Kiss of the Guacamaya

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Guacamayas are the Mexican subspecies of the Military Macaw. They are green, as in an army uniform, yet display wild accent colors of red, yellow, blue and orange. They are large. Adults may reach three feet in length. And they are very intelligent.

These birds are also gregarious and make a wide range of shrieking and kracking sounds whether their conversation is with other Macaws—or humans. They may live for sixty years in the wild and mate for life. Guacamayas nest in hollows of trees. They do not excavate their own cavities; rather they rely on other creatures, principally woodpeckers, to construct their nesting sites. The Imperial Woodpecker created many hollows used by Guacamayas before its precipitous decline and probable extinction. Bees also compete for these hollows creating further limiting factors to their reproduction.

Because of the high price these birds can bring, the illegal trade for them still flourishes. They have a bounty on their heads.

We met one living with a human friend up on the Rio Cuale, east of Puerto Vallarta. This bird was a victim of poachers who cut down the tree where it was born and stole the newly hatched chicks. However, this particular bird was so injured when the tree crashed down the poachers left it there to die. Its present protector picked up and nursed the bird. He has cared for it for eighteen years. Because one of its wings had been broken, it has never been able to fly. As a consequence, it never had a chance to return to the wild. However, it is well-taken care of.

The bird is put in a tree outside its friend’s house every day and it climbs up high. Most days wild birds come by for a visit. They socialize, and then fly on about their way. Every evening, the man caring for the bird retrieves it and puts it into a cage for the night. This guards it from harm by raccoons, mapaches, or other common predators. Despite its rough start, it is beautiful, friendly to people and appears happy.

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This past spring, we met another Guacamaya. We were visiting Rancho Primavera, a must-see birding destination near El Tuito, an hour-and-a half drive south and up into the mountains from Puerto Vallarta. At Rancho Primavera we discovered our hostess, Bonnie Jauregui, also works with a Guacamaya rescue program.

Alice wanted to take some pictures of Bonnie’s chickens, gallinas. It turned out the chicken house was also where a current rescued Guacamaya was residing.

When I came into the building, Alice and Bonnie were chatting about the hens and the Guacamaya was cavorting on a homemade bird gymnasium. It spotted me at once and made some raspy babbling sounds.

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 The bird started doing upside down push-ups and anything else it could come up with to get our attention.

“He’s just trying to be friendly. He just wants to get to know you.”

The bird started chewing on Alice’s ring and Bonnie let Alice know she should move her hand away.

Why’s she doing that? What the hell? I mean, how bad could a bird bite be? I’ve been bit by crabs and children. It’s just a bird!

I stuck my right hand index finger out toward the bird, wiggled it, and foolishly murmured to the bird, “Kissie, kissie, kissie.”

KERWACK! The bird drove its hook-shaped beak hard into my finger striking the bone. Yikes! Blood oozed out from a flap in my skin the size of my little fingernail.

Wow, not what I expected.

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