Jun 30

It was a year ago this week that I set out on what I’m glad I didn’t know at the time was going to be a life-changing experience. It boggles my mind how much has happened, but that’s for another writing session. The 1-year anniversary of my last day with Carly Lu was a tough one, but I think I processed much of the sadness in the weeks leading up to it. By afternoon on the day of, puttering in the garden with chickens and cats and Piper, I felt remarkably calm. And for the first time ever I just intuitively got a strong sense of “Stop worrying. It’s OK.”

After dozens of good sightings and many near-misses as I raced to catch up with her, the trail had gone very cold over the past 6 months. A couple “possibles”, but nothing that was detailed or current enough to be certain of. Until yesterday.

This one came in by text message around 10 AM:

i think i may have spotted your runaway in pb on gresham. i heard a really loud noise outside and it looked like your bird on the telephone wires. i immediately searched craigslist and when i found your ad she was gone. my roommate said she saw her a few days ago on our street as well. we’re going to keep our eyes out for her again!

The info she provided had good detail, including the red tail, and she sent a YouTube clip she found of a Grey making a similar sound. It was sort of like the African Grey “war whoop” they do sometimes when flying, but shorter. It seemed odd that she’d be doing that while sitting on a wire, until the spotter texted,

there was a crow next to her

— which then made perfect sense. Still having arguments with crows.

She was seen around 7:30 in the morning on Monday (6/29). The roommate saw her around 7 PM the previous Friday. The location is just south of the area where she was last sighted numerous times, and right along a north-south corridor of some earlier ones.

Carly Sightings Map June2015

(click image to enlarge)

On these telephone wires:

Gresham & Thomas St, Pacific Beach, San Diego

Gresham & Thomas St, Pacific Beach, San Diego

So this is very good news. I’d planned to send out new updates this week to remind people she’s still at large, and with the return of the Red-crowned Amazons it’s possible she’s hanging with them again. Now I’ll add to my list some fresh flyers in the area she was seen, and pass out my Carly Lu calling cards on that block.

It would be wonderful to see her again, but it’s also very nice to get the occasional postcard from the wild.

Copies of flyers are here:

Chapter Eleventy

Posted by Raz on Apr 18th, 2015
Apr 18

One of the hardest days ever in the Carly saga.

A Grey was found this morning in a backyard, just over the hill from many of the previous Carly sightings. She cautiously let a woman give her a cracker. Eventually her husband is able to pick her up and take her inside. They Google, find my FB page, and call me and SoCal Parrots. I drive over, talking myself down the whole time. I checked Craigslist for new lost ads — nothing — but it’s probably not her. The bird had no band. But I’ve been wondering if this long period of no sightings is because someone has stolen her. Perhaps they removed the band. I wonder if the husband has the reddish hair that Carly finds so irresistible in a man. That would be freaky.

A few days ago I actually prayed to St Francis of Assissi. I’m an atheist, but apparently still in the bargaining stage of loss. I’ve always loved St Francis though. I would freakin convert if it worked. (I can’t imagine suddenly feeling I know there’s a god, but faith is supposed to mean going with it even without proof right? So I’d just accept it on faith. Deal? Deal.) It was one of my weekly “release the pain” moments, and I pleaded that if someone had her she’d escape.

The husband answers the door. He has sandy reddish hair. (Freaky.) The bird is in their big dog crate. If it isn’t Carly it could be her twin, in looks and manner. Super calm, like Carly always is, not like a bird who’s lost, disoriented or afraid. Full wings, not a grown out clip. Same size and head shape.

She doesn’t want to be picked up, gives a soft growl, and doesn’t show signs of recognizing me. Is this how a bird who’s been feral for 9 months would behave? I give her an almond, which she eats left-handed. Check. Carly & Piper’s most exciting treats are “packages” — a few treats wrapped up in paper in a small bag that they get to tear apart. I make one out of a cookie wrapper and ask “do you want a package?” She lets me pick her up right away.

The only way I can be sure it’s her or not is to have a vet check for a microchip — unlike most parrots Carly has one. I stop at Rose Canyon Vet because it’s on the way home. To my surprise everyone there already knows about me and Carly.

They scan for a chip in the spot I tell them Carly’s is located and a number pops up immediately. We all let out a big Yes! While on hold to verify the registration, we weigh her. 425 grams. Low end of Carly’s range, probably normal if she was feeding in the wild. They finally pull up the chip number. The bird’s name is Sophia.

