coffee, teas, rare books, and parrot stuff store: proceeds benefit Northwest Parrots Fund.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wild Parrots Should Stay Wild!

The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who... looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space...
on the infinite highway of the air.
Wilbur Wright

Recently Audubon Magazine summarized the illegal parrot trade still ongoing today:

The business of exotic pets is poorly regulated and enormously profitable: Interpol values the illegal animal trade at $10 billion dollars, placing it just behind guns and drug trafficking in profitability. This illicit industry is believed to have contributed to the threatened status of 66 parrot species and the extinction of brilliant blue Spix’s Macaw.

At the least the illegal parrot trade threatens the biodiversity of parrot species, and at worst may result in the extinction of many parrot species within our lifetimes!

Mr. Cracker is a wild-caught Ruby macaw believed to be about 40 years old. Does Mr. Cracker dream of flight when he's flapping his wings in the house?

For too many parrots the gruesome reality of the companion parrot trade is a transport box at the hands of wildlife poachers with small chance of survival!

Wild parrots should stay wild! The best way to preserve wild populations of parrots is to halt the commercial breeding and sales of companion parrots. The companion parrot market only encourages the poaching of wild parrots. We have a simple credo when it comes to companion parrots:

Parrots: Don't Breed! Don't Buy! Adopt!
Wild Parrots Should Stay Wild print
For me, the sight of a Parrot living alone, living in a cage, deprived of flight and miserably bored, breaks my heart. And the Parrot's too perhaps.
Dr. Jane Goodall.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Feeding Parrots: Making Toast Française

Are your parrots tired of eating Chop and Mash day in and day out? Make them some real food! Toast Française for example is pathetically easy to make. And your kitchen smells so good after you fry up a batch you won't want to leave the room.

Making Toast Française
(Irresistible to Parrots)

Surprisingly few ingredients are required to make Toast Française. Basically: bread, milk, egg, cinnamon, and whatever you want to use for coating the toast. Crushed pellets, chopped nuts, and cereal come to mind. Our parrots love organic Peanut Butter Panda Puffs! Our parrots are also partial to vanilla soy milk.

1 slice of bread, toasted
1 Teaspoon milk
1 Egg
1/8 Cup Crushed topping
Dash cinnamon

We cook up two slices of toast per meal for our eight parrots, so we double the ingredients, except for the egg.

Our female Timneh African grey parrot Tillie supervising production of one of her favorite dishes. Got to keep an eye on that yolk.

Seriously beat the egg and milk together for about 30 seconds. Really fluff it up! Stir in the crushed pellets, nuts, cereal, or whatever you wish to use, to coat the toast.

Dip the toasted bread in the egg and milk mix. Your parrot will definitely want to supervise this step!

Fry the toast up in a Stainless Steel pan with cooking spray or a touch of vegetable oil. We like olive oil. Let cool, obviously. It's so good you might just want to make some extra for yourself.

Cut up to desired size.


Beak Appetit!

Toast Française  is a favorite with parrots large and small. Our foster Ruby macaw Mr. Cracker can't dive into his food dish fast enough to savor his Toast Française!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Disposable Parrots

The Truth About Parrots: Best Friends Animal Society

Parrot breeders are a strange lot! If you visit just about any online parrot forum, say Patricia Sund's Parrot Nation, you'll run into parrot breeders in total state of denial (and we're not talking about a river in Egypt). Trying to argue with a parrot breeder about the companion parrot overpopulation problem quickly leads to the conclusion that parrot breeders live in a parallel universe where facts and reality do not apply. In this parallel universe, there is no companion parrot overpopulation problem. In this parallel universe the commercial companion parrot trade does not engender wild parrot smuggling across the Mexican border. In this parallel universe, parrot rescues and sanctuaries are full to the brim with unwanted parrots because the rescues and sanctuaries choose to be. In this parallel universe, discarded and abandoned parrots don't get shuffled around to seven or more homes in their lifetimes. In this parallel universe any parrot needing a new home can find one, if you simply work hard enough!

Parrot breeders are full of . . . (I'll be polite) Parrot Poop.

