Show time at Paradise Park
Many thanks to Rosemary Low for the article below. Rosemary is the author of more than 30 books on parrots published since 1969. She was formerly Curator of birds at high profile bird collections and served as Editor of PsittaScene the magazine of the World Parrot Trust for over ten years. www.rosemarylow.co.uk
They took off like the world’s most colourful cloud, a mass of big wings of scarlet, blue and green, with flashes of brilliant yellow and turquoise. Only the big macaws can put on such a show. The clay licks of Peru are the most famous places to see such a spectacle – but I was in the UK!
Paradise Park in Cornwall has long been justly famous for its free-flying bird displays – no macaws riding bikes here! Their latest spectacular features a flock of scarlet macaws – symbols of the tropics – plus half a dozen military macaws and a single blue-throated.
After the daily parrot show at 3.30pm, the hatch in the nearby macaw aviary was opened – and out they came! The sun lit up the glorious plumage of the scarlet macaws in a breath-taking galaxy of colour. These birds were novice flyers – this is their first season of free flight.
As I stood near to David Woolcock, the curator and a bird training genius, an astute young teenage girl asked him: “Why do the red ones not fly around in high circles, like the green ones?” David explained that they do not yet have the confidence. The military macaws, the “green ones”, are seasoned flyers.
Hours of work have gone into producing this natural–looking event. I was there at 9am, before the park opened to the public. Some of the twenty bird-keeping staff members arrived with weighing perches and scanners. Early every day each bird is weighed, its identity revealed by microchip and scanner, and its weight recorded. This is done in a calm and orderly manner because the macaws are so well trained. The weighing was time-consuming and carefully executed. Most of the scarlets weighed in at about 950g with the smallest, slimmest species, the blue-throated, at 670g. Daily weighing is the means by which a health problem could be picked up immediately.
All the macaws were parent-reared in the park yet are trained to come readily to the hand to be placed on the weighing perch. They are then rewarded with a sunflower seed or an almond. The diet of the macaws consists of sprouted seeds, pellets, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
David told me that although the macaws are kept in large aviaries prior to training, during the early part of the process they are taught to fly from the aviary to a keeper some distance away. It may take a while for their wing muscles to strengthen sufficiently to fly the full distance. The military macaws are superb flyers, circling high above the admiring crowds.
The two shows at Paradise Park are highly educational. The parrot show featured endangered species hatched at the park, such as the lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo (now known to ornithology as the yellow-crested cockatoo), sun conures and kea. The reasons for their plight are explained. The first two species have been trapped almost to extinction. In the case of the kea, habitat loss, introduced predatory mammals and health problems caused by tourists feeding them unsuitable foods, have resulted in a catastrophic decline in their numbers.
David told me that the show varies a lot, as not all trained birds are flown every day. Also, mature birds are replaced by younger individuals. Indeed, Cedric, a female citron-crested cockatoo was in the show for many years and is now to be seen in a breeding aviary with two recently fledged young – numbers 21 and 22! It is believed that only one other UK zoo breeds this species. Some of the young go to other zoos to form unrelated pairs. David emphasised that only mature birds are sent out to breed. In this, and many other species, young females are in danger of being killed if foolishly paired with a mature male.
At noon every day David Woolcock presents the bird of prey show. I learned so much from his commentary. Did you know that the bataleur eagle has better colour vision than other eagles because it eats snakes? The poisonous ones are recognised by their colour. His was a superb presentation that kept the audience enthralled in their seats for 40 minutes.
Harris hawks, bald eagles, a barn owl, palm-nut vulture and a kookaburra star in the show. It ended with an appeal for the vultures whose populations in many countries have declined by 90%. They eat the carcases of cattle fed the drug diclofenac as a painkiller and die within 48 hours. Donations and requested and items are sold to raise funds for vulture conservation – just one of many conservation projects supported by this award-winning park. Its popularity never declines, nor does its superb maintenance, beautiful gardens or breeding results with endangered species. If you have not been there, go!
Please Note: The flying displays end for the season on September 30th and start again Easter 2019