Monday, December 29, 2014

Handfeeding Parrots pt. 2

Hey ya'll 

I wasn't going to update on the Yoshi situation so quickly but I am honestly quite shocked at how quickly he is developing both mentally and physically. I've so far been feeding Yoshi and average of 26 tubes of formula a day but as of yesterday his appetite seems to have expanded by leaps and bounds. Yoshi took a total amount of 31 tubes yesterday and woke up around 1am demanding another feeding. I did not want to pamper him but upon inspection I noticed that his crop had fully emptied out so I decided to give him a small feeding of 4 tubes. I fed him again this morning at 9.30 and though he seemed quite distracted at first, and hell bent on crawling under the sofa and into small dark crevices as part of his "exploration" I eventually managed to settle him down enough to commence feeding where he surprised me by taking 12 tubes of formula in one sitting! I haven't had the opportunity to weigh him yet as the conventional weighing scale we have at home does not seem sensitive enough to accurately weigh a baby bird's weight but I can tell from "feel" that he is getting heavier. His muscles also seem to be getting a lot stronger as he is growing bolder in terms of climbing objects to try and access higher locations, and is able to stand upright, adopting an adult bird's posture, for longer periods and unassisted. As per my measurements, his tail feathers have lengthened by a whole inch. ALL this development from just 4 days of hand feeding (going into the 5th which is today).  

Standing proud and tall!
From the second day that I brought him home, the moment he acclimated to his new surroundings, Yoshi exhibited a very inquisitive and curious personality. I noticed today that  after I was done feeding him that Yoshi was picking at the spilled formula that had soaked into the nappy sheet. On a hunch I grabbed a banana out of the refrigerator and heated it in a warm water bath. When I was satisfied that it had been heated all the way through, I cut off a small portion and presented it to Yoshi. True to form he started nibbling on it and I can tell from the way he lapped at it again and again with his tongue that he was surprised that it tasted so sweet. He did not swallow the banana as expected and spat it out but when I offered him a second, larger, piece, he took it without hesitation and repeated the same actions again. I must say that all the fears I had about Yoshi being a difficult bird to wean were dispelled at this point. I think Yoshi's behavior is more symptomatic of "playtime" than actual weaning but I'm positive that if anything this natural born inquisitiveness has given me a head start on things, which should make weaning a significantly easier process given enough patience and positive reinforcement.

Nibbling on some banana
Another thing you may have noticed in these set of recent photographs is the bright orange and yellow that is appearing on Yoshi's belly and sides quite beautifully. This is not the typical coloration of a gc and I am quite confident, coupled with the light colored beak (again not typical gc coloration) and a small "halo" of yellow/orange on the edge of his red tail feathers, that he comes from either the pineapple or yellow sided mutation stock. That certainly came to me as a pleasant surprise and will be something I look forward to witnessing as Yoshi blossoms into a healthy, beautiful adult bird. 

Light and Love Blessings

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Handfeeding Parrots pt. 1

Hey ya'll

I recently came into possession of a very young parakeet that is probably between 3 weeks to a month old. It is a very fragile looking thing, still mostly covered in fluffy grey down with pin feathers erupting from its flesh here and there, but with a very scrappy and robust personality. Having spent almost a full year with the Semai people of Peninsular Malaysia (you can read more about that here) I've managed to learn a trick or two about hand raising young birds, often for rehabilitation purposes, out of necessity while living in the jungle. Most of the birds that I had successfully raised and released into the wild, however, were of the Starling (sturnidae) and old world fly-catcher (muscicapidae) family respectively. Only once was I forced to raise a young parrot and in all honesty the abandoned bird was already old enough to eat mashed up bananas and other soft foods from the tip of my finger. Nevertheless, those experiences, and the knowledge that came with it, made me believe that I was more than capable of handling a young parrot as well. After all, a baby bird is a baby bird, how different could it be? Barely 3 days into my raising this bird I can say that arguably, there IS not much difference between the hand rearing of parrots and other bird species. The general care is pretty much the same with regards to temperature and cleanliness with the chief (and most challenging) difference being triggering the appropriate feeding responses from the hatchlings. 