A thirtysomething female Cockatoo parrot named Simba back when she still had some feathers, currently living at Mollywood Avian Sanctuary. Simba is virtually naked now. A previous owner threw her against a wall and broke her keel bone. In spite of her history of abuse and neglect, all Simba wants to do is cuddle in your arms!

We recently had the opportunity to visit Mollywood Avian Sanctuary outside of Bellingham, Washington, north of Seattle. The number of abandoned and discarded Cockatoo parrots residing at Mollywood is truly heartbreaking. These parrots can never be rehomed. Yet parrot breeders keep breeding Cockatoo parrots because breeders and pet store chains have convinced pet owners of the desirability of hand-fed baby parrots.

We were pondering the question of why there are so many abused, neglected, and abandoned Cockatoos and other parrots when we came across a fascinating article on the Bear in Mind blog just published on, Why the Caged Bird Does Not Sing: Captivity and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Parrots and People, by Gay Bradshaw. Traumatologists have discovered that caged parrots exhibited symptoms identical to humans suffering from chronic victimization:

Severely traumatized cockatoos who are rescued and receiving treatment at the innovative sanctuary, Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services, Inc (MAARS) commonly exhibit "rapid pacing in cage, distress calls, screams, self-mutilation, aggression in response to [human and other bird] physical contact, nightmaresinsomnia, and self-mutilation." Parrots are considered to be some of the most highly social species who bond for life and live in complex, closely knit flocks. However many rescued or abandoned parrots who come to sanctuary are so severely traumatized that they will not form relationships with humans or birds.

Parrot trauma is commonly misinterpreted by parrot owners, trainers, and behaviorists. When a parrot beak dives or bites its owner or handler, the action is not seen as a symptom of an unnatural environment, but as bad or problem behavior in need of punishment or training.

When examined through the lens of Complex PTSD, the symptoms of many caged parrots are almost indistinguishable from those of human POWs and concentration camp survivors. These include alterations in emotional regulation, consciousness, and relationship.

Continuing to breed parrots simply introduces wild animals into an unnatural environment, for parrots still are essentially wild animals, unlike dogs and cats that have been domesticated for thousands of years. Parrot training and behavior modification will only ameliorate and not eliminate symptoms of parrot trauma. Parrots will continue to act irrationally to humans, but perfectly rationally in light of this new interpretation regarding parrots and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Does your parrot misbehave and bite? Just dispose of it and buy another hand-fed baby parrot. Maybe you can train the next one to behave properly. Don't worry about discarding the first parrot. You won't be contributing to the companion parrot overpopulation problem because parrot breeders don't recognize a companion parrot overpopulation problem! To breeders, parrots are simply commodities. No more. No less. They'll keep breeding. If parrot sanctuaries need to build ever more facilities, well, that's their choice.

Here's a modest proposal: Can we at least stop breeding Cockatoo parrots? Cockatoos are simply not suitable to be pets!

Ah, fuck! No point in sugar coating it. Parrot breeders are full of shit! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Parrot Soup: Pirates, Parrots, Pirate Parrots, and Pandemonium!

Parrot Soup

Captain Kid Kadra, Commander of The Alligator

We are pleased to present the Season Finale of Parrot Soup: Episode 5, The Alligator:

Duels and drama on the High Seas in the Season Finale of Parrot Soup. The Pirate Parrot Aboo and his mutinous crew seized the pirate ship The Alligator and attempted to strand Captain Kid Kadra along with his First Mate Roxanne on the desert island while spiriting the pirate's treasure on board the ship. Captain Kadra and Roxanne intercepted the mutineers on the desert island and returned to The Alligator to reclaim the ship and put down the mutiny.

Episode 5: The Alligator

Will the Pirate Parrot Aboo become parrot soup? Will Roxanne force Second Mate Sammy to walk the plank? Will Kid Kadra sail the High Seas again as captain of The Alligator striking fear in the merchantmen of the world? No one knows.

Stay Tuned!

The Pirate Parrot Aboo

First Mate Roxanne

If you missed the previous episodes of this premiere season of our animated series Parrot Soup,
we are pleased to present them here:

Episode 4: Pandemonium

Episode 3: Treasure Hunt

Episode 2: The Pirate Parrot

And the Pilot Episode: Parrot Soup: Episode One: Lost


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The parrot rescue effort needs an anthem, and no song seems to us more appropriate to the parrot rescue effort than Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Too often abused and rescued parrots only find relief and solace after crossing over the Rainbow Bridge.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is Judy Garland's signature song, written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg and first sung for the 1939 movie Wizard of Oz.