It takes several more calls, but we eventually learn she was bred by a keeper at the San Diego zoo, has always been flighted, was originally bought by a woman in Coronado, and had been resold through a local bird store about 6 months ago. When I reach the new owner on the phone — he didn’t even know the bird was chipped — he says she has been missing 2-3 days. Two to three?? I’m amazed he can’t tell me the exact number of hours at this stage. He also sounds kind of non-chalant about it. No ad. I’m really hoping I don’t have to see Sophia go to a bad home.

It turns out to be a very happy reunion. She lives near the people who found her and they had flyers up. She is clearly very attached to Jose and practically has to be pried off of him to go in the carrier.

Kisses all around.

Kisses all around.

I’m going to help them recall train her.

Back home, I’m totally wiped out. I decide to do a minor DIY job (installing a CO2 tank below my sink for soda water) which turns out to have hellish complications, and I hack a chunk out of my finger when a wrench slips closed on it. But the work keeps me numb for awhile. Blood… meh.

Later it’s time for my weekly purge, a bit early this week. I try St Francis again. Because you never know.

Wee Bonzai Francis

Wee Bonzai Francis

Special thanks to Kimmie and everyone else at Rose Canyon Animal Hospital. I’ve heard good things about them, and they were wonderful.

San Diego Bird Festival

Posted by Raz on Mar 6th, 2015
Mar 6

Welcome to all the birders here for the 19th Annual San Diego Bird Festival, sponsored by our local Audubon Society.

Here is the link for downloading the information sheet About Carly, which gives background on her training & flying, and sighting tips.

The Good Bird article about her training can be found here:
Carly Gets Her Wings: Flight Training an Unfledged African Grey Parrot.

Thank you in advance to all who keep an eye out for my non-native species!

Please see the Photos•Video•Audio page for more photos and sound files.
Printable flyers are here: http://tinyurl/FINDCLU

CarlyLu_About 1


Where’s the Beast?

Posted by Raz on Jan 19th, 2015
Jan 19

Carly has been seen repeatedly in north Pacific Beach over the last 5 months. Most of the sightings from August on have been in a small area to the west of Kate Sessions Park. Several of these sightings were very close up, and/or by multiple people at the same time. Once, perhaps twice, she was at Campland by the Bay with Piper. When seen she is often sitting on top of a tall palm or pine tree, or on a telephone wire, whistling and vocalizing loudly. Twice I’ve missed her by just a few minutes.

Now it’s been almost 2 months since the last set of sightings off Foothill Rd. It’s odd that she is repeatedly seen many times within a short period, then completely disappears for long stretches:

  • At the end of July she was seen several times (near Tourmaline beach and elsewhere in north PB) then was not seen for 8 weeks.
  • There were multiple sightings around Monmouth, Beryl, and Loring between Sept 25th and Oct 12th, then nothing for a month.
  • In mid-November there were more sightings in the same area, off Foothill Dr, and then several people saw her at Campland with Piper on Nov. 23. Nothing in the 7 weeks since.


I’m really wondering if she is laying low trying to nest somewhere during these times. Apparently it’s normal for Greys and Amazons to keep sitting on infertile eggs for up to 6 weeks. If that’s the case, she’s due for an appearance.

This is a shot taken by someone at Campland, when Piper was sitting in another tree, a zoom in on what looks like her black ID tag.

Grey with Piper at Campland.

Grey with Piper at Campland.

Photo of Grey at Campland, and Carly's tag.

Zoom of Grey at Campland, and Carly’s tag.

Training a Tree-Crawl

Posted by Raz on Jan 19th, 2015
Jan 19

As Tom Petty sings in Learning to Fly, “coming down is the hardest thing.” For birds who have escaped or are just learning outdoor flight, this can be a major sticking point. Few companion parrots have ever been 20, 30, 50 feet above the ground, but when flying outdoors — whether by choice or chance — it inevitably happens that a parrot lands in a tall tree. Especially if a bird has escaped and is frightened or excited, the normal response is to fly UP. But, as Carly would say, “NOW what?” This is why many birds are never retrieved.

Flying is no more “natural” to a bird than walking is to us. During fledging, birds learn to lift off, turn left, turn right, put on the tail-feather brakes, and land without crashing. All of these can be learned and practiced in smaller spaces like aviaries or living rooms. But imagine being in the top of a 50 ft eucalyptus tree, seeing someone below saying “Come here!”, and pointing yourself toward the ground for the first time. Wings or not, it’s a long drop. You’re going to gain speed, have to make a sharp upward turn before the ground, and put on the brakes hard and quickly. I sometimes compare it to a kid being on a high-dive at the pool for the first time, but there are a lot more skills involved for a bird flying down without injury.

