Saturday, August 25, 2012

Parrots in History: Amazon Indian Practices to Change Parrot Feather Color

As early as the Seventeenth Century, European explorers in South America discovered that Amazonian Indians developed techniques to change the color of parrot feathers from natural colors, mostly green and blue, to colors considered more desirable by the Indians, primarily yellow, or orange. These parrot feathers were highly desired for use in headdresses, leggings, and other ornamentation. To create this color change, Amazonian Indians plucked feathers from live parrots to induce change in feather coloring. This practice was studied by an early Twentieth Century Swiss scholar and explorer Alfred Métraux. His research was published in 1928 in the Journal of the Society of the Americas, Volume 20, under the title:

Une découverte biologique des Indiens de l'Amérique du Sud : la décoloration artificielle des plumes sur les oiseaux vivants

A Biological Discovery of South American Indians: Artificially Recoloring Feathers on Live Birds

(Note: The translation from the French text is mine, and any faults with the translation are mine alone.)

Alfred Métraux

Observed by European explorers, this traditional method was used throughout the Amazon to alter feather color on parrots by repeatedly plucking green or blue feathers, and applying various substances to the parrot skin. New feathers reportedly grew back yellow-orange, sometimes with red or pinkish areas near the vein. In some of the feathers the reddish coloration occurred in a stripe-like pattern. In other cases, the feathers showed irregular areas where the feather is blue or green (on one side of the vein), or in some cases the yellow feather has a green shaft with surrounding green areas. We wrote about this Amazonian Indian tradition in an earlier blog post.

According to Alfred Métraux, the presence of flocks of parrots in the vicinity of the Indian tribes allowed them to be plucked and provided the raw material for crowns, caps, collars, and leggings. The Tupi Indians of Brazil were not content to pluck the feathers of captured birds. They attempted to change the color of the living birds’ natural plumage. The Tupi Indians coated the feathers with frog’s blood to make green feathers grow yellow.

Changing feather colors increased their value and price, either for sale or use in their festivals. Tupi Indians caught live toads which they stung repeatedly with thorns. The toads were cooked in a pot with chili pepper and red dust called chica, creating a varnish. The Indians tore feathers off of parrots and applied the varnish by inserting the tip of a stick in the feather holes in the skin. The parrot did not cease to suffer for several days. After some time the parrot resumed growing feathers, so beautiful they were a subject of admiration to see the beauty and elegance with which they grew. We noticed red spots on the feathers on a yellow background.

South of the Amazon this practice of plucking was rare, found only among the Arawak Indians.  Alfred Métraux quoted a Seventeenth Century report:

The Indians tear the tail feathers and wing feathers of blue parrots, apply in the wounds of the skin toad juice and cover with wax. This way, they manage to regrow feathers with a bright red color they never lose.

The Bororo Indians rubbed the birds they plucked with the sap of a tree.

For the Indians of Guyane, one of the most flattering colors in the eyes of men and women is yellow. There are not enough parrots in this country whose feathers can meet their needs. They discovered the art of turning green feathers into yellow:

They take a live parrot and tear feathers they want to become yellow. After plucking they apply a plant root dye which has the color saffron. They rub the dye hard with their fingers, almost like they wanted to bring out the blood. As feathers regrow, any new green feathers are plucked again and the process restarted. With this technique they manage to make them all yellow.

The Puinav Indians to color parrots in yellow made them eat the fat of fish common to the region. This fat is yellow. The feathers of the parrot that feeds on the fat gets smudged yellow and eventually takes on this color.

Alfred Métraux quoted Alfred Russell Wallace’s 1892 account of life among South American Indians:

They pluck the birds they want to dye, and the fresh wounds are inoculated with a milky secretion of small frog or toad. When the feathers grow back they are bright yellow or orange, without any mixture of blue or green which is the natural coloring of the bird. If the new plumage is torn it is said to regrow in the same color without needing to redo the operation. The feathers are renewed but slowly and it takes a large number to make a tiara, which is why the possession of such finery is such a big deal.

An historical tradition or not, we would call this practice animal cruelty. Unfortunately this tradition of plucking parrot feathers among South American Indians is not confined to the dark reaches of the historical past, but continues to this day, and is the object of continuing study by researchers.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's For the Birds (Parrots, That Is)!

An all-ages barbecue and auction benefit for one of the largest parrot sanctuaries in Washington State, “It’s for the Birds” is 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, August 25, at the Macaw Rescue and Sanctuary, 34032 N.E. Lake Joy Road, Carnation.

Macaw Rescue and Sanctuary is a nonprofit organization caring for over 500 macaws and other parrots.

Tickets to the barbecue are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, $10 for children under 10.

To learn more, visit, call (425) 941-7543 or e-mail to

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Extreme Parrots

Extreme Parrots! Extremely Discouraging!

Let us start by stating that we believe that parrots should be allowed to be, simply stated, parrots! It's an open question to us whether parrots are suitable to be pets. Any parrot person who is honest will admit that Cockatoo parrots are not. Suitable to be pets, that is. We are old enough to remember the Cockatoo craze resulting from the 1970s Robert Blake television crime series Baretta, with his faithful Cockatoo parrot named Fred. We can only imagine how many Cockatoos were discarded, abandoned, and neglected after the initial television induced infatuation wore off.

It is our experience working in parrot rescue that parrot rescues and sanctuaries are populated by Cockatoos more than any other parrot. We were less than thrilled recently to learn about the appearance on the reality television program America's Got Talent of a new bird whisperer (we use that term pejoratively) working under the nom de guerre Extreme Parrots, by the name of Clint Carvalo. We don't watch reality television, and very little television at all. Running a parrot rescue, we have enough reality in our life to deal with. We were made aware of Extreme Parrots by the effusive postings about the program on Facebook by parrot people who should know better.

Extreme Parrots purports to use only abandoned and abused parrots. Acquired presumably from parrot rescues and sanctuaries. Which begs the question: What parrot rescues and sanctuaries in their right minds would provide parrots for entertainment purposes? We don't have a clue if Extreme Parrots won their heat and advanced in the America's Got Talent contest? Or what their next bird trick would be if they did. We only know that people who should not under any circumstances be allowed to have parrots will acquire parrots in an attempt to duplicate the tricks they see on television. Parrots will be lost, hurt, discarded, and abandoned in the attempt. Anyone who pretends otherwise is an idiot!

We can wonder how many parrots were lost or discarded in the attempt to perfect this one particular bird trick? We're not even sure if it's real, or computer enhanced. Nonetheless, there will be consequences for parrots in the real world because of the use of parrots on reality television. And the consequences, for parrots and parrot rescues, will not be good.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

All Things Zygodactyl! All Things Parrots

We are happy to present All Things Zygodactyl, Issue Number 2! Which is All Things Parrots!

You can also click here to navigate to the issue.

A second issue officially makes a series! Be sure to also check out our alternative version of All Things Zygodactyl:

Just click on the slideshow to navigate to the ezine.

We are experimenting with various ezine platforms to determine which one works best for us. Let us know what you think. And why. Thank you!

We Nailed Cute

We Nailed Cute!

Or we should say: Our female Timneh African grey parrot Tillie nailed cute! Now fourteen years old, Tillie is in her second home. We suspect that much of this getting into things behavior of hers is nesting behavior. Tillie clearly prefers the male gender, and almost immediately bonded with the male member of the household. We try to be careful to not encourage her. We went through two episodes of egg laying with our female Blue and Gold macaw. Obviously this wouldn't be as much of a problem with a demure little Timneh African grey parrot. But still, we'd rather not.

Tillie loves getting into things.

Boxes. Shoes. It doesn't matter.