Feathers for Native Americans: Saving Parrots One Feather at a Time
Feathers for Native Americans seeks to “Save wild macaws and parrots by gifting moulted feathers to Pueblo-dwelling Native Americans for use in their rich Culture and Traditions, one feather at a a time.” There is genius and synergy in this practice: Feathers for Native Americans acts as a precious cog, helping parrot conservation, and Native worship cyclically recur while steering clear of possible profiteering by illegal traffickers in endangered birds, for the traffickers may sell feathers on the open feather market after illegally trafficked birds die in transit.
Feathers for Native Americans explains its feather distribution mission, as follows:
By gifting molted Macaw, Parrot and other exotic bird feathers we can eliminate sellers of illegally imported feathers who are hunting and killing Wild Macaws and Parrots for profit. Every feather donated from a moulted living bird will replace one from a Wild Macaw or Parrot that was killed to supply the need. “
Puebloan peoples, among them the Hopi and Zuni tribes, live, move, and have their being in a stressed ecosystem where they no longer freely hunt abundant birds. These Native people largely occupy a disadvantaged socio-economic rung in which their culture and language — like the birds whose feathers they require for proper religious observance — run the risk of extinction.
Colorful macaw and parrot feathers have been integral to Southwest American Puebloan tribes from their earliest history. Hopi, the only Puebloan tribe in Arizona, or in long form, Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, means “The Peaceful People” or “Peaceful Little Ones”. “Peaceful Person” signifies a “behaving one, one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite, who adheres to the Hopi Way.”
In Hopi culture ethics, morality and spirituality integrate the individual inseparably into the woof and warp of community and nature. To be Hopi is to cultivate a state of total reverence and respect for all things, to be at peace with these things, and to live in accordance with the instructions of Maasaw, the Creator/Caretaker of Earth. Hopi ceremonies, like the Kachina dances, are performed not just for the tribes’ well-being, but for the world’s. Kachina, the tribes’ spirit “familiars”, intercede for them both on earth and in the spirit world, sometimes mischievously but most often for good. The dances invoke and reify these spirits, on behalf of all Creation.
The profane reality is that illegal traffickers in endangered parrots can further prey upon them: Traffickers may sell on the open market feathers from endangered, trafficked birds after they die in transit. However, the mere exchange of cash for religious article in these Native Americans cultural view can diminish its holiness. That a trafficker profits adds insult to injury.
Steve, a Virginia resident, first learned about the value of feathers to pueblo peoples nearly 30 years ago while touring pueblos at his Arizona-based sister-in-law’s suggestion. At one pueblo, Steve conversed with a Hopi man about his handful of feathers. The man indicated the macaw tail feathers were worth approximately $12-15,000 (1991). Currently, feathers on the open market cost between $50-75 each.
Returning home, Steve enlisted the pet shop directly behind his workplace, Pet Paradise of Virginia Beach. The shop still collects and contributes moulted feathers. With his first in-person delivery of cleaned, sorted feathers, Steve earned trust and respect, as if macaw tail feathers were “the keys to the pueblo”.
Demand for feathers is relatively constant: Approximately 70 percent of donated feathers go to making Kachina dance costumes while kiva ceremonies consume the bulk of the remaining 30 percent. These ceremonies call for a variety of feathers — even turkey, duck or goose. Feathers, if well-cared for, can last eight years. Many feathers are “single-use” as a matter of sacred tradition, so the demand for feathers remains relatively constant over time.
Perhaps 30 percent of feathers required for ritual use come from endangered species, especially species native to Latin America. In the open market, say, on E-Bay, a feather may likely come from a dead (poached) bird, not a moult.
Although Steven James’ Feathers for Native Americans 501(c)(3) nonprofit wasn’t the first to collect and donate feathers (a Dr. Raymond, affiliated with the Illinois State Museum, preceded him), the organization now must face the challenge of satisfying total demand alone as Dr. Reymon retired several years ago.
Feathers for Native Americans has developed a five-year plan which emphasizes gaining pet stores and large-scale breeders as regular contributors, and establishing distribution ops in the pueblos themselves, to match demand more efficiently.Feathers for Native Americans gladly accepts feather contributions from zoos, breeders and owners across the country. Contributors receive a personalized card indicating what pueblo, and to what type of use the feather will be put.