Our latest baby! We aren't able to sex it because GCs do not display sexual dimorphism but based on a hunch we have decided to name "him" Yoshi.
Parrots, you see, possess a special organ at the base of their throat known as a crop. The crop is a pouch like bulge that can expand for the bird to store its food for digestive purposes. Birds like starlings and fly catchers do not possess crops (or at least I don't think they do) and so when they beg for food often raise their heads skywards, with their mouths open wide, thus facilitating the passage of food from beak to gut. Baby parrots, however, receive their meals in a more direct manner with the parent bird often regurgitating half-digested food into the baby's throat. The passage of food from mouth to gut must first bypass the crop and to ensure that the food is stored within it, the baby parrot assists the motor reflexes of its esophagus by making a vigorous pumping motion with its head. Feeding is therefore not quite as simple as placing a syringe into the chick's gaping maw and pumping its contents straight down the throat. The shape of the parrot's bill (which is hooked) makes it also somewhat difficult as they do not beg in quite the same way as other birds. I gradually learnt that unless I took a more direct approach to it, feeding was always going to be a messy business (messier than it generally is with baby birds, which is to say, fairly messy!). By gently holding it from behind I was able to support Yoshi's head with my thumb and index finger and thus able to keep pumping in the formula with my other hand all the while adjusting to the pumping motion of his head.

The baby parrot is also a very inquisitive little fellow and often gets distracted easily by other animals, or by objects lying around at the time of its feeding such as cardboard rolls or pieces of tissue paper. I usually stop between feedings if Yoshi goes off to explore something as I think this helps encourage foraging behavior later in life.
As might be expected, Yoshi didn't take to being hand-fed by a new "mommy" fron the start but with patience and a lot of coaxing (I "talk" or make soothing noises to my birds as I feed them as I imagine that they are as much vocal as they are visual animals), he has finally started to warm up to me and feedings normally take 30 minutes or less per session, including the little breaks we take in between when he finds a piece of tissue paper or the food bowl to his fancy.

I have been receiving some conflicting information regarding how often I have to feed Yoshi, and how much. With my starlings and robins, feeding was generally done at 8am each morning and then once at every 2 hour interval with the frequency gradually decreased as the bird grows larger and becomes more and more independent. With Yoshi however, I find that this is where the parrot's crop has an added advantage to function as an indicator of when to start and stop feeding. The breeder I got him from only fed him two times a day, 10 tubes of formula per session, but told me that I could adjust his feeding accordingly as they were busy tending to so many animals during the course of one day. I learnt very quickly on to adjust Yoshi's feeding based on the size of his crop. When he has had a particularly large feeding (10 full tubes of formula, as instructed by the breeder) his crop becomes slightly distended and has the consistency of a squishy grape. Other times, when for whatever reason he may not feel like eating so much, the size of the crop can vary quite significantly. On average it takes Yoshi's crop 4 hours to empty out which is an indicator for me to begin feeding again. Based on the amount of tubes he takes per feeding (averaging between 5 and 8, almost never 10), I spread out his feedings at 3-4 times a day at every 4 hour interval, or whenever his crop has been emptied out. In this way, Yoshi has never had to beg for food and (aside from day 1 when he came home with an empty crop) has never screamed his little lungs out demanding a feeding. 
I've also started keeping a record of Yoshi's feedings such as the time daily, as well as how many tubes of formula he consumes every feeding. Right now he has consumed 26 tubes daily (6 more tubes than he was given at his breeder's place) spaced out at 4 hour intervals 3-4 times daily. The size of his crop gives me an indication of when a feeding is required and how much of it. 
I will begin to post updates about Yoshi's growth and development has time goes by. I plan to buy a weighing scale and start measuring his weight on a weekly basis as well. Weaning is something that I anxiously anticipate but I think I should have less difficulty than my starlings and robins, particularly because his naturally curious disposition has already led him to start nibbling at objects in his environment. 

Blessed be.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Back from The Field: Reflecting on 2014

Hey ya'll

I have just returned from the field where I spent the better part of 2014 living with the Semai people. The Semai are one of the 18 officially recognized tribes of Indigenous Peoples living across Peninsular Malaysia and by far the most numerous and widespread. The people that adopted me into their village, and later on their homes, were from the Bukit Kinta Rainforest region of Gopeng in the state of Perak, Malaysia which is a stretch of forest that borders the Titiwangsa Mountain Range (upon which the famous Cameron Highlands is located). The Semai people of the Bukit Kinta Rainforest region were spread out over three villages, Ulu Kampar, Ulu Geruntom, and Ulu Geroh. The family that I lived with the most during my time there was from Ulu Geroh and I had been sent there by my University as part of the data collection segment of my PhD to study the customs and culture of the Semai tribe, as well as note their contributions to the conservation of local flora and fauna the most notable of which were the iconic Rafflesia flower (Rafflesia cantleyi). 

