Kehena, The Scarlet Macaw

Kehena by Lisa Umstead Recently, I took a little vacation to Florida. On the way out the door, my husband asked if I saw any of those "big, scarlet macaws, pick one up." Yeah, right. ...

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by Lisa Umstead

Recently, I took a little vacation to Florida. On the way out the door, my husband asked if I saw any of those "big, scarlet macaws, pick one up." Yeah, right. Like they're on every corner. I grabbed the classified ads from the back of Bird Talk. I'd make a few calls when I was down in Boca. I already have quite a few macaws, so what did I need another one for. My husband has always expressed an interest in the "big scarlet", so I figured I'd check it out.

I know there are lots of bird breeders in Florida, so what did I have to lose. Once I got settled in from my flight, I told my friend, Maris, what I was looking for. She gave me free access of her phone. One of the ads was a breeder that listed about 40 different types of birds, I guessed that he was a broker of some sort. I called on a whim, and I was in luck. He had a scarlet that was about 9 or 10 days old. It was located at another facility, but he would check out the age. And he just happened to mention that it was the big "Bolivian" scarlet. Some people didn't want the larger scarlet, so he just wanted to mention that to me. Talk about luck.

The price was $975 for a baby. Macaw breeders usually charge $100 a week for handfeeding until the baby is weaned, so this is why the price was relatively inexpensive. In NY this bird would cost about $2000. We discussed my experience as a breeder of greys and the fact that I had hand fed my hyacinth and several other macaws since the age of 2 weeks. I was definitely interested. I also asked about a health certificate in case the airlines busted my chops. The breeder said that that would not be a problem. I just had to check the airlines and see what their rules were. I was also lucky in the aspect that this breeder was within a half-hour's drive. I called up Spirit airlines. As long as I had the proper size carrier, and the bird could fit under the seat, I could hand carry the baby on board. The cost would only be $30.

I called the breeder the next day and set up a pick up time after getting directions. We discussed making sure that I had a heating pad since my incubator was back in NY. It's important to maintain the babies at 90 degrees. I assured him of my handfeeding experience and all systems were go. I arrived at the breeder's house the next afternoon. He met me in the driveway. The baby was so tiny that he fit inside a strawberry container. He did look younger than 10 days old. I guess that with so many babies, some breeders don't remember exact birthdates. I know I remember all of my newborns birth dates. We reviewed the consistency of the formula, which was Kaytee Macaw handfeeding formula, of which I already had at home. mixed with a portion of Beechnut's Stage 2, sweet potatoes, at exactly 105 degrees. (Kaytee formula is all that babies need, but since this breeder added the sweet potato for flavor, I would continue this procedure.)

Maris asked how did I know what type of bird this was. It could be a grey for all we knew. It was so small and had no feathers at all. It's eyes weren't open and its' ears weren't even developed yet. I could tell by the hump on the beak, that it was a macaw, but she was right. I didn't know this breeder and it could be any type of macaw. I had done some research though. Another friend of mine, an attorney knew of this breeder and I checked out his references. He has a good reputation, so I felt confident in my purchase. I knew that I was taking a chance, with such a young bird. Not being able to check him out at such a young age. The breeder showed me how to give a proper exam, checking the beak, feet, color and plumpness of the crop. I asked for a band and was given two, a 9/16 and a one half inch size. I also asked for a health certificate and was in luck. The breeder was a vet, specializing in exotics. I paid cash and was on my way.

I did feel like I was in the middle of a covert operation, with the transaction-taking place in the driveway, but I can understand. I was a stranger to this man and why should he let me in his home and put his stock in jeopardy. He usually sold his birds by shipping out of state, where no one came to his property. Now I had this little baby. That was taking in 3 cc's, every 2 hours. What a commitment. But one that I have always enjoyed doing. I was still on vacation and am used to sleeping crazy hours so what was the big deal in getting up every two hours to hand feed. Maris has a hugh house, so at least I wouldn't be disturbing her or her family, when I was up all during the night. 3 cc's is such a small amount when I'm used to feeding 60 cc's at a time. The breeder had given me a few syringes. I had bought down a 60 cc's syringe, with the o-ring, anticipating bringing back a larger baby. For get it. The tip wouldn't even fit in the tip of the beak.

