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How a Green-winged Macaw Found Happiness

By: Rebecca Sweat

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For a macaw, living with other flock members in the canopy of the Amazon rain forest is about as good as it gets. But for a male green-winged macaw named DB, hanging around with 20 other macaws in one of the Gabriel Foundation's aviaries is the next best thing.

The foundation is a non-profit bird rescue and rehabilitative organization located in Aspen, Colo. DB arrived there in June 1998, when his owners - with whom he had lived with for seven years - became concerned that his home environment was not right for DB.

"DB seemed to be quite depressed, and he had developed a serious problem with feather plucking," recalls Julie Murad, the foundation's founder and director. "He had gradually picked his entire chest, thigh and leg areas, and the problem was not getting any better."

The owners thought DB would be happier living the rest of his life in the foundation's sanctuary. There, he would make friends with other macaws and have plenty of room to fly around. If DB was happy, the owners knew, there was a good chance he would stop feather-picking.

The Koko Connection

Once it was decided that DB would go to live at the foundation, Murad and her staff had some lengthy conversations with the bird's owners. The more they knew about DB's background, the better they could provide for his needs.

One of the first things Murad asked was what DB's initials stood for. When she was told, "Devil Beak," Murad admits she was a little unsettled. But then the bird's owners related the story behind the name.

It turned out that before DB lived with his present owners, he had lived on the grounds of the Koko Gorilla Foundation near San Francisco, feeding on the loquat trees surrounding the parking lot. "He must have been a lost bird, flying in the temperate area looking for a safe area with a food source," Murad says. "He apparently liked the area where he landed, as he remained there for some time, eating his fill from the surrounding trees." He soon became a regular fixture on the grounds.

DB received his name after awhile from Koko, the gorilla famous for her loving and interactive relationship with a kitten, as well as her learned communication and interactive skills with humans.

"Apparently, Koko had a substantial fear of reptiles, and her keepers wanted to improve that situation," Murad explains. "In so doing, the caretakers at the Koko Foundation purchased a stuffed toy dinosaur for her that happened to be red in color. Her keepers communicated to her that this was an object not to be feared, and the toy was named Red Devil."

When the gorilla and the macaw made each other's acquaintance, Koko signed the words "Devil Tooth" for the green-winged macaw, since "red" and "devil" were interchangeable for her. With her keen powers of observation, Koko made the obvious comparison of the macaw's horn-colored upper mandible and a "tooth," due to its shape. Thus, "DT" was born. Later, the staff at the Koko Foundation changed "Devil Tooth" to "Devil Beak," which became "DB" for short.

DB lived at the Koko Foundation for about a year - until he appeared to be unhappy there, at which time, one of the Koko Foundation volunteers agreed to take him home to live with her. Eventually, the bird's caretakers decided to take him to the Gabriel Foundation.

The Road to Recovery

Once DB arrived, it was obvious to all concerned that this was a place where the bird could be truly happy. He was put in quarantine for the first 60 days, but even there he could hear the sounds of the parrots in the other rooms, and seemed to instantly perk up.

Staff members gradually "introduced" themselves to DB. Often, that simply meant someone sitting by his cage for a few minutes and talking to him, without attempting to touch him. "No one forced him to do anything he didn't want to do," Murad says. "We basically let DB call the shots until he got to know us better."

After quarantine, DB joined the foundation's room full of macaws. "When he was ready to move into the macaw room, we watched him as he vocalized to the many other macaws in the room, and he picked out Rambo, a male blue and gold macaw, as his instant buddy," Murad says.

In the months that followed, DB began to get feather down on the bare parts of his body, he molted, and his new plumage grew out beautifully, Murad says. DB has a hearty appetite and is the best member of "the clean plate club." He really enjoys his toys, and can wreak major destruction to them with his beak.

DB still isn't overly trusting of people, but he's coming along, Murad says. And, really, she adds, his wildness makes him special. "You have to accept a bird on his terms and appreciate him for who he really is," she says. DB may not be content to be a house pet. But he's a happy, well-adjusted member of the Gabriel Foundation's macaw room.

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