- The Cayman parrot is the country’s national bird and is descended from the Cuban parrot.
- The Cayman parrot has now evolved into two distinct sub-species: the Grand Cayman parrot and the Cayman Brac parrot.
- Both parrots are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world.
- The Cayman parrot is in the Amazon parrot family and is the most brightly coloured of them all. The brilliant green is excellent camouflage from predators and their bright blue flight feathers also hide them when in flight.
In times gone by it was popular to keep parrots as pets in Cayman and the practice continues to cause distress to some of these beautiful birds.
Animal welfare organisation Cayman Wildlife Rescue was instrumental in educating the public about the cruelty that often arises from keeping parrots in captivity.
Run by volunteers, Cayman Wildlife Rescue also helped rehabilitate and release captive parrots back into the wild.
However, due to a lack of funding, the organisation’s programme was suspended last year, so there is currently no official assistance for Cayman’s national bird which is considered an endangered species.
It has been illegal since 1989 to capture, export, sell or keep a Cayman Parrot as a pet.
However some people who already had birds, retained them as pets because the parrots did not know how to live in the wild.
And despite the law, poaching remains a major threat to the Cayman parrot as people are still taking birds from the wild for pets, according to Cayman Wildlife Rescue.
“I have first-hand knowledge of the evidence of parrot poaching, including from National Trust property,” says Stuart Mailer, field officer with the National Trust for the Cayman Islands which oversees Cayman Wildlife Rescue.
“Seeing a parrot in a cage is like seeing a friend in jail,” says Lois Blumenthal, a Cayman Wildlife Rescue volunteer.
“You want to know that your friend has clean water, enough of the right foods, space, safety, some distraction from boredom and, ultimately, a hope of freedom and a better life – the basics until she or he can be rehabilitated.”
Lois points out that seeing a parrot in the wild is a thrill for residents and visitors alike.
Cayman parrots, even when clearly miserable and unwanted, should not be released without extensive and time-consuming preparation.
“The process is quite involved, including issues with imprinting, diet, strength and flight ability, as well as overall health and environmentally-responsible protocols such as sending Brac parrots to the Brac, making sure there are no communicable diseases present, etc,” says Lois.
“Cayman Wildlife Rescue used to do this, but since it’s been suspended, there is no formal programme for release.”
As the programme manager of Cayman Wildlife Rescue, Alison Corbett assisted with dozens of parrots, rehabilitating them for release back into the wild.
“Many of these birds were surrendered, abandoned or escaped pets, the majority suffering from years of neglect or abuse,” she says.
“We encountered birds so overweight they were unable to fly, had poor nutrition resulting in weak feathers, and also birds which were so lonely and bored they began unhealthy habits such as plucking their own feathers out.
“The change we watched unfold while these parrots were under our care was amazing. We took poor excuses of this endemic species and made them into real Cayman parrots.”
Parrots are initially prepared for returning to the wild by being socialised by other parrots which become their teachers.
“Our volunteers ensured the enclosures were kept clean, and provided the parrots with engaging toys and greenery to explore, and worked tirelessly to harvest wild foods,” explains Alison.
“Many of the parrots were in the programme for several years before finally being ready to be set free. When the enclosures were opened, we always tried to stage what is called a ‘soft release’ meaning that post-release we provided supportive food and observation and, if necessary, took the parrots back into care if they were not ready.
“I cannot convey (enough) the significance of countless volunteers’ hours, the generous support of Otto Walter (a Caymanian farmer who pioneered parrot conservation efforts) and the ongoing donations of funding for food, supplies and veterinary bills that were needed for this true community effort.
“Without this programme, there are few resources available for preparing captive parrots for release back into the wild. I strongly encourage people to support the National Trust in its efforts to restore Cayman Wildlife Rescue.”