I can't tell you how many times people ask me, "How many birds do you have?!" It's easy to get confused and think I own a small rescue of parrots with all the photos I post, videos uploaded and tales told of various species of parrots. I get requests for birds you guys see a lot, or in popular videos like Storm the interrupting amazon parrot or Hymie the stunning hyacinth macaw. When I reply and say, "Those birds aren't mine, I just work with them a lot and am forever friends with their owners through the BirdTricks.com freeflight course (aka Freestyle Flyers Club)" people are wondering exactly which birds ARE, in fact, my own. So this blog is to clear it up. At least for now, because people also ask what our next bird will be, if we plan to get one... and all I have to say is that we don't plan on getting anymore birds, and such was the case when Rocko our baby toco toucan was entered into our lives. Isn't that how it always goes? Let me start with our current flock of 9 birds (accurate as of today, hehe); 2 rose breasted cockatoos, 1 african grey, 3 macaws, 1 toucan and 2 budgies.
Visa's Story Visa is the eldest of our flock at a whopping 7 years old. He is a pure white budgie, the best eater of the two budgies and you may have seen him featured in many of our parakeet directed products, especially magic products, doing many flight trained behaviors and lots of boomerang flying. We had Visa ever since Dave and I were married and were breeding budgies for a little while as we were working on various parakeet courses and products including socializing, training, taming, trick training, routine training, working on cruise ships with them and tons of other things. Visa traveled all the way to Saipan with us to perform where many of our birds got sick from some disease on the island that the rats there seemed to carry. We performed with tigers on the show, and even one of the tigers was temporarily sick after eating a wild rat that made its way into the enclosure. The disease wiped out our dove population and most of our budgies as well. It was soon after followed by a flood (monsoon) of the island and facility of which Visa survived. He is definitely a survivor. Visa stayed with our dear friend Patty for the two years we performed around the country with Ringling Bros as the budgies were not written into the show for lack of being big enough to be seen by the crowds in the arenas. So he stayed behind getting pampered by Patty.
Nikko's Story Nikko is also a survivor. He was one of the baby budgies we raised and looks different from Visa because although he is pure white as well, he has black bars or stripes on his wings that are more apparent. He also has one nostril bigger than the other... why? Because he got a very bad infection in his nose. In fact, all our parakeets came down with something when we arrived to Florida from Saipan. The illness that took over Saipan killed all of our budgies except for Lexi (who performed in the show with us), Nikko (a baby at the time living in our condo) and Visa (our return flight budgie). If you ever saw our parakeet training course that we filmed on a cruise ship, you saw Gilligan who starred in it and we lost him to the illness in Saipan. There were no avian vets there, it is a 7 mile by 14 mile island in the south pacific. But to tell the story in order... Nikko was born in Saipan and when the illness hit the flock his parents died. When the flood hit right after, he almost drowned in his nest box. We found him barely able to keep his head above water and the rest of his body ice cold and soaked underwater. We got him the hell out of there and kept him at our condo the rest of our time in Saipan. He survived and it was honestly a miracle. Because of the flood and illness that struck Saipan, nothing has never ever been quite right with him. When we came to Florida he and the others became sick. That story (and really all you need to do is look at the photos) is here...
Lesson learned? Weigh your bird, no matter how big or small. That is how Nikko came to have one large nostril, one small. He also collects food on the top of the inside of the beak which makes it so that he chews 5x as long as Visa on his food. He is very social though, and follows us around the house via flight and gets along just fine. He is one hell of a survivor and as social and sweet as they come.
