This article first came out in the June 2013 issue of Animal Scene magazine. The article explores how the pet trade affects wild bird populations.
by Sylvia Ramos
First off, this is NOT an article about a mistress or a kept woman! This is an article about the Colasisi (Loriculus philippensis), a type of parrot found throughout most of the Philippines. Colasisi can be found in the wild in many different types of habitats. They can be found in hot lowland forests, cool upland mountainsides and surprisingly, even in the middle of the urban jungles of Quezon City! It may be hard to believe, but wild Colasisi can be found in golf courses, subdivisions, gardens where there are big trees with flowers, nectar and fruits that they can feed on.
The Colasisi is also known as the Philippine Hanging Parrot. Hanging Parrots are a family of parrots that are only found in Asia. They are named for their unusual habit of roosting upside down like a bat. The Colasisi is a Philippine endemic. This means that it is only found in the Philippines. It is the smallest of the parrots found in the Philippines. It measures 150 mm or 6” from tip to tail. It is just slightly bigger than the ubiquitous maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow. (Passer montanus). A typical maya measures 132 mm or 5 ¼”. Unlike the drab brown maya however, the Colasisi is clad in jewel tones from head to toe. It has a vivid orange beak, pretty blue feathers around its eyes, bright red head, brilliant green body and wings, striking orange legs, and just for added punch, a bright red rump.
With its beautiful colors, it comes as no surprise to find out that the Colasisi is a popular house pet in the Philippines. In an article about life during the American period, Gilda Cordero Fernando wrote that the Colasisi was a popular house pet even as far back as the 1930’s. During that period, there was a textbook in English written by an American author and printed in the USA about common animals seen in daily Philippine life. These are animals like carabaos, monkeys, bats, and also wild birds like Colasisi. The story called “The Happy Culasisi” describes how these pretty red and green birds were kept in bamboo cages to be admired and also to entertain with their songs and vigorous dancing. Because of this popular story and also because Colasisi were so common as pets, the name Colasisi soon became a euphemism for a kept woman. Female readers of a certain generation may remember their mothers chastising them for being overly made-up by saying, “Para kang colasisi, maraming colorete” (You’re like a colasisi, so made-up”).
Today Colasisi are still popular as house pets. It is still common to see houses in the provinces that have a bamboo cage hanging outside their front door with a Colasisi or two inside. Many Filipinos have become accustomed to seeing wild birds like Colasisi, munias, and mynas for sale outside churches, at markets, or even by the roadside. Filipinos are not surprised to see wild birds caged up and sold as pets.
Most Colasisi that are for sale are captured from the wild. Gathering birds from the wild is illegal and depletes the wild population. It is an unsustainable practice that could eventually lead to the extinction of a species in the wild. If this practice continues, it is foreseeable that in the future there could be a generation of Filipinos that have never seen a Colasisi in the wild.
Even if a species is very common and very abundant, it can still go extinct. This is something that has already happened time and again in many places. One famous example is the Passenger Pigeon In the US that was hunted to extinction by the European settlers. There were once so many Passenger Pigeons in the US that people would report trees toppling down from the weight of the roosting birds and flocks that stretched out as far as the eye could see. At one point, the Passenger Pigeon population was estimated to reach 5 billion. However, even a population this huge could not withstand being hunted on a massive scale and the last Passenger Pigeon died in captivity in 1914.
Wild bird populations are very vulnerable and can easily be wiped out by hunting for food and for the pet trade. Some people think that hunting birds in the wild is just like catching fish from the ocean. They think that there will always be more birds to catch. This is far from truth. Capturing birds from the wild is not the same as catching fish from the seas since there are so much less birds than fish. Think of the areas on the globe that are covered by water. Now think of the areas on the globe that are covered by trees, forests and other habitats where birds can live. That alone will give you an idea of how limited the bird population is compared to the fish population. Then consider how much forest is lost every year to logging and conversion to farmland, and residential areas. And then consider that birds reproduce at a much slower rate than fish. While fish can spawn hundreds of eggs at a time, many birds lay only two or three eggs each year. Some birds nest only every two years. The female Passenger Pigeon laid only a single egg each year. If there are fish populations that are today considered vulnerable because of over-fishing, what more for the bird populations?
Should hunters be allowed to deprive others of the experience of seeing a bird in the wild? Does the profit from selling a bird or the satisfaction from owning a pet justify the damage to the wild population? A single person hunting and trapping can easily wipe out an entire population of birds. The Colasisi already “appears to be extinct on Siquijor and Cebu” according to “A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines” by Robert Kennedy et al.
Birds and wildlife are part of a nation’s heritage and the people’s birthright. It would be tragic if future generations of Filipinos were deprived of the experience of seeing a Colasisi in the wild by greed and thoughtlessness. One way to prevent this is to stop buying wild birds. As the long-running campaign of Wild Aid says, “When the buying stops, the killing can too”. It’s time for people to go beyond the 1930’s mentality, to look beyond bamboo cages hanging by their front doors, and to see birds as more than noisy ornaments. While a bird in a cage is pretty, it is a mere shadow of its true self in the wild. To see a Colasisi in the wild, flying and feeding is a thrill that everyone should experience. So go out! If you look closely enough, you just might see a jewel of a bird right in your own backyard.
Colasisi photos were all taken in the wild at Mapawa Nature Park in Malasag, Cagayan de Oro.