Donating moulted macaw and parrot feathers to Native Americans for ceremonial use resonates both with traditional culture and contemporary conservation, an exemplum of the Hopi Way, linking donor and recipient in a sacred task.
Collection Center Mailing Address:
3415 Butterfly Arch
Virginia Beach, VA 23456-2537
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Conservation Photographer Pete Oxford
|You flip the page and suddenly there it is, right in front of you. Bam! The photo smacks you in the face and is instantly, indelibly etched in your mind. That’s the power of great photojournalism.
The napalmed nine-year-old Vietnamese girl whose photo altered the trajectory of the Vietnam War.
The vulture patiently stalking the Sudanese toddler. That photo galvanized the international community into action.
The three hundred pilot whales stranded on a New Zealand beach. Images like this brought hundreds of New Zealanders flocking beachward in a bid to save them.
These static images have one thing in common: they all generated dynamic action — but unintentionally. The photographers’ intent wasn’t to be a change agent; all they were after was that one great shot.
Cut to today and the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP).
Founded in 2005, its mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography. Its fellows are internationally renowned photographers who’ve made a commitment to move past the traditional “observer” role of the person behind the camera and become activists for the world’s ecosystems, plants, animals and indigenous native cultures.
Pictures tell much of their stories subliminally, and their various elements work together to convey the subconscious message. Conservation photographers use this intentionally.
A shot of a hyacinth macaw pair in their hollow tree bole nest in Brazil’s Pantanal region shows them sporting jaunty grins as if to say “All’s just dandy in our household!” Their toes grip the thickened threshold, challenging you not even to try displacing them. The light shines brightly down on their lovenest – surely their existence is an idyllic one.
Another hyacinth macaw sips from a mini-coconut in the Cerrado habitat of Brazil. She’s pierced the shell with the point of her beak to allow the water inside to course down her gullet. The image catches her with her head and neck stretched upward in a pose of utter enjoyment. A gleam of satisfaction in her eye sparkles as she skillfully quenches her thirst.
A third photo, though, adds a troubling dimension. The mood of this photo is much more ominous. Its yellow light seems grimy and sullied by dust. The hyacinths squat on the bare branches of a denuded tree. Their glorious blue plumage is muted and dulled to a muddy brownish-black, their feathers ruffled and unkempt. The stark branches speak of desolation – both in the environment and in the lives of these majestic birds.
All three were taken by Pete Oxford, a British photographer living in Uruguay, a conservation photographer before the term or career field even existed, and a founding fellow of the ILCP. In his words, “Photography began as a hobby for me, but after realizing how effective it could be as a tool for conservation I began to pursue it feverishly and dedicate my life to it.”
Oxford’s wife, South African Reneé Bish. is also his professional partner. “We travel as a photographic team when we can. Back at home we have a division of labor regarding the post image editing and processing. Book projects seem to be always with us in one form or another,” Oxford notes in a recent interview with BirbObserver.
He emphasizes, “There are many examples of ways that conservation photography has swayed decisions to ultimately effect a positive outcome on conservation. In my own case I have lobbied hard using images and creating books for both the Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Galapagos Islands.”
Yes, “conservation photographer” is both a career and a calling. And many of you, our readers, have already gotten a good start without realizing it. Acquiring the mindset of a conservation photographer means becoming thoroughly intentional about the purpose of your photos – not simply going for the best shot, but revealing and evoking the story of an endangered animal, habitat or culture by careful attention to compositional and photographic details.
Oxford insists, “The number of photographic enthusiasts today is astronomical and if we work together, as a lobby, we can effect change.” He cites James Balog’s visually stunning 2014 Emmy-winning documentary about ice loss, “Chasing Ice“, as having had a powerful effect on the public’s perception of climate change and the urgency of addressing it. An engrossing photo or video can move people to action where words alone haven’t sufficed.
Toward that end, the ILCP is sponsoring a collection of images from photographers worldwide, and every reader is welcome and invited to participate.
The collection’s name is “1Frame4Nature” and you simply share your photo, the story behind it and the action you’ve taken or work you’re involved in. A number of photos and stories are already posted there. See how other photographers are linking their work to their environmental activism and learn how that synergy is getting things accomplished!
