Made for flight

Yesterday, midweek, my fiance and I opted for much needed R&R and headed south to the North Carolina pad of a friend to meet his free-flight trained macaws. As macaws will stay out in the trees overnight if darkness begins to fall during their flight session, we endeavored to arrive by 2:00, but traffic accidents and road construction on I-95 delayed us till 4:00.

While the macaws live indoors, they have a sturdy outdoor aviary in which to enjoy the outdoors. When we arrived young scarlet macaws and blue-throated macaws, a species now critically endangered, numbering only 450 in the wild, played in the light breeze of the overcast afternoon. Already these youngsters are free-flight trained but lack the endurance of the adults. And our friend made it look so easy!

The blue-throated macaws had only 50 surviving specimens by 1992, but a program now assisted by American Bird Conservancy placed nestboxes for the remaining birds and slowly the population increases. You can see in these photos the characteristic turqoise feathers, thick green feathering around the eyes, and hazel to brown eyes characteristic of the breed. Note the flexibility and softness of the tongue. in the close-up.

Soon the free-flight session began. Buddy, our friend, blows his whistle, not as a command to his birds, but in their own language calling to them, alerting them to his presence. The birds break out into a chorus of cheerful chatter and greeting — and also excitement as the height of the sun indicates it’s about time for exercise. Here young blue and golds emerge from the house, hang briefly with their elders and skillfully settle in tree branches to rest.

The more mature macaws flew longer and farther, clearly playing, skillfully maneuvering through the ever-changing features of the evening breeze.

With youngsters returned and safe, we headed indoors, where I met Olivia, a hyacinth macaw, also an Appendix I species with a Section 4(d) listing in the US. Truly, as Buddy said, this macaw is in a class by itself: the “gentle giant” of the companion bird world. Unique in its hyacinth color and yellow eye and beak area skin, this macaw exhibits some tool use and is the largest flighted parrot. Below, Olivia waits for Buddy to serve her cracked macadamias, a luxury as she is perfectly capable of cracking the shells herself.

In fact, perched on my hand, Olivia did crack a macadamia not with her beak. Holding each half gently in claw, she daintily alternated scraping the meat with her beak and lifting it into her mouth with her soft, pliable tongue.  I totally fell in love.

One of the birds, Gimpy, a blue and gold, did not return with the rest of the birds: Buddy drove out in the truck with another calling macaw to retrieve him, but, as if, in play, he returned on his own while Buddy was away. Buddy’s covered pick-up is neatly outfitted to readily transport eight macaws in the rear, a platform rolls in and out of the bed. Here, Gimpy’s friend will call to him to help him decide to descend before nightfall. Waiting for Buddy and Gimpy to return, we enjoyed the company of a Catalina — a hybrid of scarlet and blue-and-gold macaw — and a Golden — a hybrid from Catalina and blue-and-gold.

We returned from the excursion tired but spiritually refreshed and renewed, with a new understanding that caring for and training a macaw were not in fact, out of reach.