Coral Gables, Florida — The rubicund sun lengthened the shadows as we stood on a Miami flagstone patio craning our necks, gazing awestruck at six blue and gold macaws roosting high in the tops of royal palms. Fully half of the remaining flock has showed up to be seen, as if they knew visitors were coming.
They and their forebears have swooped in to this particular back yard every afternoon for a quarter-century — ambassadors of more than ten introduced bird species brought into the Miami area originally as pets. Over time, via escape or abandonment, some became free agents and formed flocks which have endured in some cases since the 1920s.
This particular flock numbered at a high of 44 macaws at the start of the decade. It’s down to twelve now. Most of the attrition has come at human hands, the hands of what we’d usually call “poachers”.
And therein lies the rub. Those who collect these magnificent creatures for sale at four-figure prices aren’t necessarily breaking the law, for these macaws are non-native species. Therefore, they are not protected as endangered species so those who shoot them down or trap them are not breaking the law and so cannot qualify as poachers.
Since the beginning of the ‘Teens, South Florida’s Bird Lovers Club has pushed for legislative or regulatory action to preserve these and other feral flocks by bringing them under the same protective umbrella as Florida’s native species. Why should these first-class air travelers be relegated to second-class treatment: harassment, gun-netting, glue trapping, chick theft and even being shot out of the sky? (Absent any violation of firearms laws, yes, even the latter can’t be prosecuted and has happened.)
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has spurned these entreaties. Its stance is that protecting the macaws would set an undesirable precedent. Next to come forward would be the reptile fanciers, then the bug lovers, and soon all of Noah’s ark would be dragged under that umbrella. The Commission insists it must hold the line against any exceptions for non-natives. Even those whose existence in the wild has become threatened or endangered.
Few of us have the opportunity to see these magnificent macaws in full, free flight; we should all have that option. Their lives in an urbanized environment far removed from their natural habitat are challenging, yet they’ve prevailed. What a shame if their saga were to end at the hands of human profiteers!
This feral macaw flock is featured in several recent news pieces about the feral Miami macaws — (November 12, 2018) WSVN-Miami news video:
May, 2018 National Geographic video, shot beautifully: