Frequently asked questions
Is it really illegal to own a parrot? My family has always had parrots and no-one has ever said it is illegal.
Why are you against Belizeans owning parrots? So many other countries allow parrots as pets, why should Belize be different?
Is Belize so bad compared to other countries who have naturally occurring parrots?
Q: "Is it really illegal to own a parrot? My family has always had parrots and no-one has ever said it is illegal."
A: Yes, in Belize, it is illegal to own any species of indigenous wildlife without a licence. You can check for yourself in the Wildlife Protection Act of Belize. Eventually we would like every single captive bird to be registered and licensed. Why not visit the Forest Department to licence your bird now?
Q: "Why are you against Belizeans owning parrots? So many other countries allow parrots as pets, why should Belize be different?"
A: If we had our way there would be no such thing as a pet parrot. Captive birds throughout the world are often just as badly treated as the ones here in Belize and every year a huge percentage of them are given to rescue centres (do a quick internet search for 'parrot rescue' and you will be astounded at the enormous number of birds that suffer as we try to mould these fiercely independent and amazing creatures to suit our own selfish needs). Most Belizean parrot-owners have busy lives with no time to socialise with their bird. The cage is usually kept outside - his natural environment where he can see and hear wild parrots. He knows he's a parrot and desperately want to be free and will be aggressive toward humans. What you have here is a wild animal in a cage, not a pet. The idea of 'pretty polly' is generally a one-way street: we humans like to look at him, and his funny sounds entertain us, but any care for his physical or emotional well-being is a rare thing. He will have been stolen from an already unstable wild population, his siblings and his home may have been destroyed in the process, he will never reproduce, he is unlikely to live very long, and he is destined to suffer a miserable, wretched life.
Q: "Is Belize so bad compared to other countries who have naturally occurring parrots?"
A: Absolutely not - which is why we firmly believe this is a worthwhile crusade. El Salvador has already eradicated the scarlet macaw and the white-fronted parrot through trapping, killing and habitat destruction. The macaw populations are dwindling throughout South and Central America, and even eco-friendly Costa Rica are having trouble keeping its populations healthy. Belize still has a lot of its forests intact - for now. But, the yellow-head parrot is already a Red List endangered species, the blue-heads are not far behind, and yet Belizeans still take hundreds of chicks from the nest every year. Try to imagine Belize as it used to be. Ask your grandparents how the skies used to go black with parrots: red-loreds, white-fronted, yellow-heads, blue-heads, all over the country: in our towns, villages, on the outskirts of forests, flying free as noisy, healthy, breeding populations. Just imagine the tourism revenue that would result from such an amazing sight. Imagine how Belize would flourish with such an amazing ecological achievement. Just imagine how rich the lives of our children would be in such a world -and we don't just mean financially. It is so easy to achieve: stop hunting and stop nest-robbing, and plant trees instead of destroying the forests.
Q: "What do I do if someone offers me a baby parrot?"
A: The first thing is to remember that it's illegal to capture one or to own one. Remember that chances are several parrots died before this one arrived on your doorstep, that the nest site was probably destroyed in order to reach the bird, that the person with this bird does not care about Belize or its wildlife or its tourism - only about his own profiteering. And remember that every time someone gives money for a bird, it encourages more theft, and that every year many birds die leaving fewer and fewer wild parrots. Finally - do the right thing: tell the person he is breaking the law, send him away and report the incident to Rasheda Garcia at the Forest Department (802-1524).
Q: "How many species of parrot are there in Belize?"
A: There are 11 species in total, some are a unique subspecies - even more reason to protect them:
Ara macao (scarlet macaw)
(the following three are closely related)
Amazona oratrix (yellow-headed Amazon) (endangered)
Amazona ochrocephala (subspecies belizensis) (Yellow-crowned Amazon)
Amazona auropalliata (yellow-naped Amazon - a visitor to Belize)
Amazona farinosa (mealy or blue-head parrot)
Amazona autumnalis (red-lored or yellow-cheek parrot)
Amazona xantholora (yellow-lored Amazon)
Pionus senilis (white-capped or white-headed parrot)
Amazona albifrons (white-fronted parrot)
Pionopsitta haematotis (brown-hooded parrot)
Aratinga nana (aztec or olive throated parakeet)
Q: "How do I clip my parrots' wings?"
A: Your bird is a thinking, feeling creature and wing-clipping is a specialist job. In any other country you would be advised to consult an avian vet: not practical in Belize, of course. We have tried to put together the best of the do-it-yourself advice on offer. Visit our parrot care page and read carefully before attempting to cut your bird's wings.
Q: "What size cage should I have for a parrot?"
A: We're not going to lecture - you know by now - no cage is too big and every cage is too small. But since you asked... the size of cage depends on the size of the bird, whether or not his wings are clipped, whether he's indoors or outdoors, whether or not you socialize with your bird and how many birds there are in the cage.
As a guideline, a red lored, inside the house with clipped wings could be reasonably happy with a cage 3' x 3' x 3' provided he had time outside the cage every day and plenty of toys to occupy him. The same bird kept permanently outside, without his wings cut will need a flight cage of at least 6' x 6' x 10' long to retain his sanity, and even that is not a given. (10'x10'x10' would be much better)
You will need to think carefully about what to make your cage out of - a bored parrot will demolish wood, plastic or bamboo in a few weeks. The mesh size needs to be appropriate for the size of bird. Chicken wire is totally unsuitable as the mesh is too small for parakeets and white-fronteds, and too flimsy for anything bigger. Consider using an existing structure, for instance a wall of your house, as one side of your cage.