Bondi's Story Bondi is 6.5 years old, and the oldest parrot we have when you don't include the budgies. Since the budgies weren't with us for the last 2 years, we often told people we had 7 birds instead of 9 because 2 were never with us and it was confusing to explain... We picked up Bondi as a baby in Oregon and she was my very first parrot. She came after Fiji, our deceased Swainson Toucan, and was such a fun loving baby. She lived with my parents for months because Dave and I took a cruise ship contract and couldn't get her paperwork in time. I left my mom with Dave and Chet's training course and when we came back, she knew all the tricks and tons of words. She absolutely adores my mother, and so sometimes we send her to her grandparents' house for a visit ;) Bondi has performed in the show with us ever since we completed her paperwork! She was raised to be our most social parrot and will literally go to anyone. If we take her in for a vet check up, she will follow the vet around even AFTER they draw blood on her or collect a fecal sample. She just loves people, loves showing off and is an avid learner. Dave named her after Bondi Beach in Australia which, for those of you familiar with it, is a topless beach. We thought it was fitting since after all, she is a rose breasted cockatoo! Many people pronounce her name “bond-ee” which became a nickname of hers because everyone calls her that when they see her name written. But it is actually pronounced “bon-dai”. For a long time my grandmother called her Bonzai. Her personality is overall sweet and she loves being pet on the head from someone who really knows what they’re doing! She also favors mushy foods and never picks any fights with anyone. She’s definitely our sweetest bird, unless she wants to be trained and taught something new! Then she’s just downright demanding! Hehe. What parrot isn’t, right?
Cressi's Story We had just entered the realm of the world of freeflying parrots and we wanted to do it first hand. We read that it was hardest with an african grey, so what did we do? We got an african grey to freefly! Cressi was our very first freeflight bird and we chose her for the challenge. We thought, well, if they are the hardest then if we can do it with a grey we can do it with anything! I had wanted a grey as well because “everyone wanted one” and I wanted to experience what the fuss was about. Dave didn't really want one, but he understood the challenge and thought it would be a great way to enter our freeflight experience. While at a business conference with Chet in Las Vegas, they walked into a used battery shop that also acted as a pet shop. There sat Cressi in a tiny cage along a wall of used car batteries that apparently separated the breeding birds from the for sale ones. Cressi was housed with another african grey, her sibling. She was 3 months old when Dave asked, "Is she clipped?" not being able to tell from the way she sat in the cage. "I was going to clip her the other day but I ran out of time, I was going to do it today." the lady told him. "I'll take her!" he exclaimed before the lady ever had a chance to pull out the scissors. From that day on we've always wondered what happened to Cressi's already clipped sibling, as they were bought later that day as well. Dave felt so lucky to have saved Cressi from being clipped that day, and to take her from that place. He felt like he rescued her. We named her Cressi after the scuba gear brand, because Dave and I are advanced scuba certified and just love the sport. We liked the idea of being able to wear her name around and think of her often. Dave surprised me with her arrival back in Florida when she walked out of a gym bag. I was in shock! Of course, Cressi chose to love Dave 60% and me 40%. If you haven't read about our 60-40 rule, do it! Cressi pretty much became Dave's girl, but we freeflew her and loved every second of it. We wanted to offer Bondi the freeflight lifestyle experience but were so scared because we never had the right mindset with her from the beginning like we had with our intentions with Cressi. We saw how free and happy Cressi was and wanted that for Bondi badly. Dave's solution? To get another rose breasted cockatoo for her to fly with.
Bandit's Story Dave really wanted another rose breasted cockatoo for the purposes of freeflight and the likelihood of being able to freefly Bondi someday. And so Bandit was born! Our friends wanted one at the same time (what they really wanted was one like Bondi) and so we took in two male baby rose breasted cockatoos; Bandit and his brother Ace. We raised them both so that Ace would be off hand feeding before he went to his real owners (who ended up rehoming him with us for a while and we realized we weren't the right place for him and sent him to our blue throat breeder here in Florida to have as a pet - nothing was wrong with him and he was a freeflighted bird, but we didn't have the time to devote to him when it came to training - and our friends had no idea what they were getting into and wouldn’t be talked out of it ahead of time.) No one liked Bandit when he came around except me. He was a trouble maker, I remember joking with our friends about switching him out for Ace and not telling them... haha... and even for months after Ace was gone no one would pay any attention to Bandit. I was the only one. He kind of had these bug eyes as a baby that made him look a little creepy, and he was mostly grey instead of pink, at least as a baby. He was a crazy flier and always "on" so to speak. Lots of energy and no one could keep up with him but me! I loved him to pieces and raised him pretty much solo because honestly, no one wanted anything to do with him! Dave wanted him so bad and he took to me, just like I had wanted Cressi who took to Dave. Bandit became, and still is, our most skilled outdoor flier. And talker. And overall coolest. Must be his upbringing ;) Now that he's awesome, everyone likes him. Bandit and Bondi aren't related, but they are from the same breeder who is now retired. We couldn’t seem to come up with a name for Bandit, and we weren’t sold on Bandit but we wanted something that could lead to a lot of nicknames. Later, I had remembered wishing I had named him Chaos after learning his personality more, but he has really shaped his name into something special and he definitely acts like a Bandit. It has been flattering to see people on youtube name their own male galahs after him!
