Photo: Paradise Park. Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis): a male displays to a prospective mate. Paradise Park houses numerous non-psittacine birds, as well as some superb mammals

When he first went to work part-time as a teenager at Paradise Park, in Cornwall, David Woolcock probably didn’t imagine that one day he would be regarded as one of our foremost aviculturists. Yet his status today as an eminence in the World Parrot Trust doesn’t inhibit his pleasure in the park’s marvellous free-flight displays.

AN AGREEABLE spinoff of becoming a parrot person is the mix of fascinating people and birds you come across. Almost 20 years ago during my first trip to Paradise Park in Hayle, Cornwall, I met the young curator David Woolcock.

At the time, I’d never held a hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) before. David took me into a spacious aviary to meet the park’s young pair, Gregory and Cagu. Gregory perched on my hand and announced hoarsely: “Hello, I’m Gregory.”

Nowadays, Paradise Park houses about 40 macaws, many of which can be seen flying free during the afternoon bird show. In fact, the show team is currently training six young parent-reared scarlet macaws (Ara macao) to join the shows in 2018.

In 1971, the late Mike Reynolds decided to relocate his young family from Kent to Cornwall and turn his birdkeeping hobby into a family business. Of his four children, Alison is married to Ray, who works in the park, and her brother Nick does too.

After 15 years as a successful bird park, Mike Reynolds established the headquarters of the World Parrot Trust (WPT) as a charity: its aim, to educate the public about pet parrots and help conserve species at risk in the wild. These goals have succeeded admirably. And David, a founder member and a present trustee, has been involved since the beginning. The WPT has offices in four countries and has participated in more than 50 projects worldwide.

Young David, a grammar school boy, had intended to become a vet. But working at Paradise Park in his free time from the age of 14 persuaded him that he’d have a more interesting time working there. He hasn’t felt the lack of formal university training. Instead, he has learned on the job, and attained the status of a world-class aviculturist.

His views were formed out of first-hand experience and mentors starting with Mike Reynolds. David also cites the late John Stoodley and his wife, Pat, who were so influential in the husbandry of captive parrots, especially Amazons and macaws. Raymond Sawyer was another influential mentor.

One of David’s loves is the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), a member of the crow family. This bird had become extinct in the wild in Cornwall. At Paradise Park numerous choughs have been reared with some being released on Jersey and breeding successfully.

David believes that choughs are even more intelligent than parrots. He says: “The members of the crow family seem to be super smart. They learn far more quickly than the majority of other birds and seem much more aware of things in general. This is probably why they have become so very adaptable in nature.”

The WPT has also been involved with the world’s most successful parrot conservation programme to date, that of the echo parakeet (Psittacula eques) in Mauritius. And while it is supportive of responsible pet parrot ownership, the WPT is vehemently opposed to trapping wild parrots for pets.

David considers that the WPT campaign had enormous influence in uplisting the African grey (Psittacus erithacus) to Appendix One of CITES, thereby stopping the trade of wild caught African greys into Europe and further afield.

Paradise Park aims to amend some current assumptions about birdkeeping – such as “a mixture of species won’t get along.” In the large aviary, 46m (151ft) long, more than 80 birds of 20-plus species are housed.

In an aviary this large, birds are able to display more natural activity and more vocalisations are heard. David insists upon enrichment of every kind, especially natural items including branches, wild foodstuffs, fir cones and similar.

Diets are not universal but are adapted to different species. Visitors can enjoy giving little cups of nectar to a flock of lorikeets in a walk-through aviary.

The climax of the parrot show is an interaction between a parrot and the audience. The parrots physically help raise funds for their wild cousins’ survival. Audience members are invited up to the stage and each participant holds up a £1 coin.

A galah (Eolophus roseicapilla) then flies from the presenter’s arm to the child, perches on his/her arm, retrieves the coin and flies back to drop it in the collection pot. Since this interactive fundraising behaviour was devised in 2000, almost £90,000 has been added to the WPT’s conservation funds.

As well as parrots, raptors are also flown in a separate show. Afterwards, David and his staff happily answer questions about the birds at Paradise Park or their own birds at home.

Although Paradise Park is a commercial establishment, it retains the love of birds and animals that led to its foundation. As well as the bird collections, other groups of endangered species are kept, such as red pandas and our native red squirrel.

David wants anyone who visits to have enjoyed a positive experience. And he has a secondary aim: he wants visitors to leave with a positive desire to help birds in the home and in the wild.

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