"So I Called an Über for a Parrot"

January 3, 2019

Have you ever pulled out your smartphone and called a ride-share for a parrot? No neither have I, but let me introduce you to someone who has. Meet Nurit Katz, UCLA’s Chief Sustainability Officer. She is an avid bird lover, and also happens to be the go-to person in her friend and colleague circle for bird injury questions. Without further ado, let’s dive into this spectacular and so L.A., story of a baby parrot saviour.

Emmett the rescued baby parrot

So Nurit, can you set the scene for us? Where and when did this story take place, and can you please tell us what sort of baby parrot you were trying to save?

It all started when Ann Carlson, Executive Director of the Emmett Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA, found a parrot on the street in Larchmont Village while she was walking her dog. The parrot was too young to be on its own, and the nest was too high above in a palm tree for her to put it back. She was about to leave for a trip, and I couldn’t leave UCLA to pick up the parrot. So, over the phone I gave her instructions to put the parrot in a shoe box. I then ordered an Über for the parrot to get it to campus.

I originally heard about this story at a BirdLA Day dinner and planning party at Susan & Dan Gottlieb’s house. The statement, “I recently called an Über for a baby parrot,” immediately got the room’s attention. I couldn’t wait to hear the whole story! Can you tell us how the Über driver reacted to the request to pick up a parrot?

Ann was with the parrot and met the driver on the curb. She told me, “the Über driver was nonplussed. He just wanted to make sure the bird didn't get out of the shoebox. Otherwise he acted as if my request was perfectly ordinary.”

So after an hour long stint in L.A. traffic (traffic from Larchmont to UCLA doesn't even stop for parrots!), how were the parrot and the driver when they arrived?

The driver was really happy to have been of service and had me take a photo of him with his camera. The parrot seemed worn out, and was probably dehydrated. I named the parrot Emmett in Ann’s honor and gave Emmett some appropriate food. Emmett can be either a girl or boy name, so it was also appropriate since it’s nearly impossible to sex a parrot. It usually requires a DNA test. Unlike some birds (e.g. hummingbirds) female and males parrots look exactly the same (similar to swans and penguins). This is because they pair and raise their young together. Whereas in hummingbirds and some other bird species, it is the females that raise the young on their own and have less noticeable colors to keep attention away from the nest.

Thanks to this understanding Über driver!

What happened next? 

A friend and colleague of mine, Dan Cooper, identified the bird as a Mitred Conure** I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a wildlife rehab facility that would take the conure. Although they are found locally in the area, they are a non-native bird from the Andes, so I wasn’t sure if anyone could help them. Although I was fond of Emmett, it is a huge commitment to look after one, they can live to be 60 years old! Normally when caring for stranded/injured wildlife you need to keep them in a quiet dark place until you get them to a rehabber, but since I thought Emmett would have to be a pet, I allowed him to socialize with me. During the days Emmett was with me at work they got to meet a number of faculty and students and join me in meetings. They were really comfortable with everyone.  

**Also known as Mitred Parakeets, Psittacara mitratus

Can you tell us about the process you went through to find a parrot rehabber?

Cara Horowitz, another UCLA law professor who also works with the Emmett Institute found SoCal Parrot (SCP) and sent me the link. I called the same day and learned that they could send a volunteer up to pick up the parrot. I decided I wanted to take Emmett down there myself, because I really wanted to see the facility and meet the staff.

The rehabber you eventually found was in San Diego, how did you feel about having to take the parrot on such a long drive?

It was definitely a long drive, especially since I had to turn around and come back due to another commitment. However, it was worth it to meet the team and see the facility and know that Emmett was in good hands.

How did you make sure the parrot was comfortable and safe on the drive?

Emmett rode most of the way in the shoebox, and sometimes cuddled up on my shoulder.

Can you tell us about the rehab facility and how they care for the parrots?

It was hard to leave as I’d gotten quite fond of Emmett in our days together, but I had peace of mind knowing Emmett now had a chance at a wild life, and was getting the best care. Amazingly, just a few hours after I left, three more young conures from the OC area were dropped off, so Emmett now had adopted siblings in his incubator which gave them a better chance at socialization and survival.  

I reached out to Sarah Mansfield, the Operations Manager at SoCal Parrot and she told me they use the 3 R method: Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Release. As part of getting them ready for release, SCP makes sure the parrots are not attached to humans, and are socialized with other birds. They have a pre-release flight enclosure where the parrots practice flying and foraging for food as they would in the wild.

Parrot enclosure at the SoCal Parrot facility

Has Emmett been released yet?

Emmett should be released soon with the other conures and I hope to drive down to be there on their big day. SCP just did a release of Amazon parrots and I watched online, it was amazing to see them all fly out and they joined a huge flock of maybe 800 parrots!

What are your thoughts/feelings on this whole experience?

I am so glad we were able to give Emmett a chance at a life in the wild, and it was honor to get to care for Emmett for a little while. I miss the adorable parrot snores.  

Any other questions you’d wish I’d asked you?

I think we hit everything! I would just add if people are interested in learning more about these naturalized birds, UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies recently collaborated on a great piece with KCET about how LA has become an Urban Ark for endangered species from other areas. 

Adult parrot almost ready for release

Thanks so much Nurit for sharing this story with us. There is a lot of debate surrounding our resident Los Angeles parrot populations. Of the 14 species that call L.A. home now, none of them are originally from the area. They have all found their way here through purposeful or accidental introductions. The debate centers on whether rehabbed parrots should be released back into the wilds of Southern California. Some believe we should not be releasing them back into our skies at all for fear of impacting native bird populations. Others have the opinion that our local populations of these birds are valuable, as the wild parrots in their native ranges are on the decline. This is particularly true for Red-crowned Amazons (Amazona viridigenalis), which are listed as endangered in their home country of Mexico. The reasoning goes, if their numbers continue to decline in Mexico, then at least they won’t go extinct globally. But there are still other opinions, some propose that we could release parrots from L.A. back into their home ranges if they ever get too close to extinction. This is indeed a hotly debated topic, with scientists, bird lovers, and rehabbers often holding differing if not polar opinions. Thankfully for Emmett and all the other Mitred Conures, their numbers are stable down in their Andean mountain range.

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(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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