Bird Show with a Message


"Rain forest" and "recycle" are not the easiest words for a bird to say but Sebastian, a Yellow-crowned Amazon, pronounces them clearly. As a featured performer in the bird show at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, Sebastian helps express the message of the show: please learn to appreciate birds so you will protect the environment, conserve habitats, and not obtain a parrot as a pet without understanding what bird ownership entails.

By its setting alone, the Point Defiance Park reminds visitors of the importance of preserving the environment. Located at the tip of Point Defiance in Puget Sound, the 700-acre park offers spectacular views of the Sound, forests and nearby mountain peaks. Many people come to the park to enjoy miles of hiking trails, roam the gardens, play on the shore, or simply picnic. To those fascinated by animals, however, the highlight is the zoo, specializing in animals of the Pacific Rim. A few of the residents include Polar Bears, Beluga Whales, Arctic Foxes, sharks, Red Wolves, Golden Tamarins, and an amazing assortment of fish and tidepool denizens.

While waiting for the bird show, bird lovers can see both the familiar and the strange. The World of Adaptations building houses a lovely flock of finches, including Lady Gouldians, shafttails and weavers, flitting among potted plants and enjoying a little brick pool. A few steps away are Northern Pied Hornbills (Antbracoceros malabaricus), owls, a Tawny Frogmouth, Bali Mynahs and blue jays. Those wishing to broaden their interest in flying creatures to embrace the furry variety will be intrigued by the exhibit of Short-tailed Fruit Bats. Next, the avian aficionado must move outdoors to enjoy the tundra waterfowl, puffins, and Magellanic Penguins.


Compared to the numerous Pacific Rim water birds, the parrots of Point Defiance are few in number. These psittacines are crowd pleasers, nonetheless, because of the summer bird shows presented twice daily by staff biologist Peggy Lucas. Each member of her colorful cast lends his or her talents to convey the show's message.

Corey, a beautiful seven and a half year old Blue and Gold Macaw, opens the show. One of her favorite trained behaviors is to fly to the low railing separating the stage from the audience. In fact, she has been known to make unscheduled flights to "her" fence without waiting for a cue. (While performing, the fully flighted birds in the show wear lightweight tethers carefully designed to be safe when used by experts on trained birds. Pet owners are well-advised to keep their birds' wings clipped.) When she sticks to the script, Corey begins by playing the part of the twoyea r-o l d child a parrot is said to resemble; she gleefully throws cups and toys crashing to the floor. Peggy Lucas makes the first of many points supporting her argument that parrots are not good pets for most people. She points out that not only are parrots permanently in their "terrible twos" but that, as flock animals, they have a deep need for constant social interaction. A human flock member must spend hours each day to meet this need.

Robert, an 11 year old Moluccan Cockatoo, is another lesson to wouldbe bird owners. This impressive handraised bird drove his previous owners to distraction, and nearly to divorce, with his screaming and constant demands for attention. They were thrilled when the zoo agreed to take him off their hands, and ears. In the show, Robert screams on command as a warning to anyone considering sharing his home with a cockatoo. (Robert still manages to scream a fair amount of his off-duty time as well.) His


open-beaked screeching also allows Lucas to describe what that powerful chewing equipment can do to woodwork and furniture if the owner is not ever-vigilant.

Of course, a beak can also bite.

Rufus, the African Gray, wails like an ambulance siren to underscore the point. On command, he also rings like a telephone, quacks, oinks, and says "hello" and "goodbye."

Next to appear is the bird Lucas calls the "most difficult," a deceptively sweet-looking blue-eyed Triton Cockatoo named Daisy. Possibly wildcaught, poor Daisy was passed from owner to owner before her luck changed and she landed at the zoo. Domineering and aggressive, Daisy earned the nickname "the alligator" by frequently drawing blood with her bites. She prefers men but, now that no men are involved with the show, has formed a firm friendship with one of her handlers, Lori Braun. Daisy adores cuddling with her friend, but even Lori Braun must play by Daisy's rules or pay the price. Robert, the Moluccan, has apparently decided Daisy's friendship is not worth the price. Unlike some cockatoos of different species who enjoy each other's company, Daisy and Robert are decidedly cool toward one another.

Daisy's contribution to the show is to dip into a can of "paint" (actually a clean can holding a treat) to remind the audience that many common substances are dangerously toxic. After "rescuing" Daisy, Lucas advises everyone to be careful with toxic materials, even everyday items such as little batteries, and to use safer alternatives whenever possible. She recommends, for example, returning to "oldfashioned" standbys such as baking soda and lemon oil for cleaning. Daisy underscores the lesson with a death scene worthy of Sarah Bernhardt. Perched on Lucas's hand, Daisy stretches up, then swoons backward, finishing hanging limply by her feet, her head straight down. (A humorous but vivid illustration of the environmental warning, this performance also proves that a simple trick done with flair may outshine some complex behavior using an expensive prop.)

In her leisure time, Daisy plays a strange game. (Lucas says she has seen one other bird, also a cockatoo, amuse itself in the same way.)