Be Your Own Birder

Tickled Pink About a Blue Encounter

Watching birds is one thing, interacting with them is another. While we can get a thrill from seeing our favorite species, hearing their songs, or witnessing unique behaviors, those thrills are taken to a whole different level if we’re able to personally interact with birds.

I’ve interacted with a variety of wild birds over the years. There have been the Woodhouse’s scrub-jays, blue jays, and red-bellied woodpeckers that squawk back and forth with my voice when I’m refilling peanuts, and the northern cardinal that whistles with me. There was the pine siskin that landed on my hand near the Nyjer feeder, and the red-bellied woodpecker, red crossbill, and pine siskin I had the opportunity to hold and nurture after they recovered from window strikes. All of these encounters have been very special, memorable moments, and a delightful way to bond with wild birds.

Yet even more memorable are the moments I’ve been able to interact with captive birds. These up-close, personal encounters give visitors – including birders – the opportunity to really connect with amazing birds, species they may never see in the wild. When visiting aviaries and zoos, I’ve been able to feed an emu (he loved fruit), feed innumerable rainbow lorikeets (they can’t get enough of those nectar cups), be the glove for a trained aplomado falcon (small but fierce), been pecked by a northern flicker (curious about my texture), been nibbled on by Canada geese (they love those feeder pellets), and, most recently, been nipped and bobbed at by a hyacinth macaw.

Hyacinth Macaws at the Brevard Zoo – Photo by Melissa Mayntz

These brilliant parrots are a vulnerable species native to central and South America, but I’m fortunate that a cocky pair of these blue birds lives at the Brevard Zoo, just a few miles from my home. They’re often found on an extensive perch structure for enrichment time, and during one of my recent visits (we have a family membership, giving us great deals whenever we want some animal time), there was amazing wild kingdom action going on. A Florida banded water snake was inching around nearby, its motives unclear. The macaws were understandably upset at the snake’s visit, and one was so upset he came completely off the perch – either by falling or a deliberate attack to to dissuade the snake from its interest.

Unfortunately, the same metal baffles that kept the snake off the perches also kept the grounded macaw from climbing back up after the snake left. Instead, he opted to climb the boardwalk fence to the railing of the pedestrian bridge, where I happened to be leaning to watch the activity. He came right up to me, squawked once or twice, and nipped at my elbow. I bobbed my head, mimicking his postures, and he bobbed right back with more squawks and another nip. I stepped back carefully so as not to startle him, and he went on his way down the railing – further away from his perches. At that point, I sought out a zoo employee to alert them of the escape – several guests did the same, and the bird was soon properly supervised.

What an encounter! It’s one I will remember always, and one that will mean even more if I one day have the opportunity to see these beauties in the wild. Visit your local zoo, aviary, marine park, or botanical garden soon, and you never know what memorable, birdy moments you may have!

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