Please take a look at the basics on our parrot care page - or you could always call us for advice.
Q: "What do baby parrots eat?"
A: In the wild they eat what their parents eat, after it has been partly digested and turned into a gooey mess for them.
At Belize Bird Rescue we feed any parrot babies (or indeed sickly adults) that come our way, on our very popular 'baby food': here's how!
- We boil up some sweet corn (we try and use the expensive yellow cob-corn, although the hard yellow feed-corn will work if it's extremely well boiled). We don't use canned corn as it's too high in salt.
- We get the complete parrot food in the form of dried pellets from Reimer's Feed Mill (Spanish Lookout, Belmopan and Belize City) and soak them in boiled water (preferably using the water poured off the corn) until they soften.
- We add a couple of scoops of soft papaya, a drop of bird-vitamin and whizz the whole lot up in a food processor.
- This is then offered gently into the birds' open (and hopefully willing) beak with a plastic syringe, without the needle. The bird is not forced to eat. He feeds 4 or 5 times a day and we always allow a 'rest' at night, as per his natural schedule. When he is older he will start to spoon-feed or help himself from a bowl. We don't rush the weaning process, the food we give is rich in essential vitamins and minerals, and it's always better to let the bird tell you when they are ready to progress to experimenting with solid food. It will normally be around 8-10 weeks, although it's difficult to age a 'stolen' bird.
What can go wrong:
- The wrong food or too much food will remain undigested in the crop, go sour and become infected. The bird will die.
- Bad technique and inexperience with a syringe may cause the bird to inhale his food and he will develop pneumonia. If this happens the bird will die.
- Over-hot food will burn the bird's crop (microwaved food is particularly renown for harbouring hot-spots) If this happens, the bird will die.
- Feeding the bird an unbalanced, inappropriate diet will cause malnutrition: the bird will suffer long-term health problems, or die.
It's not easy - the best parents are the real parents. Here's a thought - don't buy baby parrots!
Q: "What do I do if I find a baby bird?"
A: It depends a lot on the condition of the bird and the amount of feathers it has. Please contact us for advice before you do anything, in case you end up hurting rather than helping the baby.
Q: "I love birds and really want one as a pet - what do you recommend?"
A: First things first, wild parrots do not make very good pets. We keep saying it, but they really are very demanding creatures. They do not have the benefit of hundreds of years of domestication like your dog - they are wild and they are intelligent - a lethal combination! However, budgerigars (budgies) make nice pets (you probably call them parakeets). They don't occur naturally in Belize, so they don't get too frustrated in a cage. They eat seed and soft fruits, so they're easy to feed, they breed really well in captivity which means they are happy (when was the last time you heard of a caged parrot laying an egg...? Right!). They talk, they sing and they're small - which means a smaller cage is okay (not brilliant, but okay). So, if you're hell-bent on a bird - get a budgie!
Q: "What does an owl eat?"
A: Meat! In the form of other birds, bats, bugs, rats & mice. Yummy. The birds we get at the centre are hand-fed with small pieces of chicken, beef and liver (too much liver is bad for them though). We also crush and chop the soft chicken breast bones for some species of owl; in the wild they eat the whole animal and then spit back up the parts they don't need.
Q: "Do you only work with parrots and owls?"
A: This has certainly become our primary work, although we do take in any orphaned or injured birds from other bush and savannah species if necessary. We can't work with sea and coastal birds, as we don't live anywhere close to their natural habitat, however we can help water birds such as jabirus and herons, as our centre is river-side with a well-stocked lake.
Q: "How do I attract wild birds to my garden or yard?"
A: Plant flowers: you can 'borrow' pieces of hibiscus and ixora and other flowing bushes from garden hedges, stick the pieces in the ground during the rainy season and they will more than likely grow. Plant fruit trees; particularly papaya, kinep, governor plum, ackee, red apple, sugar apple... Provide water for bathing and drinking - a flower-pot bottom on an old tree-stump makes an excellent bird-bath. Ask at the market for (free) rotten papaya, banana, apple, pineapple - any soft fruits you can think of. Put out stale bread (not too much though, it's not a natural part of any bird's diet.) Get the cheap seed from Reimers Feed Mills and scatter it on the ground. Allow a corner of your yard to 'go wild' (if you're allowed), andthe beautiful blue buntings will visit for the grass seed. Hofius in Belize City sell hummingbird feeders: measure 1 cup of white sugar to 4 cups of hot water, stir until the sugar dissolved, wait to cool and then pour it in the feeder. Eventually you can get hummingbirds to come to your feeder as you hold it in your hand. Honestly! Hummingbirds have no predators (not enough meat on their bones!) so they're not scared of you. Put up nesting boxes - there's no tried and tested formula - experiment with box and hole size. Attracting parrots is much more tricky - they are quite shy. They love wild papaya and they are so easy to grow from seed. Aricaris and toucans will visit for banana and papaya. Check out the advice that Birds Without Borders provide on attracting wild birds to your garden.
Don't forget - birds eat those nasty insects and mosquitoes, so avoid using the spray and let nature take care of it's pests!