Another Island Note…
I am fortunate to live at a place on the island where I get a heavy dose of parrots most of the year. For a tropical troubadour, nothing could be better. Most evenings huge numbers of yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots fly through the ravine behind my house. They come in twos or threes or groups up to twenty depending on the season. The birds are headed for their nightly roost, a tranquil place away from people high on the ridge above my home.
Right before sunrise, the flight back out into the world is definitely not orderly. Rather, it is a chaotic explosion of feather and squawk, sometime approaching one hundred birds doing wild aerial acrobatics. The sound is deafening. Often I am woken by the all the bluster and just smile. It is a pleasant reminder that I am where I want to be on this big, blue marble; down island on dushiBonaire where the trade winds blow free, dolphins and mantas frolic in the blue sea, and the rum is cold and good.
But yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots are not an enigma for me nor a distant avian concept that simply flutters by my home twice a day. Rather, I am one of the few lucky islanders fortunate to have a personal relationship with a member this exotic species called Amazona barbadensisor by the local name of lora.
That is all possible thanks to my good friends George and Laura. By the late 1980s, they had had enough of conventional stateside life and set sail south from Chesapeake Bay for an extended cruise. Years later aboard their yacht Oscarina the couple landed on Isla de Margarita, one of Venezuela’s Caribbean island gems.
A man there offered to sell them a parrot, a yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot in fact. Life for George and Laura has never been the same.
The bird was named Oscar, who quickly adapted to life on board their sloop. And on land, he became quite an asset too. “I don’t think we ever bought a drink after we got Oscar,” explains George. “Laura would walk into an island beach bar with the parrot on her shoulder. From then on the rum would flow free and freely for us.”
Fast forward several decades and Oscar is still part of the family. Parrots are known for their longevity often living well into their 70s. The crew of three eventually left Oscarinafor life on land and now live deep in the mondi(outback) of Bonaire. The bird has quite a setup with an elegant cage for sleeping and a daytime perch where he lords over the estate, looking down on the household’s cat and two dogs. I’ve observed Oscar watching other loras from his lookout. He seems to express a bit of disdain and superiority toward his wild kin. Perhaps being talisman of a sailboat and head of a manor has gone to his lovely yellow-colored head.
And maybe that is understandable for an island celebrity with wings. Oscar has become the “face” of the Bonaire lora. He starred in the music video “Let Them Fly Free”. When National Geographic came to film part of a documentary on parrots, Oscar refused to sit on a cactus like the rest of his Bonairean brethren. The NG cameraman gave in to the local star’s demand, building a smooth perch off of his tripod so that the famous bird would be framed in the shot. Who said TV was real anyway? And then there was the time that the local parrot foundation rented a bus to take its well-healed patrons around the island in search of parrots. Who was at the front of the bus leading the charge? Oscar, of course.
But just when we thought we knew everything about this lora, a parrot scientist appeared one day. He offered to run a DNA test on the bird. With a saliva sample in hand, the scientist hurried off to the lab. Two weeks later we found out that Oscar was actually a female. The lora seemed totally unphased by this sudden transgender result. After all, this bird has seen it all. She has been in enough rum bars to keep Jack Sparrow happy. She’s sailed to some of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. And now in her terrestrial years, Oscar reigns from her roost.
Come another sunset, I watch once more the parade of yellow-shouldered Amazons past my home. Some stop to eat cactus fruit before heading up to the ridge for the night. Eventually all are settled in branches above the mondi. It is about this time that Laura gently places a blanket over her parrot’s cage. It is the passing of another island day. I expect Oscar will see many more. Hopefully, I will again get to share a few of them with him. Uh, I mean her. Having a parrot as a buddy is simply the best, especially when one lives on an island. Arrrgh.