Jinx's Story While working on a cruise ship Dave and I talked about wanting a macaw for freeflight, but we felt it would be safest as a small flock. We decided on 3 birds, for whatever reason. We didn't want birds that looked like what everyone else had, because in pictures we wanted to be able to tell them apart and in person, we didn't want someone walking off with the wrong bird. So blue and gold macaws were out of the question. And a flock of three blue throated macaws was also out because they would look too much like blue and gold macaws. But we did decide we wanted at least one blue throat, and would have done 3 if the price would have come down but they were very expensive. We wanted macaws in general because they are the largest and in turn, less likely for a predator to come after. Obviously since blue throat pricing was out of the question, so was hyacinth! We loved the way blue throats were and thought they were the perfect size. We got Jinx from Belz Aviary in Naples, Florida and were so happy with him, naming him before arrival (Dave's awesome pick based off the jinking behavior birds do as a predator avoidance skill, so we thought Jinx would be perfect) Jinx has been a momma's boy since day one. ;) We really started to see a trend of blue throated macaws in the freeflight world and that’s what turned us onto them in the first place. A much more manageable size and a very beautiful look. We learned about them being from Boliva and handling cold winters and being endangered and wanted people to ask about them so we could educate them on the unique beauty of these amazing macaws. Since we couldn’t get Jinx’s brothers or sisters, we looked at what was available for two more macaws.
Comet and Tusa's Story We were looking for fully flighted macaws and most breeders would not ship birds unless they clipped them right before shipment. We wouldn't agree to that, and kept looking when we found Mirror Lake Exotics in Florida. Peter, the owner, raises his birds all outdoors and their coloring was beautiful. He told us he just had 3 camelot macaws born and sent us a picture. We felt so guilty that we couldn't get all 3 babies because we had already agreed to Jinx, and 4 seemed like too many at that point, plus the extra money. So we picked out Tusa and Comet and between getting 3 new birds we figured one would maybe be a girl. We wanted to name the birds before they came to us and decided on Tusa for the blue/green dominant one, assuming it would be a girl. Little did we know, we got all boys! We kept Tusa’s name the same because it is after the scuba gear I wear, the Tusa brand. We figured it’s unisex enough. Comet was named because we thought “fireball” was too embarrassing for him. Because Peter lets his birds live outside, their coloring is exquisite. And so we began training all 3 macaws flight training right away to get them to ideally flock together outdoors and form a pact. Just recently they’ve begun flocking as we feel as they get older and older, they will do it more and more and stick to flying together rather than separately so much. We adore our current flock, and having to make tough decisions along the way of really only keeping the birds we set out to get was hard because you want to help your friends out, you want to rescue every bird you see and give it a better life, but we had to realize how many cages we have room for and how quality of life plays in for our own flock members. We need to remember they come first and need to be provided for before we reach out too much with hearts in the right places and wallets not. We’re very happy with our current numbers of flock members and enjoy keeping you all posted with their happenings. If you guys ever have more questions about specific members of our family, feel free to ask and if it’s a quick answer I will tell you and if it’s longer I may make it its own blog post!
Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.