Stories From Red Siskin Project Breeders (The first in a series)


The Beginning
If you had told me a few years ago
th at I would be living in the same
house with a flock of Venezuelan
Black-hooded Red Siskins, I would
have told you to dream on! Like many
of you, I have loved birds all my life.
My love for birds took the form of
feeding wild birds in the winter,
donating money to good " bird
causes," and bird-watching. As a fulltime
psychologist, I was never sho11 of
professional challenges, and my husband
and I shared a full assortment of
hobbies and social interests. Accordingly,
I really didn 't think I had the
time or energy to invest in any additional
bird-related activities.
Five years ago, I bought a "pet" parrot
... for all the wrong reasons , I
might add. He had a long, pretty tail ;
he hopped and danced; he said,
"Hello Ricky" in the cutest voice I had
ever heard. Thus began my education
in the world of aviculture and birdkeeping.
I soon found out what complex,
demanding, majestic creatures
they are. I also began to learn of the
abuses and misuses of birds in the
name of bird-keeping. My husband
and I began to question the extent to
which it is ethical to cage birds . . .
Ironically, our thoughts were following
two divergent courses during
this period of our enlightenment. We
were increasingly disillusioned with 

bird-keeping, yet we had acqu ired
another parrot and some canaries.
Our bird family now consisted of the
original Patagonian Conure, Ricky
(the talkat ive, boi terous bird whom I
often charge with starting this whole
thing!) ; a Yellow-headed Amazon,
Tara (who, at eight years of age,
remains the most sweet-tempered parrot
I have ever known); and canaries
(most were Fife Fancy canaries, plus
assorted "mutts"). On one hand, we
loved keeping birds; on the other, we
had serious ethical questions about
the whole issue. We were in search of
some kind of resolution of these two
Getting Involved!
Enter the AFA! We began reading
the Watchbird in 1990, and it seemed
that there might be kindred souls out
there somewhere. We didn't agree
with eve1ything we saw in the Watchbird,
but we agreed with more of its
contents than thuse of other popular
bird-keeping magazines by a long
shot. Then we encountered some articles
about the Red Siskin Project.
The program gave full recognitio n to
the damage clone to this species by
the pet trade. The project had a plan to
correct that damage.
For those of you who could use a
brief overview of the program, I will
describe it. The project seeks to establish
a genetically-diverse captive
breeding population of these beautiful
little birds, with the eventual goal of
reintroduction into protected habitat.
A network of breeders across the
country (and someday, around the
world, perhaps) are now building
numbers of these birds, slowly but
su rely. Meanwhile, the project director,
Kevin Gorman, is exploring politi- 

cal, financial, and logistical dynamics
for obtaining protected habitat. Captive-
bred Siskins may someday be
used to satisfy bird-keeping demands
such that smuggling will not be necessary;
hence, the pressure will be taken
off the remaining wild birds. It is estimated
that only a few hundred breeding
pairs may be left in their native
habitat (Venezuela). The project seeks
participation at several levels, including
fund-raising, program organization,
and actual breeding.
We were a little nervous about getting
involved in the project .. . we
wondered if the director would be
interested in relatively inexperienced
aviculturists like us. We decided to be
brave and apply for membership in
the project and let the director decide
how we might best contribute. To our
relief, Director Kevin Gorman was
warm and encouraging . Kevin
explained to us that pa1ticipation was
needed at many levels. He first
involved us in various organizational
and clerical activities.
In 1991 , I accepted the position of
promotional director. Kevin assured
me that I could be of help to the project
in this way, so I decided to try it.
Promotional goals, in general, included
bringing the project to the public's
atten tio n, generating funds, and
acquiring sponsors for the project's
work. In my tenure as promotional
director, we completed a massive mailout
campaign to bird clubs around
the world, acquired various commercial
and club sponsorships, and got
some publicity in high-profile national
bird magazines. Yvonne Patterson has
since succeeded me as promotional
director and has brought national and
grass-roots publicity to the project.
The Siskins Are Coming!
The next big step came when it was
time for us to have siskins! We had
been given specific written and verbal
instructions about preparations for
their housing and care. Complete
breeding instructions were also provided.
Through Kevin's networking,
we purchased two pairs and were
given custody of three pairs of projectowned
siskins. We picked up all ten
birds (in a breadbox-sized cardboard
box) one evening at the airport. We
were terribly nervous as we drove
home. I had the box in my lap, and
the little birds dashed themselves
against the box and each other in aterrifying "popcorn-like" fashion.