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January 24, 2014     Hidalgo County Herald
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'10 HIDALGO COUNTY HERALD FRIDAY, JANUARY 24, 2014 resident works to educate the public about his feathered friends By DAWN M. NEWMAN-AERTSI Rodeo It is not unusual to find a striking Scarlet Macaw pruning his massive wings on Chris Biro's ....... ghoulder these days. When he walks to the mailbox in town, a small bevy of bright yellow Conures follow him - they swirl and swoop, be- fore lighting on his outstretched arm, or some- times, atop his head. The man at- tracts birds like a 'pied-piper' of aviculture. Biro, a showman and parrot trainer by profession, would like to show people both the joys and responsibilities of parrot owner- ship. And he teaches the im- portance of sci- ence in under- standing the daily interac- tions with this amazing exotic bird. Thereis, he says, an 'effeE- rive' approach in this field -- where the physi- cal and biologi- cal issues work in tandem with the emotional wel- fare and intelli- gence of the birds. While the desert Southwest has long been considered an apex for bird watchers and natu- ralists, it's the biology and soci- ology of thick-billed parrots that has brought Biro home to Rodeo. It is his mission to improve on the science of reintroducing parrots into their former habitats: And to educate people on the vir- tue of free-flight training. Biro has championed the cause for sci- entific research, avian study, and the natural training process for more than 25 years. "Conures have delightful energy, and the Scarlet Macaws are beautiful in flight - the Mili- tary Macaw is a less appreciated species, but a jewel in the bird world" Biro said. He explains that these parrots were once consid- ered 'sacred' to local Nati.ve American peoples. It is this keen interest in exotic birds that he hopes to share.through public education and in teaching own- ers and handlers how to provide a natural and enriched life-style for parrots. Biro's personal history with exotic birds began when he lost his first parrot during a cross- country road trip. Chester, a cherry-headed Conure, and he were inseparable. "He went ev- erywhere I went...he evould ride t.ocAu:,t' OWNED www.ppcnm.com on the handle of my motorcycle?' Unfortunately, he knew little about their flying ability and when the bird flew away, didn't know how to recover him. "I absolutely know my little buddy did not survive with his (partially) clipped wings," says free on his property in Morton, Washington. "I let them fly freely out- doors during the day and they are inside for protection at night," Biro said. He says the idea of (pet) parrots being allowed to fly loose, or free, is now acceptable. But it was not that way in the early '90's says Biro of the avian world. And today, a parrot in free-flight is still pretty unusual if not downright controversial. To promote public educa- tion, Biro has es- tablished Lib- erty Wings a website de- signed to give people a general understanding of free-flight train- ing. "Over the past 20 years, I have used a pro- cess based on their natural de- v-elopment, which prepares parrots to live in a range of natu- ral environ- ments." The theory, he says, is based on scien- tific research and his own unique, first-hand experi- ence. Chris Biro, executive director, Bird Recovery International - is a In short, non-profit organization that uses field research (past and present) free-flight enthu- to properly release and re-introduce thick billed parrots into habi- siasts recognize tat using tested-methods that work. "We learned a good deal from that parrots enjoy projects done in the Chiricahua during the 1980's and 90's" says healthier lives Biro of the science. In some ways we can look at what to do and than those with what not to do. And we know that nature already has an effective clipped-wings. process for parrot adaptation in a range 0f environments:' "If handled prop- erly, free-flight Biro. "I knew roughly where it can be almost risk-free. You re- landed in the trees, but didn't re- ally can train these birds to fly in alize (then) that if I had waited a way that is safe and give them long enough, if I would have lis- opportunity to 'spread their tened for his call that evening. I wings.'" He explains that humans would likely have found him?' It know that when they get into a was six months later that he car, there's always a risk of seri- bought his first Blue and Gold ous accidents, but like birds in Macaw he named Jeremy. free-flight, the odds of being in In his studies at Southwest -that accident are actually pretty Washington State in electrical en- low." gineering, Biro taught Jeremy to Over the next 20 years, Biro ride on his shoulder while he rode parlayed his part-time job as sea- his motorcycle through aeigh- sonal showman into the serf- edu- borhoods. And it wasn't long be- cared exotic bird consultant he is fore people became curious, today. He and his parrots live in "People would come up to us and a Rodeo-based home with a spa- ask all kinds of questions about cious 15 x 30 foot 'aviary' situ- the bird. They would wave," says ated outside his door. "There were Biro with a smile, and of course, parrots native to the U.S. (the "their interest was all about Jer- Carolina Parrot which became ,emy and our friendship, extinct in the 1800's) and now, It became Biro's calling to only 2000 Thick-billed parrots educate an inquisitive public, left in the world. He explains that And it was that kind of at- none are left living in Arizona or tention that prompted Biro to New Mexico -- where they could take Jeremy to visit local class- once be seen in flocks of up to rooms and senior centers . 