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How Bird Endowment was Hatched

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

In the words of Jack Rickman (1942 - 2021), Bird Endowment Co-Founder

Laney (left) and Jack Rickman (right) in Guatemala in 1987.

“The egg that became Bird Endowment Inc….

…was most likely laid in the early morning hours of a warm Spring night in 1990, an otherwise unremarkable occasion with the exception that it also was the 20th reunion of Laney Rickman's high school graduation class. That was a party of celebration; long and hot tales of most sorts and cold wines of cheaper varieties and lesser origins than the Champagne appellation they mocked.

Arriving home after the late party, Laney rushed upstairs to check on her very first pet bird, a weanling Half-moon Conure that a friend had given her just days earlier. Both of her house dogs greeted her at the door to the room where the conure had been left in a large pet cage on a table. Ominously, the larger dog—a 110-pound Weimaraner-Shepherd mix—had a mouthful of feathers. He had once before torn up every feather pillow in the house. These, however, were not the feathers of pillows. Quite unlike pillow feathers, these were green. No, these surely were the feathers of a conure.

In the ensuing hysteria, Luna—the Half-moon Conure—was found underneath a low chair, alive and perfectly whole excepting a tail. Little Luna apparently had squeezed between the cage bars without any help from the dogs, not understanding the old adage that "freedom may be just another word for everything to lose.” A more secure protection was purchased the next day; until then, house dogs were yard dogs.

You can see that if the big Weimer-mix—named Pavo, "turkey" in Central American-Spanish, but that's a bird of a different feather—had been successful that night, Laney's love for psittacines might have perished in its first, early blush. And, along with it, the eventual hatching of Bird Endowment. As it would be, however, Luna thrived, became skilled at flying, and even learned, “Pavo! Pavo!”—at least Laney swears those were the words—when he wanted to ride around on the dog’s back after they became tolerant housemates. With his newly realized flying skills, Luna was able to overcome what at one time had become a life-threatening situation.

After Laney adopted a Scarlet Macaw, Laney’s growing interest in Psitticines inspired her to volunteer as a keeper in the bird department at The Houston Zoo. It was there that she first met Blue-throated Macaws and learned that, in the wild, BTM populations weren’t quite as resilient as Luna at coopting lethal threats to their survival. With each passing year, Laney became more involved with parrots and more concerned with the plight of the Blue, and she shared her concerns with other people.

In 1998, more than 50 interested people joined Laney as “Founders” in start-up funding for Bird Endowment Inc. as a 501 (c)(3) organization. The nonprofit’s stated mission is the well-being of all birds; the primary concentration, however, is breaking the extinction vortex in which the Blue-throated Macaw struggles.

An ex-situ conservation breeding program that empowers parent rearing by Blue-throated founder pairs became the primary component of the overall effort, called Saving the Blues. The objective of the domestic breeding program was to perpetuate, from generation to generation, the intact species culture that was brought here with the wild-caught founder birds. The goal was to maintain a backup, captive population with a language and culture as near as possible to their wild cousins in Bolivia. Bird Endowment’s abiding principle was that this goal can be achieved only through parent fledging of offspring. This captive parent-rearing effort was centered in the breeding facility known as the Blues Conservatory, located in the beautiful Guadalupe River Valley in Texas, from 1996-2017.

The Saving the Blues program—while raising public and aviculturist awareness of the Blue-throated Macaw status in captivity—also focused on its plight in the wild where the bird is threatened with imminent extinction.”

--adapted from the original article "Bird Endowment" in AFA Watchbird 2007


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