It had been several months since I'd signed up to volunteer for SoCal Parrot and helped rescue my first bird.
I thought I would've rescued so many wild parrots—including some babies—by now, but when the calls had been coming in, I'd be working or traveling elsewhere or otherwise occupied and just couldn't make the drive to wherever the bird was stranded and then to wherever I had to hand off the bird (usually somewhere about an hour and a half away).
That's what happened when I got the alert about a Nanday at a private residence in Malibu. It was the Monday before Thanksgiving, and I was scrambling to finish work for my five-day weekend.
But the rest of the volunteer team must've been busy, too, because two days later, we got another text message asking for help. And since it was a low-urgency situation, it could wait until after Thanksgiving.
I was already driving to Vegas by then. Not knowing what the next few days might hold for me, I wrote back, "I might Monday."
And then I kind of forgot about it until the day after Thanksgiving, when I was once again in the car heading back from Vegas to LA.
There must've been something about careening down the Nevada freeways in those 75-mph zones that got my own engine revving to be behind the wheel—even after a nearly 700-mile drive to Vegas and back (via the scenic route)—that made me want to keep my foot positioned over the gas pedal, because on that Black Friday, I committed to spending my Saturday in service to a bird.
Most of the orphans so far during my volunteerism with SoCal Parrot have been Amazons in the Pasadena area, but this was a "black-hooded parakeet" (Aratinga nenday), a type of conure generally native to South American countries like Bolivia. Apparently flocks of nanday conures have taken over many of the Southern California beach communities, from Malibu to Pacific Palisades and Manhattan Beach.
With their black faces, green bodies, and blue tail feathers, they're quite beautiful—so, it's understandable why someone might want to keep one as a pet. They can be incredibly social and even affectionate.
But given their squawk, they're also considered a nuisance, which is why some pet owners end up releasing theirs. Of course, when combined with a local flock, that only makes them more of a nuisance for the greater surrounding community.
Unfortunately, unlike other feral flocks of non-native parrots, nandays are considered an invasive threat to local bird species—mostly because they compete with the natives for nesting areas.
They're hardy, too, and can survive even in the wild for more than 20 years. That is, however, if they don't manage to get stranded in the middle of the road with a broken wing.
That's where this guy was found in Malibu. (I say guy, but because the males and females of this species look exactly the same from the outside, only a vet could get in there to find out.)
He'd been hanging out at this horse ranch by the beach for three months now—and, according to those who found him, his flock had been stopping by every day to check on him.
The flock's visits had gotten less and less frequent, though, and the nanday's chances of ever flying again to rejoin them were less and less likely with each month that passed.
And, three months later when I was called to finally come get him, he'd already been incredibly socialized.
His keepers, in fact, were sad to let him go—and there were more than a few moments while I was there that I thought they'd change their minds. The bird was so imprinted that he could sit on a human shoulder and allow his head to be pet and his neck feathers ruffled (and even enjoy it).
I have to admit, I was a little jealous of the bonding that I saw between the parrot and the woman who'd found him in the road. This was going to be my chance to hold a wild parrot in my hands—to transfer him from cage to carrier, instead of just picking up a carrier with a parrot already in it.
But in reality, I knew that I wasn't there to bond with the bird. I was just one part of a relay, a glorified messenger service whose package happened to be a live parrot.
It's hard not to get a little attached on these journeys, though. And since this parrot's keepers had given me a bag of his favorite snacks, I took advantage of the opportunity to spoil him a little bit on the hour-and-a-half drive to the drop-off spot in Orange County.
Every time I'd see his beak latch onto one of the breathing holes in the top of the carrier, I'd grab a seed or a pellet from the bag and hold it there between my fingers until I felt a tug. More than a few times, I heard the snack fall to the bottom of the carrier.
But we kept trying. And we kept learning together.
The beak appearances became less random and moved closer to me, allowing me to both feed and steer at the same time. If I held out a treat without having seen the end of his little black hook through a hole, I wouldn't feel a tug.
I wasn't luring him with treats. He was in control. He was demanding where and when he wanted a treat, and I was obeying, in service to him.
Our little routine calmed him down enough to endure the drive without too much flapping around in there or even vocalizing. When I wasn't worried so much that he might hurt himself further in that box out of distress, and once he stopped asking for food with his beak, I turned on the radio and sang to him.
And my arrival to the meeting spot where I'd hand him off came all too soon.
But I'm happy to know that even though he's gotten separated from his own flock in Malibu, he's being reunited with other nandays at the rescue and rehab facility in East County San Diego, and he'll be once again a member of a flock.
It wasn't fair to leave him in a cage, especially at a place where the only other bird on the property was another parrot who didn't like him.
And while his own family may have finally given up on him, there's surely another family that will welcome him with open wings.
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