When I was recall training Carly, I knew if we ever did outdoor flying we’d encounter this moment. So I decided to train an alternative to flying down, the Tree-crawl. Instead of having to point her nose at the ground and go for it, I hoped she’d realize she could just crawl down through the branches. Tree-crawls are bascially “targeting” (touching a target stick with the beak) in a tree, working up to increasingly tricky paths. Not only is it a good skill to learn in case of an escape or spook flight, my birds think it’s a great game too.

Carly goofing during treecrawl practice.

Carly goofing during treecrawl practice.

So did it work? When Carly did her first big outdoor flight that ended in a treetop, it was a 50+ foot tall eucalyptus tree. I thought, OK, now we’ll see… She sat there for a minute, then started crawling through the branches. They were spaced a lot more widely than the little pine we trained in, so she’d run out of places to go. Then she’d hang upside down and drop like a monkey to another branch and continue crawling. She did this until she was about 15 feet from the ground, then flew down to me. As she got more experienced she flew down from greater heights. Her favorite method though was always the “parrottrooper drop” — not gliding down and circling in for a landing, but dropping straight down using her wings like a flappy parachute.

Carly in mid- parrottrooper drop. [Photo by Hillary Hankey]

Carly in mid- parrottrooper drop. [Photo by Hillary Hankey]

Before you start
First you have to have trained targeting with a stick. Your bird must also be comfortable outdoors, either on a harness (preferable) or in a carrier. You don’t want this to be the first time your bird has ever been out of the house.

  • Target Training. Learn from the best: Right on Target, article at Susan Friedman’s Behaviorworks.org, or Clicker Training for Birds, book by Melinda Johnson.
  • Harness Training and Outdoor Acclimation*. Harness training posts, article and video links here. Just like harness training, outdoor .acclimation should also be taken slowly if the bird is fearful. Keep it positive: short excursions, start with the familiar!


Once your bird can be safely taken outdoors

  • Find a suitable tree: no taller than you can reach/climb, with lots of branches. Dense or arching foliage can provide a semi-protected area free of distractions. I found a small, thick pine tree worked well. It should be in a place your bird already knows.
  • Find a comfortable branch. Your bird should be on a harness with a long-ish leash (but make sure it can’t get tangled in a place you can’t reach).
  • Ask the bird to touch the target stick a short distance away on the branch. Repeat a few times with nearby targeting to get him comfortable with the new location.
  • Gradually move the target stick to locations that are further away and harder to reach, so your bird has to climb along a branch to reach it, then climb up onto another branch, hang upside down, etc.
  • Move the bird and target up as high as possible in the tree, and then have him work back down. Place the target nearby at first, then practice placing it a greater distance below.
  • The goal: Your bird is sitting well up inside the tree, you ask him to touch the target stick near you down below, and he navigates down through the branches to get it.


You obviously can’t practice this with a 20-50 ft tree. But the skill of crawling down through branches will be learned, and if your bird does find himself waayyy up high it’s much more likely he’ll try to work his way down to where you can reach him.

*Because I know you’re out there: If your bird is clipped and you don’t use a harness outdoors, your bird should be VERY well Recall Trained, and very comfortable being outdoors. Clipped birds can fly a long way, and even gain altitude with just a little breeze. Don’t lose a bird by rushing to teach a technique intended to prevent losing a bird.

Aug 29

The wild Amazons in San Diego are usually Red-Crowned Amazons (aka Mexican Red-headed Parrots) a species that is endangered in the wild.

Red-Crowned Amazon Features

  • Bright, solid green with bright red forehead
  • Tinge of blue bordering the red
  • Pigeon-sized
  • Usually in groups of 3-5 or more
  • Sounds: loud raspy chattering, especially in morning & often while flying
  • Feed in large variety of trees with fruits, berries, seeds or nuts.


Another common San Diego species that looks a bit similar is the Cherry-headed Conure, which is a bit smaller, has a more prominent all-red head, and white around the eyes.


Click to enlarge

(Photos by SoCalParrot.org)

Aug 29

African Grey Parrot / Carly Lu Features

  • Body is all grey, lighter underneath with darker grey wings
  • Bright red tail
  • Pigeon-sized, but more torpedo- or potato-shaped
  • Perches in the open on wires or buildings more often than Amazons. Also likes tall eucalyptus trees and large scrubby bushes.
  • Sounds: loud whistling, beeps, pops, electronic noises. Longer, clearer tones than Amazons or Conures.
  • May do a loud, raspy “war whoop” when flying, or whistles, beeps, etc.
  • Often found in same area as foraging Red-crowned Amazons.
  • Flight is faster, smoother & less “flappy” than Amazons



Click to enlarge

Where have all the Amazons gone?

