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Macaw Refuge

Sunday, March 23, 2014

This is not an ordinary man-and-macaw story. The afternoon we visited Don Alvaro's finca in the rolling countryside near the Rio Sarapiqui was one of the most magical and moving of our trip.

This gentle man rescues macaws. Caged, lonely, abused macaws, macaws coming from all over. I saw one with only half a beak, one that had plucked itself to down. He has 19 in all. That's a lot of macaws. "Has" isn't quite the right verb here. 

Because it's what he does with them, how he "keeps" them that moved me so. These birds are free, flying all over the farm. Flying many kilometers up and down the river, voicing harsh shrieks that, in their harshness, still sound joyful.

But they come back to Don Alvaro for peanuts and a little loving. 

Having lived with a captive chestnut-fronted macaw for 23 years, I could immediately see that this was a much, much better way. Perhaps the only way to "keep" any parrot. Free.

Macaws are widely perceived as so valuable that very few people would dare to release them into the garden, much less the sky.

But Don Alvaro relies on their native intelligence and their attachment to the only home they know. And he hopes they will breed, make more macaws, perhaps in time even repopulate some of the area, perhaps La Selva Biological Reserve, which after all isn't too far away.

As a trained observer can see, one pair has already bred. A great green macaw paired with a scarlet, making some lovely hybrid babies--four in one clutch!

You can't tell someone whom to love.  Mama and Papa, likely the birds to the right--and three of their sunny rainbow babes lined up.

Even though it was a bit of a bio-misfire, it was encouraging to see that they could successfully breed. I hoped hard that some same-species pairs would follow suit. Don Alvaro has huge nest boxes in the trees around the place, hoping. The world needs more macaws. Everywhere they once were, they are disappearing.

Having seen so many macaws languishing in iron cages, sitting still and mopey on perch stands, their colors and eyes dull with boredom, seeing them swooping and bickering and yelling here was a tonic si sorely needed.

Oh, they were saucy and loud. Yet their screams fit this vibrant place, were part of its music. They dissipated into the open sky. I realized that listening to macaws screaming indoors is nothing but painful. Outdoors it's music. 

These macaws have found a friend, someone who understands and trusts them.

Who believes in them enough to set them free.

Though he has very little English, and his Spanish was far too rapid for me to understand, Don Alvaro's kindness and love permeates this place. Just being there with him among the birds changed me forever.


I really wish that parrots would not be a part of the pet trade. I say that, having three, which I love dearly. I "adopted" them from their former people, who started having kids and decided that they didn't have time for the parrots anymore. Too bad they didn't consider the prospect of someday marrying and procreating when they committed to the birds. It's just another part of our disposable society, which may be okay when you are talking about razors and toothbrushes. But they seem to overlook the fact that these are living beings who feel emotional pain from separation just as they do. My Grey, Max, didn't speak for a month after being rehomed, but he does love to cuddle... which is something birds usually do not like. They obviously feel things very deeply.

I'm glad that not only have these macaws been rehomed with someone who will give them a forever home, but that they are allowed to fly free and live their own lives... as all birds should be.

Posted by Anonymous March 23, 2014 at 3:53 AM

A beautiful post, a beautiful human being, befitting such sensationally beautiful creatures.

Love love love this. The networks always like to end with "feel good" stories, but this is so much more. That a man like that exists, that he cares so much to do the right thing, gives me as much hope for humankind as for those macaws.

Thank you for the best thing in my little corner of cyberspace this Sunday morning.


Posted by KH Macomber March 23, 2014 at 6:56 AM

This is fascinating and heartening. Thank you!

Everything seems to be bringing me to tears this weekend--this included! I hope this angel has someone to take over if something happens to him. Julie? Ready to move south? Thank you for the post. And I saw the FB comment about the colleges that want your daughter to sign up!! Wow. Good job, Dad Bill and Mom Julie (& Liam and Chet) and for all the work Phoebe has done! You go, Phoebe!!

The world needs Don Alvaro's. How wonderful it would be if a network were set up whereby discarded parrots would go to rescues, which would then rehome them to rehabbers like Sr. Alvaro. "If you love something..."

Posted by Gail Spratley March 23, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Have been catching up on your adventures over coffee today and this post is really wonderful.

First the colors jump off the page and grab you by the throat so paying attention is not an option. Second, the love of a human for these birds allows one to hope there are more like him, hidden away from the greed and cynicism which infects so many of our species.

Fantastic trip which I am vicariously enjoying along with you!

Do you still live with your parrot? You likely are conflicted. How are you dealing with it? Am not being critical here. I love your writing, the sharing of your life with fellow birders. I feel sorry for the little canary in the little cage, who shares my widowed mother's life.
San Carlos, CA

Posted by Kerry R. March 24, 2014 at 1:37 PM

Kerry R., all you need to know about my macaw is at this link. Be sure you have some tissues at hand.

I'm not conflicted any more. But I was, for 23 years.

Wonderful! There are so many birds in cages down here in Florida. They make me sad. I would love it if there was someplace here and someone like Don Alvaro!

This is such a beautiful, uplifting story. I love looking at these stunning birds and knowing that they come back to the refuge. I love their freedom. I wish everyone had a heart like Don's.

Thanks for posting about such an inspirational person. Although I live in Costa Rica, I hadn't heard of him but would like to visit Don Alfaro some time. Especially nice to see him caring for Great Greens. How did you hear about him?

I agree it would be nice if parrots were not part of the pet trade but acting like someone can decide to keep abird for 75 years as if it is a simple decsion easily made is not practical either.

Volunteering with a parrot rescue we learn pretty quickly that parrots do not live with just one person for the rest of their lives and expecting people to make what can be a 75 year commitment is not possible.

Posted by Anonymous March 26, 2014 at 10:19 AM

Not sure what your point is Anon, but to me the big picture is this: Big parrots should not be kept as pets. Phase out the endless breeding of hand-fed babies, and instead place the adult parrots desperately needing homes.

I just come across this blog and next month I am visiting Costa Rica. Could you please share the details of this Macaw farm..more details/address of this to visit this place..

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