Native Intelligence: O`ahu

Flight Club

Story by Liza Simon. Photos by James Anshutz.

“Hello … hello!” squawks a jumbo-sized scarlet macaw named Kanani Girl as she climbs onto a stranger’s shoulder and attempts to preen a lock of human hair. Kanani Girl is one of the regulars at the Aloha Hawaiian Parrot Association’s monthly meetings at Blaisdell Park in Pearl City. The Sunday afternoon meetings are casual affairs where dozens of parrot enthusiasts relax in beach chairs and delight in the company of their “fids,” or feathered kids, as club members call their charges. The fids squawk, strut, fan their plumage, show off their vocabulary and vie for human attention, more or less ignoring each other. Now and then one stops everything to nosh on the fruit, nuts and birdseed at the potluck table.

Not every fid comes off as a pampered only child. A cuddly umbrella cockatoo named Mai Tai actually works for a living; she’s a certified therapy animal who offers a soothing presence to a teenage boy with autism. The boy shows a visitor a photograph of him grooming the bird with a blow-dryer; it’s a labor of love for both boy and—judging from Mai Tai’s demure pose —bird.

Part of the parrot club’s mission is to promote responsible parrot ownership, which is why fids aren’t allowed at meetings unless their wings are clipped so they can’t fly away. Escaped parrots can become weed-spreading, native-bird-bullying pests who plunder fruit trees with impunity. Whenever the club gets a report of a parrot who is lost, abandoned or in need of adoption, it springs into action. But finding a good fit for a homeless fid can be a challenge. “These birds are smart, but they are also temperamental and they read our emotions very well, so finding the right home is intense work,” says Cinde Fisher, president of the Aloha Hawaiian Parrot Association.

To complicate things, the life expectancy of a parrot can exceed sixty years, meaning they often outlive their keepers. With that in mind, the club encourages parrot owners to make provisions for their fids in their wills. “We think of parrots as family,” Fisher says, “and they consider us their flock.”

Story by Liza Simon. Photos by James Anshutz