When I planned my visit to Huatulco I had no idea that I’d have an opportunity to become a parrot feeder. But on Easter Sunday my granddaughter and I accompanied our friend Maggie to the Iguanario in Copalita, a village outside of Huatulco. Maggie and her husband moved from Alberta to Huatulco after they retired. She’s been feeding the parrots at the Iguanario several mornings a week for a while now. The Iguanario’s mission is the protection and breeding of iguanas but when a poacher was apprehended in mid-March with 500 baby parrots the Iguanario agreed to care for them until they were mature enough to release back into the wild.
The 500 birds in the care of the Iguanario are from three species: white-fronted amazon, lilac-crowned parrot, and orange-fronted parakeet. The latter were taken as nestlings; the other two species were probably captured in mist nets. Until a few years ago, bird trapping was legal in Mexico. Parrots were trapped in the 70’s and 80’s primarily for the American market. After 9/11, borders were more strictly monitored and now 90% of trapped birds are sold in Mexico: many households have pet parrots. Between the illegal bird trade and habitat loss, bird populations are in decline, and it is parrots that are most at risk.
We arrived at the Iguanario about 9 in the morning. “First, wash your hands,” Maggie said, shaking blue washing powder into our waiting palms. Next was the finding of clean plastic cups and spoons. Young people were busy, carrying boxes, mixing feed, chopping fruit for the more mature birds, and welcoming new arrivals. It was clear they knew Maggie and trusted her to explain things to us, her two new recruits.
We entered a palapa where long narrow tables were arranged in a U-shape along with assorted chairs. Maggie found clean cloth mats – placemats and towelling that had seen better days – and spread them on the tables. White rags were provided – “for wiping the birds when they spatter and dribble.” She explained that the young people were all volunteers who slept rough at night in the very palapa where the birds were fed.
Some (Angel, Guillermo, Antonio, Mar and others whose names we failed to note) work as vet techs with veterinarians Ernesto and Christian, who also volunteer their time. “A great bunch of young people, devoted 24/7 to this!” said Maggie.
The entire parrot rescue operation is dependent not only on volunteers, but on donations to cover the costs of food for both parrots and volunteers. I peeked in a cardboard box and saw three sickly nestlings, one almost completely featherless. “Sick?” I said to one of the workers, a fellow wearing a T shirt with the words Too Old to Die Young emblazoned on it. He nodded. Being captured is stressful and some birds don’t survive. Another box appeared, this one full of noisy orange-fronted nestlings, bawling for food. A worker poured a cafe-au-lait coloured mixture in our plastic cups and brought us some nestlings from the box. “One woman was feeding eight at once the other day,” Maggie said, as I struggled to feed two, then three, then four as some flew up from the cardboard box to the table. My birds went back and forth between the two spoons, sometimes tugging like puppies with a toy. The clean table mat was soon spattered with feed, and so were we! We did our best to wipe nestlings’ faces, breasts and feet and occasionally ourselves. Maggie was calm through it all and, as time went on, I became more skilled: if my spoon was too full, birds put their beaks deep in the feed, then shook and spattered everywhere. As they fed, their little crops ballooned out and they were put in another cardboard box – the box for fed birds.
Eventually we gave up our seats to some newly-arrived volunteers. I walked around the Iguanario, admiring the two types of iguanas as well as the other parrot species, already much more mature than our orange-fronted nestlings. The white fronted amazons and the lilac-crowned amazons were in big cages where they could practice flying and feed on generous helpings of mixed fruit. About 70 of the 500 captured birds have already been released back into the wild.
The birds will be cared for until they are all big enough to be released. For some it may be several months. Donations of fruit, bananas, mangos, melon, papaya and apples or funds to purchase bird “kibble” for the younger birds would be greatly appreciated. Contact Info:
Maggie Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Holdridge, email@example.com
They will make sure your donation is used where most needed.