And then, take that next step beyond being a pet or wildlife photographer. Become an active agent of change in your own environment. Your photos can, indeed, help preserve and restore the best of what remains to us. Let’s make our skills and opportunities really count. Let’s put them to work in the service of that Nature which sustains us all.
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Owen Pointon: Australian Wildlife Artist
Owen Pointon’s art (Owen N Marg (FB)/@owenpointonartist (IG)) showcases Australia’s amazing Atherton Tableland, a fertile plateau in Queensland’s Great Dividing Range. The Tableland includes rain forest, savannah, and wetlands and so furnishes welcoming habitats to a huge array of species. While this article primarily features his avian pieces, Owen produces an abundance of other wildlife pieces.
Self-taught, this painter in acrylic exemplifies traditional Australian style accented by a unique fullness and vitality centered in the careful crafting of colour and form. Having now produced a certain corpus of work, Owen finds his work gains increasing recognition. In August 2017, his work became available internationally through www.buyartnow.com. Fortunately, Owen makes reproductions available in a variety of tasteful forms that allows art aficionados to integrate the beauty of nature into their daily lives. Sales of Mr. Pointon’s work benefit Queensland’s Durong Dingo Sanctuary.
Raised in farming country, Owen remembers “playing in the bush, catching yabbies in the creek that ran through our patch of bush,” and particularly the “smell of gum trees, the leaves that are twisted, the bark and twisted branches.” The Australian bush filled Owen’s soul with the redolence of life, from the magnificence of the landscape to the entrancing character of its wildlife. By the age of ten, Owen was memorializing nature scenes in drawings.
Owen’s family contributed genes unique to artistic talent, and the surrounding culture well-cultivated that aspect of character. Owen understands his own artistic development as the combined influences of culture and genes: while anyone can learn to draw, the ability to match and manipulate colors to previously unseen objects — the stuff of commissions — comes as a hereditary gift, he believes.
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Charley Lawson: Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Photographer Charley Lawson (@Charley_jorja_photography (IG)) seeks out beauty in nature, as remembrance and reminder that life at heart is beautiful. Suffering from PTSD, Charley finds pet photography a source of joy, relaxation, and recovery.
We give Charley our condolences on her recent loss of bird companion Boo, her much beloved parrot. And we welcome with open arms her adopted galah, Tilly Maureen. We hope alongside Charley that someday Britain will recognize parrots as animal therapy agents. Tilly Maureen, at any rate, already is proving herself as a worthy companion.
Photography is but one lens for Charley: while it teaches her to be more observant, she also uses that enhanced skill in recovery, actively seeking moments to enjoy beauty in the natural things around her in the out of doors. She may then use the image to evoke more in-depth writing, a tool in the journey within of recovery.
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Parrot Prayer from Manko (IG)
Thanks to @i_met_manko (IG) for this charming presentation of a much loved poem!
Horus is an open-submissions page! Please send your art and cultural pieces to BirbObserver@gmail.com!
You Knew Us Before We Met
We are old, wise. We sang for your birth
as the sun rose, reflected in our eyes.
Our cries shrilly soared, falconing,
gyring, to greet it
We are reborn, young. Come learn
To see our earth with eyes
made ever new
Weird worm-wolfers, we. The scales
that shield our feet are not
We outgrew those.
We regrew these. We.
Gobble worms with us, pilgrim. You’re
welcome at our feast. It fills us;
we ask no more.
Your palatial nest —
built it with your very own two hands
Try building the next one with your mouth.
See these feathers, these wings?
Who lacks a mansion
when we have the sky?
We are friends, flockmates. Feel
the yearning tug of our cries. Take wing
with us again
that we may soar
Author – Mark LaBarre
A second chance at a forever home
by Claire Longworth
My first introduction to fids (feathered kids) came in my early twenties when I discovered my new boyfriend had a pet cockatiel. I won’t lie, I thought it was an odd choice of pet until I actually met the little rosy cheeked bird. I quickly fell in love with his sweet personality and was bereft when he died at the grand old age of 17. Shortly after a friend asked me to take his green cheek conure which he’d bought from a pet shop but couldn’t cope with. Hardy was a challenge; he was petrified of men and was very nippy. But with love, understanding and a lot of time he became a very sweet bird. After he sadly departed I acquired Rio, a sixteen week old yellow-sided conure who has been my companion for the last 8 years.