Rafflesia cantleyi is perhaps one of the smaller species of Rafflesia flower but what it lacks in size it most certainly makes up in color.

I was adopted by a small family whilst in Ulu Geroh and was welcome to stay with a warm and affectionate woman and her daughter in their small one room house (for ethical purposes I shall refer to them from this point on as my Foster Mother and Foster Sister). The women of the Semai tribe are worth mentioning as some of the most resilient and resourceful people I have had the pleasure and honor of interacting with and my Foster Mother was no exception. Even during the early weeks of my initial stay I could tell that this was a woman who was used to working for what she wanted without having to wait for the affirmation or assistance of others to achieve it. My Foster Mother lived alone with her daughter ever since her husband passed away (her oldest child, her son, had married, moved out, and had fathered kids of his own by then) and had taken it upon herself to give her daughter everything her own parents had taught her were important in life: an education, a goal, and a future. To put her daughter through school, and to ensure that she had enough money when the time came for her daughter to go to college, my Foster Mother moved out of the small town house she had been living in with her husband, and back into the village of her ancestors where she hoped she would be able to make a decent living off of the land to support herself and her children. From rubber tapping at the wee hours of the morning (sometimes, with my Foster Sister *then an infant strapped to her back ) to raising her own flock of chickens, to other odd jobs such as catching butterflies and other insects for collectors, my Foster Mother has done it all.  She was also one of the first members of the village to become actively involved in Nature Conservation and is one of the longest founding members of SEMAI, a coalition formed by the villagers dedicated to the promotion of community-based eco tourism and environmental conservation, that is active to this very day. 

My Foster Mother's house

A photo of the neighbor's house and the surrounding forests which would often be beautifully misty in the mornings.
Most homes are well equipped with a gas stove but many Semai people still prefer to cook their meals traditionally over an open fire from time to time. 

The implementation of community based eco-tourism and environmental conservation in the Ulu Geroh village is a fairly recent thing and can be traced back to just slightly over a decade ago. The efforts were first officially sponsored and supported by the Malaysian Nature Society, but has since received sponsorship from various other bodies including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The SEMAI coalition was formed as part of a then-radical movement to make indigenous peoples the main stakeholders and decision makers of how best to implement Nature Conservation strategies and eco-tourism within their ancestral home land and their community. Today, SEMAI operates completely independently from any official sponsor but do continue to enjoy the support of various educational institutions and non-governmental organizations. The full story of SEMAI's formation and the growth, trials, and tribulations of its implementation of eco-tourism and nature conservation in the village is a lengthy one which I will not discuss here but I do wish to note that one of the things that I stood out to me the most was that the Semai people have always had a close relationship with the natural objects in the world around them. This, in itself is not something that is particularly remarkable and indeed, I suppose the same is often said of indigenous communities world wide. But while I had always taken for granted the "spiritual"ness in which this connection might take place, the community surprised me by showing how even the most mundane things: like the act of eating, is intrinsically tied to the various features of their ancestral homelands and so, their identities as well.  Certain forest plants, for instance, that are consumed for food, are associated with various stories of the Semai tribe that have been passed down for generations. These stories have largely withstood the tests of time and have prevailed despite factors such as modernization and the conversion of many of the Semai peoples to Christianity. By consuming these plants instead of what they call "city-vegetables" (referring to commercially cultivated greens) the Semai people are able to reconnect with their roots by accessing some form of collective based memory/imaginary that reinforces their unique identities as members of a particular indigenous tribe.

The Community Eco-Tourism Center was constructed more than 10 years ago from what was an abandoned Surau  (Muslim prayer building) that was provided for the villagers by the government. It now also serves as the village's Community Hall and important occasions such as meetings with NGO representatives and "village trials" are commonly held there. 
Living out in the forests with the indigenous peoples was something that I have always wanted to do all my life, and though I expected that there would be certain challenges along the way, some challenges that I anticipated were a lot more difficult than others. Going to the toilet, for example, was something that was particularly tricky to master in those early days. Many Semai settlements are constructed alongside rivers or other such fast moving bodies of water. As such, there didn't seem to be much need for Semai households to construct bathrooms or other such areas where one might discreetly eliminate waste. I can attest to this: squatting in the middle of a fast moving river, in full view of any person who might potentially pass by, all the while trying to balance precariously on mossy rocks is not the most conducive environment for waste elimination. Particularly when nature decides to call in the middle of the night. There is nothing quite so "frightening" as squatting on a slippery rock in the middle of the river in the middle of the night in pitch darkness. There's always the constant fear of falling into the river and being swept away by the current (particularly if it has been a rainy day), or being attacked on one's sensitive areas by any number of wild animals or creepy crawlies that might be lurking in the darkness. When I was not watching out for my behind (literally), though, the river was a fun place where people commonly headed to to cool off, especially during the dry season when there was not a cloud in sight and the weather could be most unforgiving. Of course, as common sense would dictate, any frolicking or "bathing" in the river was done much further upstream, away from where any elimination activities might take place.

