You have to dream before your dreams can come true.

                                                                  — APJ Abdul Kalam, Indian statesman (1931-2015)

The Holidays approach, and parrots world-over proudly prepare, especially young Joey (@joey_the_hyacinth (IG)), one of our featured Hyacinth Macaws this month! It’s Joey’s dad who gave this piece its headline.

We hope you enjoy Hyacinth Holidays, and we especially thank shop owner and parront Heide Zahle Nilsen (@heidenilsen (IG)),  hyacinth aviculturist and parrot behavior expert Kashmir Csaky, wildlife rehabilitator Michelle Carollo (@nigel_and_friends (IG)/, conservationist Daria Feinstein, and Joe Brown (@joey_the_hyacinth (IG)) for sharing their life dreams of, and adventures with, hyacinths. A special thanks to leading aviculturist organizer at both AFA and OPALewis “Buddy” Waskey IV for introducing me to Olivia, the hyacinth who stole my heart.  For our free-flight enthusiasts, we conclude with inspiring material from cutting-edge trainer Chris Armstrong — how Chris helped hoarded-then-rescued Percy “find his wings” ( along with free flight training tips from Delilah the macaw and others.

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The common thread amongst hyacinth owners: they saw a hyacinth macaw, the vision fed dreams, and they pinched pennies to get those birds! It is the preternatural grace of these Gentle Giants which so intractably entrances!

Heide Nilsen first laid eyes on hyacinth macaws on a visit to the Canary Islands more than a quarter century ago. The image remained indelibly imprinted such that some twenty years later she finally tracked down a hyacinth aviculturist in Sweden, her native country, and contacted him. Even after twenty years, the wait was not over: Heide waited nearly another year before Shadow arrived fully weaned. Still one year later, Shadow’s full brother Blue, a year younger than Shadow, also arrived.  While Shadow had bonded with Nilsen’s blue and gold macaw Nova, Shadow’s “girlfriend,” he has not yet expressed much interest in that noisome younger brother.

Since CITES lists hyacinths on Appendix I, Shadow came complete with a special CITES certificate — something of an EU passport, with identifying band number, birth date and gender, confirming Shadow is aviary-raised, not wild-sourced. Heide cannot even take Shadow and Blue out in public without their certificates! Sweden wisely regulates companion macaws and other parrots — they cannot be hand-fed, or have their wings clipped; and there must be at least two hyacinths in each residential situation, which greatly reduces anxiety and plucking from isolation.

Shadow loves snuggling and also flying. Younger brother Blue is the rowdy one. Though each has a decidedly different personality, they both have good relationships with all family members. And Shadow and Nova? It does not seem to be in the cards: Heide contemplates acquiring an unrelated female hyacinth and attempting to raise hyacinths herself. No rush on that score — as the largest flying bird species in the world, hyacinths take a long time to mature, at least approximately seven years (some may selectively choose not to mate until as late as age fifteen!) And hyacinths are very smart birds — they have exhibited tool use and are typically inquisitive problem solvers! Below Shadow demonstrates tool-like savvy coordinating beak and claw.

If you are enchanted by Shadow and Blue, start saving money now! It’s not just that a male hyacinth sells for about $13k or that a female brings around $20k — Heide recommends that you annaully set aside $5-10k for veterinary expenses along with insurance. And consider also that large, sturdy macaw aviaries come at a premium, and the macadamia and Brazil nuts hyacinths require are not cheap.

[Be sure to drop by Shadow and Blue’s Facebook page, Magnificent Macaws, and check out their new YouTube channel, Heide Zahle Nilsen.]

Dual national of the US and Japan, premier hyacinth aviculturist and parrot behavior consultant Kashmir Csaky first encountered hyacinths in Forshaw’s renowned Parrots of the World. Forshaw in the early 1970’s foresaw that macaws would face significant threats of extinction and advocated for conservation aviculture and animal companionship as the keys to rare parrot survival. The first breeder to co-parent (share feeding with the parrot parents) a hyacinth, Kashmir has also participated in The Hyacinth Macaw Project, which sets out nestboxes for hyacinths in key Brazilian habitat and is recognized for its success in increasing the Brazilian wild population such that it is now classified as “threatened,” not endangered. Kashmir has also been instrumental in AFA legislative initiatives and study, endeavoring to make the US and its constituent states friendly to conservation aviculture and companion parrots. The Geni(i)us page article on Hyacinth macaws this issue shares more from Kashmir as aviculturist.  Kashmir also runs the Facebook group, International Celebration of Birds.