Posted by Raz on Aug 29th, 2014
Aug 29

After the 2-in-one-day sightings of August 1st at the far northwest and far northeast of Pacific Beach, there has been a long lull. Some 3rd hand reports, and some strange calls, but nothing very firm. What’s odd is that the Red-crowned Amazons that she was usually near, and sometimes spotted with, have also gone silent. During the SoCal Parrot mini-count on August 23 — with spotters visiting NW Pacific Beach up into Mt Soledad, Ocean Beach/Pt Loma and Coronado — the only sightings were conures.

Anyone seen Amazon flocks around San Diego in the last week or so? See the How to Spot Red-Crowned Amazons post to tell them apart from the conures that also frequent this area.

The only Greys reported recently were in Coronado, which I’ve now searched and posted pretty well. In fact, when a Coronado resident’s Grey escaped and was found, the finder got a barrage of messages telling him to contact me. It turns out that bird lives about half a block from where one was sighted up on a telephone wire. Another report near there was of 2 Greys. A couple doors down is a house with a Hyacinth and a Scarlet Macaw also, so maybe the Greys — Carly? — were investigating. Seems like a long distance, but from south Mission Bay it’s about the same distance to north Pacific Beach or Coronado if you go by air.

The excitement this week was when someone called with a Carly sighting — two sitting on a wire by their house in the Nautilus St area of Mt Soledad, where I’ve been hoping to find the Amazons. They rushed out to find one of the posters they had seen and called while the birds were still there. Then I rushed over and searched (they had flown while I was driving) but didn’t see anything parrotlike at all until 2 Cherry-headed Conures flew into a sycamore two doors down from the caller’s house, at — of all the strange street names — Avenida Bizarro. I walked back over to talk to them again, a woman and her 10-yr old daughter. “Did you get a good look at the color?” Mom: “Not really, they had the sun behind them. Did you see what color they were?” Daughter: “Green.” [facepalm]

Bizarro World African Greys


Posted by Raz on Aug 10th, 2014
Aug 10

Nothing like walking around with amplified parrot calls to feel like a contestant for Neighborhood Nuisance of the Year. (Actually — surprisingly — no complaints. Just stares.)

I hit the last 2 sighting areas in PB (from August 1) and points in between, including Kate Sessions Park which has a great vantage point for broadcasting to areas below. Megaphone works great with the recorded YouTube audio of Greys. Range is certainly larger than anything I’ve done so far, which means I don’t have to walk every single street. However I still need to be in the right area… Next sighting I’m ready. Thanks Bev Moody for the suggestion and loan.

I had a call when I was at the beach from a person in neighborhood up above saying he thought he heard my bird. Another guy came running out of his house because he thought he heard Carly. So that’s good in 2 ways: someone is listening for her, and recording can be heard for a good distance.

Met quite a few people who were aware of the search. But also found lots of posters that I put up last week are already gone. If anyone is going to be anywhere around Pacific Beach, La Jolla, or Ocean Beach, it would be really helpful if you could print out even a couple flyers and post in some public area. Particularly good spots are laundromats, bus stops, coffee shops, and bike/walking paths.

The flyer link is here: http://tinyurl.com/FINDCLU. It prints 2 to a page.

I also discovered a roosting spot. Half a dozen Amazons flew into a tall Queen Palm in a residential area around 7:00, half an hour or so before sunset. There was a little chattering initially, but I managed to see just one of them with binoculars. Within just a couple minutes they’d tucked themselves way in the center of the crown. You’d never know they were there, and well before dark.

No pictures of me walking around with a megaphone, binoculars, whistle and backpack. Just visualize a complete dork.

Carly’s Fledging Anniversary

Posted by Raz on Jul 26th, 2014
Jul 26

My calendar just reminded me that today is a day we always celebrate: the anniversary of Carly’s official fledging. It was 8 years ago on July 26, 2006 that she took her first “hop-flap” from her perch to my hand, a distance of about a foot. She was a year and a half old, wing feathers just growing in. It took her two weeks to work up the courage! For me it was even more exciting than her first outdoor flights. After that she became The Hopping Fool — it’s all she wanted to do. Hop-flap-treat-repeat. Even instead of eating dinner.

If you haven’t read it, the story from GoodBird (Spring 2008) is here:
Carly Gets Her Wings: Flight Training an Unfledged African Grey Parrot

Her first indoor recall practices looked like this:


First outdoor recall practices, about 10 months later:


Carly’s Fledging Album

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