Flash, my valiant and brave African Senegal parrot passed away silently during the night a little while ago. He wasn’t ill and was in very good spirits the evening before – even lowering his head for me to gently rub – our usual way to interact affectionately. He is missed by both Sage and Beak, his bird pals. He even allowed Beak to groom his feathers though he seldom reciprocated. His was a long socialization progress in the nearly 6 years here in Costa Rica with his aviary mates and Frank and me. He was especially close to Frank, who seemed to kind of identify with this shy but magical curiosity. I picture Flash now sitting quietly on Frank’s shoulder – on the other side.

The story of Flash

My friend, Carol and I were enjoying our meander through Feathered Friends in Santa Fe – our favorite place to be with a huge assortment of vibrant exotic birds, mostly parrots including macaws, conures and cockatiels. There were also parakeets and finches and a growing flock of wild pigeons fed by Kurt, one of the owners out behind in the sheltered parking lot . It was early in the year, 2000 and no trip from Española to Santa Fe was never complete without a stop at Feathered Friends of Santa Fe. It was a Santa Fe institution! Founded in 1985 by Darlene Parker, the shop is a show place for extraordinary birds.

As Carol and I passed each cage, many with open doors encouraging the occupant to socialize with other birds in the central area filled with limbed plants, perches and play things. Along the way we noticed one bird looking quite sad in his cage. Scared even. This small African Senegal was cowered in a corner, trembling. Carol inquired and we were told a distressing story of this hand raised young parrot who no longer trusted humans. We could hardly even see his brilliantly colored chartreuse and orange feathered breast, hidden beneath the brownish colored feathers of his head and back. This parrot had been hand raised, as all the young birds are at Feathered Friends and as such had learned to trust humans. That had been several years earlier and just days ago he had been returned by an anonymous person who said he was ‘vicious’. Darlene recognized his symptoms. He had likely been repeatedly mistreated, ignored and probably hit – most likely when he bit a finger or hand.. A painful and vicious cycle ensued where he bit in response to a hand that hit. What was left was a beautiful bird whose spirit had been broken. He simply cowered in the corner – afraid to even stand up to look around.

We asked what would become of this little parrot and Darlene explained that they were in the process of trying to rehabilitate him by careful, gentle handling and interaction with other birds but that it didn’t look promising. The damage was severe and the next course of action was probably to send him to a friend where he would be used for breeding, with other African Senegals. It wasn’t the worst outcome for him, but Carol, who also worked as an animal rescue person, wanted to try rehabilitation herself and promptly bought him, at a reduced price. He wound at my place after a few months because her other parrots didn’t accept him and we figured he would have the best opportunity with Sage and my conures, who seemed to accept him.

We named him Flash, for his soft brown-gray ‘topcoat’ back. His brilliant orange and chartreuse breast was only revealed when he ‘stood up’ and raised his wings – kind of like a flasher. We had only seen this happen a few times, but it was an impressive gesture of confidence and fortitude that we hoped could be reclaimed by this gentle, rescued parrot.

Flash had his own cage where he could see and interact with Sage, my very verbal African Grey on one side and Xena and Beak, two conures on the other side. Xena was immediately distrustful and kept her distance, as she did with all new arrivals regardless of species. Sage and Beak, however were quite curious about the new trembling parrot in the corner of his central cage. Carol came frequently to my house to continue her attempts at rehabilitation – using soft gloves and a gentle manner. She reasoned that he had been repeatedly hit for biting so her idea was to get him to re-trust an offered hand. His bites, however, were exceedingly painful and deep and he didn’t let go. Protecting her fingers with gloves, she reached into the cage over and over for weeks – to no avail. He seemed even more afraid of the gloves. Determinedly, she offered her bare fingers and finally gave up after just too many painful bites. But just before we resigned ourselves to return Flash to Feathered Friends, we came up with an idea. What if we reinforced Flash’s occasional standing up straight and raising his wings behavior in order to give him something to do besides cower?

We began a routine whenever Carol was visiting or whenever I saw him cowering. Raising our arms high, we’d chant, ‘Flash! Be an eagle!” One day he stopped shaking and watched us. And days later he was making his first tentative efforts at raising his wings in response to our actions and standing tall. Whenever we saw the success we praised him with, “Yay, Flash! You’re an eagle! YAY!”

The silly routine worked its magic and pretty soon Flash’s corner cowering behavior was becoming more and more rare. He would still bite any proffered finger, but his confidence was returning – which is all we really wanted.

Then an even more magical happening….

One morning I was still in bed sleepily listening to the chatter of my parrots in the next room when I heard Sage, in a loud a clear voice say, “C’mon, Flash. Be an eagle! Be an eagle!” Without getting out of bed I understood that Flash had responded to Sage by raising his wings because in the next minute both Sage and Beak were saying, “YAY, Flash! YAY!” Beak and Sage had taken over the Flash rehab project while silent Xena watched from the sidelines. Flash was an eagle!

For eight years Flash gradually stopped trembling and seemed to delight in his ‘Be an Eagle’ routine as well as some rhythmic dancing. He remained shy, but more socially interactive. When I moved to Costa Rica, Darlene and Kurt cared for all four of my parrots while I worked to manage their entry approvals into Costa Rica in 2009. After 4 months of efforts including the building of an outdoor aviary at my little house, Darlene and Kurt sent the parrots off in travel cages from Albuquerque, NM to San Jose, Costa Rica. They arrived safely and so very happy at our reunion in the parking lot at Denny’s near the airport. All four parrots co-habited the aviary until Xena’s death a few years ago. Now just Beak and Sage who still regularly talk with each other and love to play whistling games along with any humans who will join in.

I like to think of us all as eagles!