. . . Okay, so birds go to meet-ups and socials these days, but have you heard of FaceTime adoption-dating? Joe Brown found Joey on Facebook; before he acquired Joey, he and his family FaceTimed with chick and breeder. It seems to have worked — Joe says Joey “is a perfect fit with our family,” and “my dreams are fulfilled, and then some!”

Joe Brown grew up with his deceased older brother’s lilac-crowned Amazon Groucho. At about age eight, Joe’s mom shared with him that his brother’s dream bird was a hyacinth. Curious, Joe researched hyacinths and at that tender age considered the birds “looked so strange. Huge heads. Perma-Smile. . . . strange, yet beautiful.” As if hyacinth passion were infectious, owning a hyacinth became a major life dream for Joe by around age twelve.

Now, a dozen years later, Joey has joined the family. A great lover of stainless steel, be it bowls or nuts and bolts, and also of electrical cords (whoa!), Joey joyously plays games like tug-o-war, wrestling, and peekaboo. He also likes solving puzzles. And at the end of a busy day exploring Joe’s world, Joey likes to cradle in Joe’s arm to nap — “so he can pick his nose and go to sleep.”

Michelle Carollo, of Instagram’s @Nigel_and_friends, helps Nigel (wink-wink) run family-owned Royal Avian Specialties , an online retailer of parrot aviaries, perches, food, treats, toys, etc. with a small rescue on the side. The family’s over-thirty years’ experience has allowed them to design innovative products such as parrot-safe indestructible stainless steel perches and toys, may of which allow a parrot to make noise with them.

Michelle, a licensed animal rehabilitator, opened the rescue eleven years ago. Nigel counts among the flock’s six permanent members and helps Michelle welcome temporary members: parrots for discrete placement, sometimes only after rehabilitation, for instance, after a parront has died and family members find themselves unable properly to care for the large bird. All permanent flock members are free-flighted but the temporary birds may not be flight-capable. Last year Royal Avian placed nine birds, primarily cockatoos.

Nigel, with his curved beak and jolly golden bare patches smilingly welcomes the rescue birds in. Submissive and gentle, Nigel’s winsome attitude expesses how deeply he wants friends.

Sweet as Nigel may be, sometimes he wants more love and attention than busy Michelle can give. A rather common problem for parronts of big birds. And even with decades of experience and formal training, Michelle finds in Nigel her match on evenings she’s exhausted.

As Facebook’s Chris Armstrong approached retirement age, the world of parrots broke open a new universe. First cockatoo Samson showed Chris that trick-training provides not just enrichment, but also an absorbing challenge and gateway to intraspecies mutuality.

Delilah, the blue and gold macaw, who arrived a bit later, preferred free-flight to tricks, widening the horizons of that new parrot world yet further. Finally, finishing out the Trifecta: Percy, a scarlet macaw rescued from a severe hoarding situation, a parrot who might not have survived but for a joie de vivre buried beneath the suffering. Percy watched Delilah and flock fly beyond and back. Something about Percy’s demeanor shouted he wanted to “find his wings”. So Chris and Percy set off on a tandem adventure, of which great videos can be seen at

By then an experienced trainer, Chris imagined the challenge as it might be for Percy: he made his arm a “branch” and accustomed Percy to the flow of air about him by moving his arm-branch more and more. A fan was added to simulate wind experience. To encourage hapless flapping wings to grip and push against air columns, Chris littered the floor with cushy pillows and, with Percy on his arm-branch, fell forward into the pillows — Percy’s flap turned into lift off! Percy can now fly with the others, just not as long: Percy may complete just a couple miles to their forty-mile flight.

Chris is that energetic sort who makes training fun: he brings energy, excitement and TREATS to training, which is “about the relationships, the most valuable thing in the world” and creating memories. He also enjoys injecting technology: telemetry via Marshall GPS tracker, which paid off recently when Delilah did not return from her flight. Chris shares with us now these invaluable videos of finding Delilah by geotracker and consulting with a superb avian vet.

As time approaches to wish you Happy Holidays and wave you on to BirbObserver‘s other pages, we make two honorable mentions. First, Facebook’s Dariah Feinstein, macaw conservationist and parront of five free-flighted macaws, including a hyacinth called BlueBoy. Dariah has worked to raise awareness of macaw issues:

Finally, a great thank you to Lewis “Buddy” Waskey IV — friend, AFA-mentor, Wizard of Free-flight and Genius of grass-roots avian organizing in the US. . . And the guy who introduced me to my first hyacinth, his charmer Olivia. Below Buddy cracks macadamia nuts for Olivia. Olivia does skilfully crack macadamias with her powerful beak and jaws, but she preserves, queen-like, to be served; and Buddy humours her.

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