T

he Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Natural Reserve in Copán is a nine-acre paradise nestled in a narrow canyon carved by a river of crystal-clear waters. The owners, Lloyd Davidson and Pat Merritt, have rescued more than 20 species of rare birds that are sheltered here in huge aviaries.

Towering trees, gorgeous flowers, including a multitude of orchids, oropendolas, bird-of-paradise and dangling vines, flank the fairytale path that connects the dozen or so birdcages. The dragonflies, rampant under the thick canopy, and the soothing sound of the river add to the enchanting atmosphere.

It would be ideal if the main attraction at this park, the birds, were all flying freely among the trees, but many suffered a painful past and need special care. Most of them were pets of foreigners living in the Bay Islands (Cayos Cochinos, Roatán, Utila & Guanaja) in the ’80s and ’90s. Because it is illegal to export native birds under any circumstances, the feathered pets were left behind when their owners returned to their respective countries.

Many of these birds ended up living without any stimulation, hunched in tiny, un-kempt cages, fed an unnatural diet-they became depressed, aggressive and engaged in dysfunctional behavior that sometimes included self-mutilation.

Mandy Wagner, a U.S. conservationist and bird lover living in Roatán, began rescuing these tropical birds and by the early 1990s had gathered about 40 of them from 15 species. Lloyd Davidson took on the task of caring for the birds in 1994. In July 2003 he and his business partner, Pat Merritt, moved them from Roatán to Copán via a private charter. A few months later the partners introduced the birds into their home at the newly constructed Macaw Mountain Bird Park. Despite the high living standards (aviaries as big as five-bedroom houses and fresh fruit and vegetables served several times a day) and the idyllic landscape in the park, these birds still behave rather mischievously: “The theory is that in the wild these birds are monogamous, but in here there is too much temptation, and so they play the field,” explains Ángel Robles, a Macaw Mountain Bird Park guide.

The park’s staff maintains that the only possible place for healthy birds is in the wild. “Some smaller birds come into the cages and eat all the food and grow fat and then they cannot leave, so we have to free them because we want wild birds to be wild. This is a sanctuary for birds that have been mistreated or neglected, this is not for wild birds,” explains Robles.

The walk-through birdcages are one of the highlights of the park. It is an incredible thrill when visitors get a chance to get close and personal with some of these rare birds. About two dozen species live in the Macaw Mountain Bird Park aviaries, and the park guides always have something interesting to say about them. There are Buffoon Macaws, of which only about 100 still exist in the wild; Red Lored Amazons; White Crowned Parrots; Yellow Crowned Amazons. There are also birds of prey, including five kinds of hawks and a Great Horned Owl, which was captured by a local farmer after it killed about 10 of his chickens. But the star that shines the brightest at the park is, without a doubt, the magnificent Scarlet Macaw which was named the national bird of Honduras in 1983.

The Scarlet Macaw was considered a sacred animal by the Mayas, its colorful feathers were used as currency in ancient times, and its image is featured in many of the culptures and intricate carvings found in the archeological sites of the Copán area.

Although the Scarlet Macaw can still be seen in the wild in some unspoiled areas of Honduras, this species is in danger of extinction because of deforestation and illegal bird trafficking.

Park visitors can enjoy some amazing views from the viewing decks, delicious food served in the open-air restaurant, a swim in a natural bathing pool, a cup of the park’s hand-picked Arabica coffee. The $10 (U.S.) entry fee entitles visitors to a three day visit. Go to www.macawmountain.com for more information about Macaw Mountain Bird Park.

*Author: Eduardo García *Article courtesy of Revue Magazin – www.revuemag.com

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