I was glad that I had not bought a carrier first. This baby was so small that even the strawberry container was big for him. Maris bought me a heating pad, a digital thermometer and a small hamster carrier. (Always use a digital thermometer. A mercury thermometer is to unreliable when dealing with the sensitive system of such a delicate creature.) I layered the heating pad with several kitchen towels. I did not want to chance burning the baby. Even covering up the carrier with towels, I could only raise the temp to 75 degrees.

In Florida, all the homes have the AC on continuously. It was cool in the house. Too cool for the baby, so I took in out to the back yard, by the pool. It was nice and warm out there. The pool area was completely fenced and screened in so there was no way that any type of creature could attack the baby. I checked him continuously while I took a dip in the pool. After all, I was in Florida. I should go in the water at least once. Soon it was time to leave for the airport. I mixed a few portions of formula in a small container, and fed the baby before I left. I said my good-byes to Maris and her and daughter, Rachel, and went to check in for my flight. I still had an hour. I checked in. Paid my $30.

No one asked for a health certificate. I said that I just had a pet to check in. No questions were asked. I had a large over the shoulder bag, with the baby inside, wrapped in a towel. Even though it was warm, Maris said to take the towel just in case.

I used the microwave at the airport diner to heat up the formula, for a last feeding, prior to boarding. I mixed the formula a 100 times, to make sure that the temperature was exactly right. I didn't want to burn the crop. He took his 3 cc's. I returned him to his carrier, wrapped in his towel. I boarded the plane, like I was smuggling the baby. The steward was very nice, asking many questions about parrots and offering his assistance. I noticed that the plane was cold. The temperature in the carrier was only 75 degrees. I asked if the AC could be lowered and was accommodated.

I had to put him under the seat during takeoff. I was lucky and had the only empty seat on the plane. I continually was checking on him, making sure he was comfortable. (I keep saying him, but there is no way of knowing what the sex is at such a young age.) I finally landed in NY. It was cool. About 50 degrees. What a difference from the 80 degree weather that I had left. Dennis, my husband, had dug out the incubator. Washed and disinfected it and had adjusted the temperature to 90 degrees. Meanwhile, the truck had been warmed up, but it was still chilly for the baby. I fed him his 3 cc's as soon as I walked in the door and nestled him in a small bowl in his warm home. What a survivor! In 3 different homes in a 24 hour period.

This could be very traumatic experience for such a young bird, but he seems to have survived nicely. I definitely would not recommend this for the novice. I weighed the baby when I got home. A whole 65 grams. It is important to weigh all babies daily to make sure they are maintaining their weight. In the 2 weeks that I have had the baby, he has grown to a weight of 365 grams and his feedings have increased to 60cc's per feeding. He is still being fed every 3 hours. Dennis takes over, while I am at work, along with Diana, a fiend of mine and also the President of the Parrot Fanciers' Club.

His eyes still aren't open, though he is blinking. I can see that he can see through the skin, as he walks towards my voice. The pin feathers have barely sprouted through his back. He is growing at such an incredible rate. His weight has more than quadrupled in such a short time. I can't wait for him to be walking around a little bit better and have some feathers gown in so I can play with him a bit more. Now I am so concerned about him getting chilled that he goes right back in his brooder after meals.

As for his name, I had to see his personality first. I could see how much of a fight he was from day one. Very persistent and piggy with his meals. Dennis wanted something to do with motorcycles, so I turned to my friend pat, from Hawaii. I actually have two other birds with Hawaiian names. Some of those names are really long and hard to pronunciate. But eventually we chose "Kehena iho hula" - which translates to "Hell on Wheels" Kehena is the shortened version. So keep posted for the continuing story and growth of "Kehena".

Footnote: Babies are very susceptible to infections at such an early age. I found that soaking the syringes in Chlorhexidenne to be an effective way to disinfect. I also have been mixing their formula using distilled water. At 7 weeks of age, Kehena has used less than two gallon containers, so the cost is minimal. Also if you are traveling, babies can notice the difference taste of waters of different towns and may become ill or simply just refuse to digest the water properly. You can purchase the feeding syringes through Candy Foxwell at WWW.Birdsnest.Online. I started using the 5 CC syringes, to the 10's, 20's and now Kehena has graduated to the 60CC. These are multiple use syringes that seem to last forever if cleaned properly.