strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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The Lonely Traveler Finds A Companion

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 19, 2011

White-eyed parakeet, now Aratinga leucophthalma (Photo by Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes)

During his eleven years in the Amazon, the great explorer Henry Walter Bates often struggled with loneliness.  This is a story about the joy of finding a companion in his travels:

On re-crossing the river to Aveyros in the evening, a pretty little parrot fell from a great height headlong into the water near the boat, having dropped from a flock which seemed to be fighting in the air. One of the Indians secured it for me, and I was surprised to find the bird uninjured. There had probably been a quarrel about mates, resulting in our little stranger being temporarily stunned by a blow on the head from the beak of a jealous comrade.

The species was the Conurus guianensis, called by the natives Maracana– the plumage green, with a patch of scarlet under the wings. I wished to keep the bird alive and tame it, but all our efforts to reconcile it to captivity were vain; it refused food, bit everyone who went near it, and damaged its plumage in its exertions to free itself.

My friends in Aveyros said that this kind of parrot never became domesticated. After trying nearly a week I was recommended to lend the intractable creature to an old Indian woman, living in the village, who was said to be a skillful bird-tamer. In two days she brought it back almost as tame as the familiar love-birds of our aviaries. I kept my little pet for upwards of two years; it learned to talk pretty well, and was considered quite a wonder as being a bird usually so difficult of domestication. I do not know what arts the old woman used– Captain Antonio said she fed it with her saliva. The chief reason why almost all animals become so wonderfully tame in the houses of the natives is, I believe, their being treated with uniform gentleness, and allowed to run at large about the rooms.

Our Maracana used to accompany us sometimes in our rambles, one of the lads carrying it on his head. One day, in the middle of a long forest road, it was missed, having clung probably to an overhanging bough and escaped into the thicket without the boy perceiving it. Three hours afterwards, on our return by the same path, a voice greeted using a colloquial tone as we passed–”Maracana!” We looked about for some time, but could not see anything, until the word was repeated with emphasis– “Maracana-a!” When we espied the little truant half concealed in the foliage of a tree, he came down and delivered himself up, evidently as much rejoiced at the meeting as we were.

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