Once upon a time, there was a scarlet macaw that seemed a little different from the other macaws. Other birds had interesting names - Carmen LaVida, Coco Merida, Veracruz Sammy - all very cool birds and all hatched in eastern Mexico (except Carmen who was the younger brother of two birds and named after the eastern Mexico city where they lived until last year - Playa Del Carmen, a resort town in the heart of the Mayan Riviera and well renowned for its deep sea fishing opportunities and its active nightlife, and not where he and his older bird brother were hatched. Everyone assumed that was where Carmen was hatched.
This scarlet macaw's name was Cayo and he was as proud as a green-feathered, red-cheeked millennial macaw in his prime of 20 years could be. But his name was Cayo. He couldn't even pretend to come from Tampico, even if he wanted because his name was Cayo.
Tampico was the land of plentiful seeds and fruits, and a retirement quality location for macaws, who generally live for 80 years. Cayo and Carmen's parents were mid-life at 40 years of age. Although born at the same time, they hatched from two different eggs. Carmen was a brilliant scarlet red macaw while Cayo, slightly older than Carmen was a green and red feather mixture that was late to grow his down and he was a whipped cream version of both of his parents' colorful feather values. Neither boy bird looked like either of their parents and Cayo always felt different than the rest of the macaws. Everyone knew he was born in Key West and not from eastern Mexico and that his name means Cay, an island separated from the mainland, and that was exactly how he felt as he approached his 21st. year, his first adult year as a free bird.
Tampico is a beachfront resort with white sandy beaches and a flat shoreline. Further inland were the local cattle farmers and beautiful colonial-era buildings in the downtown core. Tampico was a special place in eastern Mexico and had the perfect tropical weather for macaws with rainfall common between May and September. It also did not have the street life that came with the nightlife in Playa Del Carmen and seemed the right place in which to entertain the inevitable empty nest experience when the boys fly off to find their own wings and to live the remainders of their lives as adult macaws.
The LaVida scarlet macaw family had lived in a cavity nest in a tree near a sinkhole in Playa Del Carmen. The sinkholes in the Yucatan Peninsula are filled with extremely clear water that are great for drinking, bathing and exploring and also for humans, swimming, snorkeling and exploring. The nightlife was one thing; they lived by a sinkhole but this new wave of underwater explorers began to crowd the area and change the ecosystem. While scarlet macaws aren’t an endangered species at this time, many macaw species now are endangered in the wild. All macaws are still at risk due to a combination of factors. They face habitat loss through deforestation and resort developments and capture from the wild forthe lucrative tropical birds pet trade. Hunting, poaching, and the spraying of pesticides are just a few more reasons their numbers are decreasing. The LaVida adult macaws had had enough of this encroachment and decided to pick apart their cavity nest in the tree by the sinkhole and fly to Tampico to protect Cayo and Carmen as best as an adult middle-aged macaw couple can protect two flying sons and brothers who are on the edge of the cliff and about to fly off into the wide wild world in which they can fly.
Cayo's mom and dad had met while flying north from Belize as spring approached and had a typically monogamous path-crossing introduction on the same branch of the same tree at the same time - a beautiful banyan tree on White Street in Key West, at the edge of Bahama Village. It was macaw paradise in a banyan tree. The two adult macaws began to attract each other because that is what macaws do during mating season. Macaws are typically monogamous.
This was love birds at first sight, or should I say "set"? After all, no bird ever plans on what tree branch will be the exact final destination during migration.
Mating season lasted 8 weeks while the two macaws would rest and replenish, and repeat this loving activity during the entire 8 weeks in Key West before returning to eastern Mexico for the upcoming warm weather migratory season. The Key West sunsets illuminated their world in an amazing color wash of reds and oranges and golden yellows and their time together was so enjoyable during this first encounter that they didn't want to leave Cayo Hueso, which is the Spanish name for Key West and the name of their first-hatched bird son. It means "Bone Key" (cayo = cay, a small island; hueso = bone) because maybe there were lots of bones covering the tiny coral island 150 miles south-southwest from Miami Beach, Florida where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet each other. The name did not matter to the macaws. It was the perfect place at the perfect time for a scarlet adventure.
When the sunset across the Gulf of Mexico from the bulkhead at Mallory Pier, everyone in Key West claps and then they turn away from the waterfront and go their respective ways as if they never before had met. This seemed very odd to the macaws because we all know that birds of a feather flock together. The City of Key West and the jubilant humans fascinated the two honey-mooning macaws but it was time for Cayo's mom to nest in a cavity in their favorite banyan tree and lay her eggs. Cayo hatched in 25 days and his brother, Carmen hatched at the very same time in the very same nest. Cayo wasn't very pretty as far as birds go. He had pink skin and little to no feathers but his brother, although younger by a few shell pecks, had beautiful bright red down feathers as if he were out of his egg for a week before Cayo hatched, instead of a few pecks after him.
Cayo thought there was something wrong with him because his brother was a brilliant red-feathered baby macaw and all he could see was how luxuriously his parents' feathers were, in full plume during mating season and although monogamous, Cayo's dad always seemed feather-fluffed when he was near his mother - they were in love for each other. That's how ti works with macaws. Ever since the two adult macaws had met in that banyan tree, they always flew as a pair from eastern Mexico to Belize and back.. Cayo's father was a magnificent scarlet macaw with bright green feathers and a bright red bush that outlined his upper beak. Cayo's dad could fly at speeds up to 35 mph (56 km/h) and expected to live for 80 years, just like his grand-dad macaw and his great-grand-dad macaw - all scarlet macaws have a life span of about 80 years.
105 days after they hatched, Cayo and Carmen LaVida fledged from their birth nest and began to circle around Key West in the air above the city. Macaws generally fledge after 90 days but Key West is a laid-back place and another 15 days was no big deal to the LaVida macaw family, nesting in the White Street banyan tree in the southernmost city in the continental USA and only 90 miles from Cuba as straight as the crow flies. The people that walked on the sidewalk below their private cavity in paradise were very much different than the people in Mexico or Belize. The macaws didn't understand what the differences could be; they are bird brains, but they understood that something different was happening in the United States that wasn't happening wherever else they had flown and nested. Even the beach was different - it wasn't white and soft and beautiful like Tampico, Playa Del Carmen or Cancun. Key West was crushed coral rock and big and chunky grains of sandy materials and it tasted like human fecal waste because the beach was inside the coral reef that was located 4 miles out at sea in the Atlantic Ocean. The island had changed drastically in September, 1998 after getting struck by Hurricane Georges and submerging the island for 3 days. By January, 1999, the Atlantic Ocean inside the reef for the first time had tested positive for fecal chloroform bacterial content
Cancun was worse; Cancun was originally a beach that was lined by forest but in the 1970s, the Mexican government decided to develop it into a resort area. Today it is one of Mexico’s most popular travel destinations and attracts millions of visitors every year. Cancun has everything that ocean and beach lovers can dream of... if they were humans. Not if they were macaws!!! Cancun today has nothing for ocean and beach loving macaws because there are no trees and therefore, no cavities in which to nest and live as free as a bird should live.
Scarlet Macaws make loud, low-pitched, throaty squawks and screams, mostly eat fruits and seeds. Like other parrots, they are seed predators; they destroy the seeds that they eat and do not disperse them. When Cayo and Carmen heard their dad's loud, throaty screams, they knew it was time to stop whatever they were doing and immediately return to their nest. The boys knew that today was the day - today they were going to fly across the Gulf of Mexico to their final destination, Playa Del Carmen.
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