1500 birds." Today, Biro is work- throughout Washington State. "It ing on a breeding program to in- started out very part time. But I crease those numbers. loved sharing the story about Many bird enthusiasts sug- him. For me, it was more about gest that exotic birds depend on enjoying the reaction, the inter- the protection and care of an action, answering the questions owner to maintain the birds and letting people see the unique through wing-clipping and en- qualities and abilities of the birds closed spaces. "Unfortunately, up close." once they mature in a caged en- And they were fascinatedby vironment, the adaptation process the relationship they had. is largely complete. At that point, In Rodeo, Biro's parrots are re-introduction to the freedom of free to fly - to explore, exercise flight would be extremely diffi- and return. "What you find out cult." there is the 'standard practice' to He admits that 'pet birds' do clip their wings" adds Biro. "Ifi- best in low-density neighbor- stead, I use a very scientific train- hoods, in natural habitats, with- ing approach that prepares the out risk of highway traffic. birds to successfully live in both Neighbors can be disttirbed by worlds - without trimming their their noisy contact calls but they wings." In 1993, he began to al- can be trained and restored to low his parrots and conures to fly free-flight experiences if given Chris Biro believes in a parrot housing model similar to that used by equestrians. "We know that experienced horse owners almost always provide a stall, a larger riding area for training, and an open pasture for movement and 'down time: In the world of exotic birds, Biro believes in providing a safe in-house cage, a larger outside aviary, with a daily opportunity for free-flight, natural experi- ences:' the right circumstances, the sky, and to bridge the gap be- (trained) fledging chick can Over the past 25 years, Biro tween professional animal train- master in just weeks in open has made his living doing sea- ing and research biology." flight." He explains that pet sonal shows at state andlocal fairs He explains that most ani- parrots can become adept fly- across the country. '`The public's mal trainers work with a high ers inside the house, but they favorite part of the show was degree of control that limits won't all master the skills when my birds would pick up natural instinct. Whereas, bi- needed to fly outside. dollar bills from the fingers of the ologists often work without the In addition to learning how audience." Then they wouldclose, hands on experience. In to choose the best landing perch swoop back to a one-third scalei contrast, Biro permits natural for their weight, they must learn Brigantine pirate ship to drop the,,, instincts to develop. "I think to maneuver and avoid" preda- dollars into a vase. He said it w~s~: the live show (audience) expe- tors. They have to gauge their this pirate-based routine that ata! rience gave me a unique oppor- speed and landing can be a tracted thousands of people, tunity to develop the ability of tricky moment...But mostly, In 2005, Biro expanded his the birds and to work with the they have to be physically fit to knowledge of psychology arid natural behavior (instinct) of withstand the rigors of flying biology while experimenting captive raised animals." long distances, and to recognize with abilities in a variety of envi- Biro has been able to bridge (the go to) points so they don't ronments, and the possibilities of the gap between professional get lost." free flight training. "It was obvi- animal trainer and research bi- Biro says that his inclina- ous the birds were at their best ology. " tion is analytical, closer to that during the free-flight experiences "Of course, birds have to of an engineer, which some- we shared...and the public en- figure out a lot on their own, times requires him to step out- joyed the unrestrained freedom and owners can do their part by side of accepted boundaries. "I that the birds had during their teaching 'recall methods' and know the effort to release cap-' show. Maybe for the first time in providing a safe place to land." rive raised birds back into their their life, they were able to touch He says Liberty Wing students natural environment is consid- those birds and interact with are given the information they them." need on how to select the right ered a controversial concept -- In 2010, Biro created the bird to train, the right locations I have challenged the norms of conservation biology at times. Liberty Wings website for public to train in, and how to recover outreach and for bird owners. His a lost or missing bird. Not all Biro, who has trained 20 website promotes the flight train- (adult, pet) parrots will become species of parrots with over 202 years of combined flying time, ing process that is necessary for a expert flyers. parrot with unclipped wings. "It is a learned skill they can believes that given the fight sup- "Basically, I formalized a natural master at a very young age. Un- port as young birds, the captive training process that uses system- fortunately, some might be way (raised) parrots can use their atic exposure to complex environ- past their prime when it comes wings to survive and thrive in a ments - during the development to those basic skill-set -- It may variety of environments. "They stage and for the benefit Of the take an adult bird months or can be in habitat like Arizona, bird. I also wanted to give people even years to reach the same where they once enjoyed free- the very basics of flight training level of flight ability that a dom in the wild." so they were less likely to lose their birds if they were copying work they might only view through videos." Liberty Wings workshops have been offered in countries like France, Portugal, and Holland and seminars are planned in Singapore and Germany. "In De- cember, he trav- eled to Honduras to develop an eco- tourism project to bring Scarlet Macaw's back to the northern re- Liberty Wings is an online and interactive ducational program for Free Flight gions of that coun- training Of parrots. In the 1990's Biro brought exhibitions to local and state fairs, try. "My goal is to schools and senior centers in Washington and Utah State. His pirate-themed develop the parrot shows featured parrots, yellow sun conures, a restored brigantine ship, free- into a social and flight performance and an opportunity for the audience to interact with the birds. skilled athlete of /:7 l.idne'y Stones with and get you back into the of things! To our RelativeS and Friends, We gratefully acknowledge the ,expressions! of sympathy, kindness ind thoug Ulness extended to us the passing of our sister and aunt, Ve d g Sa do. " Bless you and your families. Herbert, Connie (1 l Gila Regional Tell your Doctor that you :::tnt ww::. GRMC.org