Some of my closest friends in the village were the children, who often knew the best places to go to in the surrounding forests, whether it be to find turtles of fresh water shrimp, or to see the most beautiful waterfalls.  Many of these children, I would be told later in my stay, commonly referred to me as their "big brother" and would commonly seek me out when they were on holiday from school. 
Being a nature lover and an amateur lepidopterist, I kept a field journal studiously and recorded the various species of butterflies, insects, and animals that I encountered there. Fortunately for me, my Foster Mother was a woman who did not shy away from animals and indeed, kept a small flock of poultry (a mix of turkeys, guinea fowl, jungle fowl, and domesticated chickens) around her house, as well as several ornamental birds, parrots, and cats. This collection grew steadily and remarkably during my stay there. My Foster Mother would later confess to me that she felt more confident raising a larger variety of animals because I was there to provide the information and show her how. Having learnt about my love for butterflies from some of my sketches, she would also invite me out into the forest (especially during the first few months of my stay) whenever we had nothing to do around the house to search for butterflies and other insects for me to draw. Along the way, she would also enlighten me about the various plants we encountered. In this way I quickly learnt which leaves could be used to stop bleeding, or which flowers when chewed, could produce a numbing effect not unlike that of a moderately strong local anesthetic. My Foster Mother educated me in the ways of traditional indigenous medicine and passed on to me, as it was passed on to her by her father, the herbs one might use to produce a soup to cure fever, and the roots and spices needed to form a poultice that is beneficial for women who have just given birth. She also enlightened me on the different leaves, fronds, and woods that were commonly used by the Pawang (shamans) for spell casting and delighted me with stories about the various kinds of spirits that inhabit the forest as well as the appropriate methods of avoiding their wrath or mischief. The Semai tribes have a very different view on spirituality than most as spirits are considered beings that are of this world and are as real as say a tiger, or a tree. They are often spoken of as a matter of fact and almost never in a metaphorical or symbolic sense and though the worship or petition of spirits is frowned upon by most members of the community who have converted to Christianity, belief in such spirits continues to this day and traditional indigenous methods and knowledge of dealing with malice associated with said spirits are sometimes preferred in lieu of a Christian exorcism or prayer. Such a concrete belief in spirits has a profound effect on the community, typically when community members' fears of having transgressed in a particularly spiritual or "haunted" area is manifest in a "possession" of sorts: often diagnosed by symptoms such as unexplained violent outbursts, sudden change in personality or disposition, and hysteria. During my stay at Ulu Geroh, I attended no less than 6 such sessions.

Some of the animals from around the house
The Malayan Lorikeet/Blue Crowned Hanging Parrot (Loriculus galgulus) is a very significant bird in the Semai people's spirituality as it is believed to be one of the "good" animals that wards off the "dark" creatures. Certain insects, such as butterflies are also considered significant spiritually because they are believed to be the "pets" of certain powerful entities that have control over natural phenomenon like the weather.
Saying "hi!" to a particularly friendly sunbird. 
Also, due to a combination of factors: and abundance of the right host plants as well as several mineral springs in the surrounding forests, Ulu Geroh is constantly visited by BUTTERFLIES!!!

MORE butterflies...

And more butterflies than I ever thought I could see in the wild, all in large numbers and in one place

All in all, I'm going to conclude with saying that 2014 is ending on an all time high! Sure I did not come out unscathed (indeed I don't think some of these battle scars will ever heal) but what is an adventure without a few bumps along the way? And to top it off, I think I just fulfilled my New Year's resolution: to be a stronger and braver person than I was the year before. Personally, I think that I have exceeded my own expectations and more! So on that note I wish you all a very happy new year and shall leave you with these pictures of some life long friends I've made along the way: 

Blessed Be