by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
In celebration of National Bird Day 2014, Barry Kent MacKay, Senior Program Associate for Born Free USA and lifelong bird enthusiast, is writing a special six-part blog series in December and January where he will describe some of his favorite avian species. Below is the second installment.
Here is the good news. You are unlikely to see the vast number of birds in the world in cages, either in pet stores or zoos.
Here is the bad news. The trade that generates the species you do see in cages is a cruel and wasteful exercise.
To celebrate National Bird Day, we have decided to feature a few of the thousands of species you DON’T see in captivity, alternating with the hundreds of species you DO see caged as exotic pets or zoo exhibits.
Let’s start with the lovely little bird known as the Long-tailed Tyrant (Colonia colonus). These birds are small—a little smaller than a sparrow—but with the central feathers of the tail modified into long, slender streamers, slightly enlarged at the tips. They weigh in at about 15 to 18 grams (about half an ounce, or about as much as six pennies). The bird is coal black in color, with a white, or white and gray, cap extending across the top of the head and variable amounts of white on the back (some only having a white rump patch). They are found all the way from northern Central America to northern Argentina.
We know that they make their nests in cavities in trees, but that’s about all we know of their breeding behavior. Like so many tropical birds, they are relatively under-studied.
The first Long-tailed Tyrant I ever saw, in Costa Rica, was perched at the tip of a twig atop a medium-sized tree. That’s typical. These birds belong to the so-called ‘tyrant flycatcher’ family, known as the Tyrannidae, most of whom snatch flying insects from exposed perches. The Long-tailed Tyrant is particularly inclined to eat stingless bees, a group of bees common in tropical regions. As they fly, the flexible tail streamers bob about, bending under the pressure of moving air.
When the cage-bird industry takes birds from the wild, they often use indiscriminate capture techniques. Any birds that are captured are put into cages and fed seeds. But, a species like this one does not eat seeds; they eat small insects captured in air. Perhaps they can eat familiar berries, if provided, but it is not a full or adequate diet. And, they are not used to being in close proximity to other birds. It is not how they evolved to live; so, they die.
Fortunately, the U.S. has legislation that prevents the direct sale of birds from the wild, and bird-catchers don’t purposely target the “delicate” species that don’t survive in captivity—but neither do they necessarily avoid them, and wild-caught birds are the foundation of the cage-bird industry. Some countries even strive to protect such species as the Long-tailed Tyrant, but enforcing such laws, when they exist, can be very difficult in the wilds of many under-developed tropical countries, where so many birds in the exotic pet trade originate.
But if you find yourself in parts of Central and South America, you can see Long-tailed Tyrants where they belong.