In the January 2016 Colorado Airstream Club Newsletter, I wrote in my Bio that I had to prepare for the Newsletter as the incoming Club’s 1st Vice President, that we had a parrot and we were his favorite traveling companions. The Newsletter editor thought the comment was funny and asked me to write an article for our newsletter expounding upon this statement, so that is what I did. Not only did the completed story get published in our local Newsletter which covers four states, but it also made it into the International Airstream magazine, the Blue Beret and made it out nationally and to fifteen countries where Airstream is marketed.
Peanut, our small Pionus parrot, has been with Barbara and me now for almost 25 years and how we ended up with him is in itself is such a good story that I would like to relate it first before I delve into my published story.
As our kids were growing up we have always owned and enjoyed pet birds. We had a few parakeets, a cockatiel, and even a sulfur crested cockatoo while we were living in Malaysia. Unfortunately, as our cockatoo was an endangered sub-specie, we had to leave him there in Malaysia when we left and returned to the States.
Fast forward about two years later while I was working in Boca Raton, Florida, I was having lunch with one the managers that reported to me and learned that he had two parrots at home and that his daughter was studying ornithology at nearby Florida Atlantic University. While we were talking, I happened to mention that we had a few birds before and were considering getting another.
About a month later I received a phone call at home in the evening from a man who introduced himself as the Chairman of the Ornithology Department at FAU. He started off by saying that he had heard I was interested in getting a pet bird. He then proceeded to grill me like he was conducting an online a job interview. He wanted to know about my family life, my experience having birds as pets, my social-economic situation, who would take responsibility for raising the bird if I was deceased, and if both myself and my wife were deceased. The only questions he did not ask me was about my sex life. When he apparently had finished with all his questions, I naturally expected to receive some information back from him, but all he did was to say thank you and hang up. It was a very strange phone call!
Several weeks later I again received a phone call from the Chairman, and he told me that his department had been reviewing my situation and they have jointly determined that the best bird for me would be a Pionus Parrot. I told him that was wonderful, where can I get one? He then told me there were none available at this time and hung up the phone. I was basically dumbstruck. This whole episode had gone from being strange to absolutely bizarre.
By three months later I had almost forgotten about the whole thing when I received a phone call from the Chairman informing me that a breeder down in Miami had recently had a brood of baby White Capped Pionus Parrots. He was holding one for me and that I need to go down there in the next 2-3 days and pick out the one I wanted. He then gave me the name of the breeder and his address and hung up. When I got off the phone and relayed the conversation to my wife naturally she asked how expensive is this going to be, and I told her I didn’t have a clue, but I think I am committed.
That call was I believe on a Thursday or Friday, so that Saturday morning we drove down to Miami to see what the heck I had gotten myself into. We arrived at the breeder shop, and he led us to an artificial tree in the back of the shop where there were about a half dozen adorable four-week-old Pionus Parrot fledglings perched in the branches. I went over to the tree, stuck my finger out, and one little fellow hopped right on to my finger. I told the breeder we will take that one and then learned it was going to cost me $1000, that was around $333/ounce, and that we would have to wait four weeks to pick him up after he was completely weaned.
So that is how we got Peanut, and no, I never heard another word from the Chairman.
So here goes the original story Peanut’s Adventure which looking back I should have called Peanut “The Illegal Alien.”
Early on we discovered that Peanut loved going in the car especially while perched on my shoulder. In 1994, when he was only two years old, we moved to Colorado from Florida, and Peanut enjoyed the long drive sitting on my shoulder in my Porsche 944 Turbo, sometimes at speeds reaching well over one hundred miles an hour, like when we were crossing Kansas. All I had to do is make sure I didn’t forget he was on my shoulder and accidently pop open the sunroof. FYI, I had to sell that car the first winter we were in Colorado as I leaned that driving it on black ice was tantamount to attempting to commit suicide.
Anyhow, back to the Peanut story. Several years later in 2007 when we got our first trailer we found Peanut also was happy just riding with us in his travelling cage in the backseat of the truck. So, we always took him on our trips and with him in the cage rather than my shoulder I didn’t have so many shirts or towels that needed cleaning.
In 2009 we planned a long trailer trip to the Maritime Providences of Canada, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and New Foundland. Before we left, I went online to check if there were any issues bringing him into Canada. Upon checking with Customs and the USDA, we learned that all they required was the bird must be healthy. Since Peanut was very healthy, off, we went on our two-and-a-half-month adventure merrily going in and out of Canada and the U.S. twice. When going through immigration and border crossing you are required to have your trailer unlocked for inspection and all windows in your car must be down. Both times while crossing back into the U.S. the inspectors looked in the back seat and commented on what a nice-looking bird Peanut was.
In 2011 we headed back up to Canada, this time to Banff, Lake Louise, after touring Glacier National Parks. Upon our planned reentry, to the U.S. at the Immigration station at Porthill, Idaho, we were asked if we had any pets. I said yes, our parrot is in the back seat. The border guard took a look and said please wait and 15 minutes later, with us holding up a very long line of traffic, came back with the news that we could not enter the U.S. at that Customs port of entry. We would have to turn around and back track to a crossing in Washington where there was a USDA Veterinarian on duty who could examine our bird. Another option he said was to go 200 miles east over 3 mountain passes to Eastport, Idaho where they also had a USDA veterinarian. Being from Colorado, three mountain passes is no big deal to us, so we said we would take that option.
Sure enough, they were expecting us at Eastport when we finally arrived and were waved straight through across the border into a parking lot on the U.S. side and told to wait. About ten minutes later a vet came out to our truck and asked for our CITES permit, which we did not have a clue what he was talking about. He looked at Peanut for about 5 seconds, said he looked healthy and told me to come with him. He first charged me $125 for his 5 second exam and then explained we did not have the proper paper work for importation of a parrot into the U.S., that we were in violation of several statutes and could be fined up to $5,000 plus double the cost of the bird which would then be confiscated and destroyed. What I learned from him was that parrots carry avian flu and need to be quarantined for 90 days before entering the U.S. I also learned that is if that wasn’t enough, my little Pionus parrot happened to be an endangered species from Panama. I suggested that maybe I could just go back and leave him somewhere across the border back in Canada and I was informed by an immigration and customs officer who had joined us that it was too late as I had already crossed the border and had committed the violation.
I told the veterinarian and officer that we had gotten Peanut as a baby from a licensed breeder and that he had never been around other birds and exposed to avian flu. After more begging and pleading we were finally allowed to continue on our journey, but I was told to expect a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when we got home. I am sure part of the reason my entreaties were successful was that I was wearing a Marine Corps baseball cap and the immigration and customs officer was an ex-Marine.
A month after arriving home we received a Registered letter from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior requesting us to submit a statement regarding why we had no permit for this bird and why we should not pay the penalty. I wrote a detailed response explaining that we had the bird since he was a baby, that he had all his shots, which I included the medical record, and professing our ignorance of the law and acute senility. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent us a letter back stating that they had made a onetime only decision not to issue us a ticket for the importation of our parrot. Were we ever lucky!
And yes, I checked, Peanut is listed in the Convention on International Trade as an endangered species and although he was born in Miami, FL, he obviously never got off his perch and got around to applying for the proper passport. So – his foreign travel is forever put on hold, no more international travel for him. The only good news was we never got charged an import fee for the case of Canadian wine we had in the trailer.