I am many things, but “Parrot Expert” I’m not. I’m a Flight Attendant, a Writer, a human companion to two parrots and foster family to another. I write, I fly, I clean up parrot crap and rake up toy pieces left in the wake of my African Grey, Parker. If Parker was a human being, he would most likely belong to a motorcycle gang, or at the very least be hanging around street corners and stealing hub caps. Parker isn’t shy, delicate or quiet. He is one of the most confident parrots I’ve ever seen. He also has a tendency to make me nuts.
Be that as it may, and being a writer, I have a tendency to alleviate this frustration by writing about it. This is the “fun” in my dysfunction, so to speak.
Having parrots in my life has not led me to consider group therapy, (yet) nor has it sent me into the comforting arms of antidepressants (yet). Rather than consider these two options, I have decided that for me, writing about my frustration and keeping up a blog is the healthier option.
This is what led me to launching a new area of my writing career. I’d written extensively about Flight Attendants including a One-Act Play, titled “Loves People-Loves to Travel” and I’d written for my esteemed employer: the major airline I fly for.
Now that you all know what my other career is, and if we ever get a chance to meet, allow me to straighten something out for the record right here: I have absolutely no idea what they did with your luggage.
Yes, people do ask me questions like this at bird functions. This is where my eyes glaze over like frosted doughnuts. I get what my friend Shari refers to as “the look.” She’s referring to the vacant expression and slight smile I get when people begin a sentence with, “I was on a flight once and…”
On the other end, I have seen this look on the Professionals in Aviculture where talking about anything but birds is high entertainment, at least for a little while. For instance, I went to dinner with two Avian Vets at the Houston Parrot Festival and the subject of birds never came up. They seemed almost relieved. Of course the Airline Business did come up of course, but at that point I was a little fatigued from talking about birds as well, having done so for three days straight. So, it was a nice break for all of us. I can’t imagine talking about birds and nothing but birds all the time, every day like they must have to. I mean, I love birds, but I like to mix it up a little…
The Houston Parrot Festival is like the Parrot World on steroids. Yakking about your birds on Facebook or on a chat group online is one thing; but the Festival? The Festival is like tuning in to a fictitious “ Bird Channel,” turning it up to full-blast and watching it non-stop for three days.
It’s parrot toys, parrot stuff, parrot health, parrots diets, parrot rescues, parrot training, cages, bells, balls, and swings. It’s as if you’ve turned a corner in the Twilight Zone and found yourself in this big parrot-themed carnival. Baby, it’s parrots everywhere you look!
But the information you get and the people you meet is unreal. Never heard Dr. Irene Pepperbergspeak? Well, save your car fare because if you go this year, because she’ll be on hand to give a presentation. and so will Robin Shewokis, Jean Pattison, Chris Biro, and Barbara Heidenreich, among others.
And then there are the regular people like me. I really like running into my friends at the Festival and it’s so fun to see people year after year. There are also the vendors that I see that I enjoy talking to about their products, many of whom I’ve forgotten their names, and some I do remember. Bonnie Jay and Ronny will be there with their array of toys and gear from Star Bird Toys, (Ummm…I can highly recommend one of their toys…)
Laney Rickman and her Organization, “The Bird Endowment” is usually there with her classy shirts, blouses and donated artwork that support her incredible Blue Throat Macaw conservation project. If you haven’t met Laney, you must. Laney is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and has this simply wonderful non-profit conservation project.
Laney introduced me to Steve Malowski from the Cincinnati Zoo who got me approved for my writing, photo and video project on the Cincinnati Zoo for “Parrot Nation.” He is also responsible for making sure my Boney butt was up and out of bed at five in the morning every day during my vacation, which I did happily of course. It’s one thing to get up at that hour, which normally blows, but it’s quite another to do it knowing you’re going to feed penguins, dodge bat guano, and get VERY close to a pair of Andean Condors that day. Steve is responsible for a massive amount of my “Avian Education.” And if it wasn’t for Laney, I never would have gotten that opportunity.
Laney also introduced me to Donald Brightsmith of the Tambopata Macaw Project who, I found out later is an amazing dancer. Yes, I actually danced with “The Donald!”
I met Robin Shewokis at the festival. Robin’s company, “The Leather Elves,” has some downright incredible toys for birds as well as other creatures. She is also one hell of a speaker and released a wonderful video about Enrichment. That’s how I got to know Barbara Heidenreich who will be speaking again this year and has her phenomenal magazine, “Good Bird.” Barbara speaks all over the world and has a more vicious travel schedule than I do.
I was sitting in the ballroom listening to a speaker and a gentleman was sitting at the same table and we started chatting. We introduced ourselves and it was Dr. Lorenzo Crosta,an Avian Vet who, at one time worked at Loro Parque. He in turn, introduced me to Dr. Brian Speer. That evening after I won a “Major Award” for “Best Chicken Dance,” Dr. Patricia McWhirter asked me if I’d do the chicken dance for her presentation the next day. I accepted happily knowing I’d look like an ass, but what the hell. And it was Lorenzo and Pat who I went to dinner with and ended up talking about airline travel, accents and it was hilarious sitting at a restaurant with an Australian and a couple of Italians sucking down oysters and getting away from birds for a while.
Chris Biro,who teaches free-flight training to people, was having a little trouble during the “Men’s Hula Dance” fundraiser, so I grabbed his hand and steered him around to people who were madly waving money. Chris is a little shy, so I just jumped in to help him. Chris did okay, and I’m sure he’s been practicing for this year!
I don’t remember who introduced me to Sid Price, another free-flight trainer, but he was there as well. He has a wonderful blog and works with “Avian Ambassadors.”
I got to know Melanie Allen of the Hagen Pet Food Company. I have never laughed so hard as I once did with Melanie. I had just begun writing the “Memos” and didn’t know if they would be of interest to anyone. Melanie took the time to read them and steered me in the right direction. Melanie was my first “reader” so to speak.
These are just a few of the people I met at the Festival. I could go on and on but it’s better if you go yourself and just see what it is that I’m talking about. If you see me there, please stop to talk and I’ll introduce you around to a few people I’ve met…
(The Houston Parrot Festival begins on Friday, January 22nd. Please see the link “Houston Parrot Festival” in the post for more information and a registration form. See you there!)
Patricia Sund is a Free-Lance Writer residing in Florida with her three African Greys. She has been published in About.com, Bird Talk Magazine, Birds USA, In Your Flock Magazine, Good Bird Magazine as well as numerous websites and newsletters. She is currently doing research for a book titled "Parrot Nation".