Our favorite version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is this one by the late great silver-tongued Hawaiian singer Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole (1959-1997). We love watching this big guy (he weighed over 750 pounds) play that little ukulele! "IZ" overcame adversity in his life to become considered one of the fifty greatest voices ever by National Public Radio. His anthem provides a ray of hope and cheer for those of us who deal with ugliness and sorrow in our work with companion parrots!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Parrot Soup: A Pandemonium of Parrots and Pirates

Deadly drama and swashbuckling adventure on the High Seas. Kid Kadra, captain of the pirate ship The Alligator and his Bosun Bubba both find the pirate treasure on the desert island, enough treasure for a king's ransom! Will Captain Kadra get back on board his ship with the treasure? Will Bosun Bubba become shark bait? Will the Pirate Parrot Aboo become the new captain of The Alligator? Stay tuned!

We love the word Pandemonium! One of our favorite words. Just as a flock of crows is called a Murder of crows, a flock of parrots has been called a Pandemonium of parrots. Anyone with a flock of parrots in their home understands just how appropriate this term is.

The term Pandemonium, first used in 1667, comes from John Milton's Paradise Lost, published in 1667. Pandemonium was the capital of Milton's Hell. Anyone living with a flock of parrots as we do sometimes feels they are trapped in the very bowels of Hell itself!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

May You Live in Interesting Times

May You Live in Interesting Times: Family History

Great grandfather Yakov was an Adjutant General in the Russian Cavalry, 11th Dragoons.
Photo circa 1880s, pictured wearing a St. George's Cross on his chest, and a St. Vladimir's Cross on his neck.

We come from a long line of fervent monarchists. Our great grandfather (on our father's side) Yakov, was an Adjutant General in the Russian Cavalry, 11th Dragoons, at the end of the Nineteenth Century. He was personally acquainted with Russia's Czar Alexander III. The family lived on an estate somewhere near Moscow.

The general had at least two sons, one of which was our grandfather, Vasily Yakovich. As to be expected in that era, grandfather also joined the Russian Cavalry. A seventeen year old cadet in 1913, he received a commendation personally from Czar Nicholas II commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty.

Commemorative medal grandfather personally received from Czar Nicholas II in 1913 (penny for scale)

Grandfather rose to the rank of Captain of Engineers during World War I. He was awarded a St. George's Cross during the war for heroism in battle.

Grandfather's St. George's Cross, 4th Class (penny for scale)

Of course, the Russian war effort and the Russian monarchy ended badly. Following the Bolshevik (or October) Revolution, Russia descended into years of Civil War, from 1917 to the ultimate Bolshevik victory in 1923.

Grandfather eventually joined the officer corps of Baron Wrangel's White Army, based in the Crimea in southern Russia, part of the White Movement fighting the Bolsheviks.

Baron Wrangel, tall man in center of photo
Grandfather appears front right, wearing the cavalry boots
(He's wearing his St. George's Cross on his chest)

During one of Baron Wrangel's campaigns, grandfather was wounded in battle and entered a White Army hospital. There he met a nurse that he came to fancy:

Our grandmother Maria, in her White Army nurse's uniform, circa 1920

As they say, the rest is history. Grandfather married grandmother. They had a couple of kids: our aunt Vera, and our father, Vasily Vasilyevich.

When Baron Wrangel's White Army collapsed in 1920, Vasily and Maria, along with our newborn aunt Vera, fled from the Crimea to what was then still called Constantinople, using French Letters of Transit.

Grandfather's Letter of Transit, issued by the French Consul of Constantinople
Grandfather is pictured still wearing his White Army uniform

With the Turkish Revolution against Allied control of the old Ottoman Empire, our grandparents were forced to move once again, this time to the new state of Yugoslavia. They settled in Belgrade. Grandfather went to work as a royal engineer for King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, and they had another kid, our father, Vasily Vasilyevich. There they were able to live in peace until the Nazi invasion in 1941.

The lives of our grandparents bring to mind the old Chinese proverb: May you live in interesting times! They certainly did.