I had been considering on and off for a couple of years whether or not to add another parrot to my family. After much debate and discussion I concluded that I would apply for a rescued bird in order to give a parrot in need a second chance of a happy home. Now the wrong side of 40, I felt that taking on a baby would not be the right thing to do, as the potential for a parrot to outlive me is a real possibility. The thought of dealing with a baby parrot’s nippiness and “terrible-twos” once more was also a little daunting. I figured a more mature bird would bypass this issue! A little Green Cheek Conure caught my eye on Birdline Parrot Rescue’s website and with some excitement I registered as a member and put in an application.
I soon received a call from a lovely Rehoming Officer who conducted a 45 minute phone interview. This was followed up with a home check, which I was both delighted and relieved to have passed. However, as my application progressed it became clear that the bird I had applied for had bonded with another at his temporary home and his Safe-House carer decided to keep him. Of course this was brilliant news for the little chap and I was thrilled for him. Safe-Housing is Birdline’s first step to a parrot finding their forever home; giving the bird time to settle and be assessed before being put up for adoption. However I understand it’s not uncommon for the Safe-House to end up keeping their little feathered friends. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to part with a bird after having worked hard to rehabilitate it. Serious kudos goes to those who do this important work.
Fortunately for me, the Rehoming Team had another bird in mind and they asked whether I would consider taking a special-needs Green Cheek who had been surrendered to the rescue when her elderly owner could no longer care for her. Any concerns about coping with her condition (a deformed beak) were quickly allayed and I readily agreed to take her. So on a wet and windy evening at the end of October 2017 I drove into a Tesco’s car park somewhere close to Manchester, with instructions to look out for Birdline’s Area Manager and the tiny bird who would shortly steal my heart. Kim (the Area Manager) had kindly suggested the supermarket as a meeting point because it wouldn’t take me too far off my planned route for the evening. She met me with a hug and after a brief chat in the rain I said hello to Renée. What I saw near broke my heart, as a scruffy little green cheek, huddled into a corner of her cage, peered back at me with a terrified look in her eyes. How confused and unsettled she must have felt.
With paperwork signed and Renée safely secured in her cage on the backseat of my car, we set off for the relative’s house where I had arranged to stay for the night. Not a peep was heard from Renée on the hour long journey – not even a single squawk in objection to my terrible radio Karaoke! On arrival I was therefore extremely surprised to hear her excitedly say “biscuit biscuit” as I offered a hospitality gift of cookies to my relative. I placed the little cage on a side table next to where I was sitting and debated whether or not to open the door, or just to let her settle. But after noting that she screamed every time I left her sight, I decided she might be happier if she wasn’t stuck inside. She immediately rushed out and climbed up to the top of her cage and leaned towards me. I offered her my finger to step-up and she promptly bit it. Quite right too – where were my manners? I’d forgotten to introduce myself properly. After a little bit of quiet conversation and reassurance I offered a covered arm and she hopped on. By the end of the evening I had tackled some of the pin feathers on her head that were causing her obvious irritation and she had fallen asleep in the crook of my arm. Such trust from this tiny creature – I was already falling in love.
So we were off to a flying start with the bonding, but sadly I noted that she wasn’t in the best of health. She was in poor body condition, which I put down at least partly to the difficulty she had eating with her deformed beak. But worse still she smelt bad – I suspected a fungal condition. She also seemed to be in some distress and pain whilst passing her droppings. The next day I messaged the Rehoming Director of Birdline with my initial observations and she kindly reassured me that the charity would cover the vet costs for any pre-existing conditions.
Shortly after getting home I took her in to the vets for a wellness check and beak trim. Examination of her droppings under a microscope confirmed the fungal infection – for which she was prescribed medication. Two weeks and several baths later she smelt better but still had frequently runny droppings and continued pain. Back to the vets we went and this time we came away with antibiotics and an appointment for X-rays to investigate her internal problems. Fortunately the X-rays showed no blockages or other ominous signs – but the vet suspected damage to the muscles in her vent area from a previous egg laying episode. He prescribed painkillers (0.05 mm of Loxicom a day) which started helping her discomfort levels immediately. It is likely that she will remain on the Loxicom for the rest of her life. She is such a good girl and comes to me when she sees the medicine bottle – it must be tasty as she licks the dropper clean. Since bringing Renée home I have gradually been introducing pellets and chop to her diet of seed and started supplementing her water with calcium and vitamins. I’m delighted to see her feather condition improving along with her general health. She has also gained confidence and started exploring her new home. Her delightful cheeky side is now emerging too.
Renée was clearly much loved by her previous owner and quickly bonded to me. She stuck to me like glue for the first few weeks and would lunge at anyone who came near me – including Rio, my other conure. Any hopes of an immediate friendship between my two girls were quickly dashed. But I’m hopeful that within time they may become friends. For now, each conure has time out with me alone and they at least have each other’s company from their side-by-side cages whilst I’m out at work.
Having initially taken Renée on a temporary basis, I’m delighted to say that just before Christmas I applied to foster her permanently. Taking on a ‘second-hand’ bird is so rewarding. Any time and effort I have spent has been paid back to me tenfold with the love and trust she has shown me. I’m so grateful to the Birdline team for allowing me to care for such a special little parrot.
I’ve also enjoyed becoming part of the Birdline Community and the support and advice given to me has been invaluable. Seeing the wonderful work Birdline does, made me want to participate and I recently started volunteering for the Rehoming Team. I spend my time conducting rehoming interviews – a task I really enjoy. After all what could possibly be better than talking to people about parrots and parrot care? I look forward to helping many other parrots find their chance of a second forever home.
Birdline Parrot Rescue is a charity which operates across the U.K. and re-homes hundreds of parrots each year. They also work to raise standards in parrot care through education at events and through resources such as the Birdline website. The charity is run entirely on a voluntary basis and a dedicated team of people give their valuable time to enable birds such as Renée to get a second chance of a loving home.
Each year the charity’s biggest cost is for vet care, ensuring birds such as Renée get the support they need to live healthy and happy lives. Funds are raised through a membership scheme, donations and events. They also charge a small admin fee to foster each bird. As parrots live for such a long time, they remain the property of Birdline for life. This gives the much needed reassurance that if a foster family’s circumstances change Birdline will step in to give support and if necessary re-home the bird once again. You can find out more about the charity and ways in which you can help support it at www.birdline.org.uk
by Claire Longworth
Welcome to Horus!
Horus is YOUR page, Horus belongs to our readers! You are invited to submit musings about your own bird, another bird, wild birds… basically, anything about birds – real, fictional, mythical, etc. Send us your poetry, short essays, short stories, artwork, etc., and we’ll post it on Horus for all to view, read and appreciate!
Email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org Don’t forget to include your name and how you want your work/writing to be cited/credited.
There’s no deadline for submissions to Horus so send us your creative work any time of the day! We’ll email you a confirmation upon receipt of your submission, and we’ll let you know when it’s been uploaded to Horus.
All submissions will be reviewed to ensure appropriateness for BirbObserver.
The sky’s the limit for imagination and creativity!
Read on to learn a bit more about why we called our page Horus.
Birds have long had a mythical and spiritual place in human history. For instance Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky and kingship (and often depicted as the ancient Egyptians’ national tutelary deity) was usually depicted as a falcon-headed man wearing the pschent, or a red and white crown, as a symbol of kingship over the entire kingdom of Egypt. Being a tutelary deity, Horus was a guardian and protector. In most human cultures and traditions, birds have a predominantly positive connotation. St. Hildegard of Bingen in her Liber de Subtilitatum (1098 – 17 September 1179) said, “Birds symbolize the power that helps people to speak reflectively and leads them to think out many things in advance before they take action. Just as birds are lifted up into the air by their feathers and can remain wherever they wish, the soul in the body is elevated by thought and spreads its wings everywhere. “They represent the human desire to escape gravity, to reach the level of the angel”. The bird is often the disembodied human soul, free of its physical constrictions. In many fairy tales, those who understand the language of the bird are said to have attained special knowledge, and people are often transformed into birds. In others, birds represent thought and imagination, transcendence and divinity, freedom from materialism. And sometimes, birds represented the metamorphosis of a lover.