The next time you flock to the Peak District, the most eagle-eyed of visitors may spot an exotic feathered friend or two flying as free as a bird.
Against the craggy landscape and scenic moorlands, there have been sightings of a multicoloured macaw named Motley soaring high above the Peaks.
Harlequin macaw Motley is one of five birds who belong to zoo biology student Chloe Brown, originally from Barnsley but who now lives in Nottingham. Motley will be three in June and Chloe has hand-fed and raised him from being 21 weeks old.
Having wanted to give Motley the best life possible and the freedom he should naturally have, Chloe taught herself the technique of free flight training and has worked with Motley and her small flock to fly without any restraints. Starting with recall training using a harness and long bungee cord, Chloe built up Motley’s training gradually and he is now at a point where he’s out flying freely daily, much like a dog owner taking their dog for a walk.
She has since started training her other four birds with the hope that they too will join Motley on his adventures.
Over the last couple of years, Chloe has used social media to raise awareness and educate people about the challenges and complexities of keeping birds as pets.
“Birds are often misunderstood as pets, which is why on average they’re rehomed two or three times in the first year of their life. My pet hate is being asked if he talks – birds are so much more than that.
“They’re smart animals and have a similar intelligence level as a five-year-old. In the wild they can fly for up to 17 miles a day, yet as pets they’re often locked in cages with a poor diet and no enrichment. If you get their care wrong, they can develop behavioural and hormonal issues,” Chloe says.
Chloe knows first-hand the detrimental effects irresponsible ownership can have.
She rescued Jekyll the macaw 18 months ago after he had been abused, hit and had no toys or engagement. He lived in a cage where he couldn’t stretch his wings.
“Birds don’t forget trauma or mistreatment and it’s been a long and emotional process to rehabilitate Jekyll. He has no trust in other people and is very unpredictable, but we’ve made great progress and he now free flies around our local park.”
Zeba the Patagonia Conure was also rescued after she’d ended up in a bird sanctuary as a result of being bought as a lockdown pet.
“She’d had her wings clipped so couldn’t fly and was very withdrawn, so we waited for her wings to grow back before starting any training but she also now free flies. She’s very cheeky and loves to wake us all up by chanting her name in a morning.”
He might think he’s the ruler of them all now, but yellow collared macaw Link has had to fight for his place in the flock after being sold to Chloe with two deadly diseases from someone she thought was a reputable breeder. He spent a year with one of Chloe’s friends and after multiple blood tests was finally cleared fit to join the flock last December.
“Thankfully I am very strict with quarantine and disease testing, but I was devastated at the thought that I could have lost all my birds due to one irresponsible human. Having diseases like PBFD and polyoma would be a death sentence for the majority of birds but thankfully Link has pulled through and it wasn’t transmitted to the others.”
And last but by no means least, the baby of the bunch is Salem the rose breasted Galah cockatoo with his striking crown. He’s not a year old yet, but the pink and grey bird has already started training on a harness.
“Most people don’t realise that birds don’t instinctively know how to fly or even stand on a perch and they can be very clumsy when they’re young. Training takes a lot of patience and you have to make it fun and engaging for the bird.”
While she has five birds of her own, she doesn’t recommend others follow suit, particularly with larger birds like macaws. At home, the flock have their own heated room complete with lots of toys, branches fixed to the walls and swings hanging from the ceiling. Chloe also has a net covering the entire garden so the birds can fly out the house and back in at their leisure.
Motley even goes with Chloe and her partner on holiday, making his nest in their caravan as they tour the country from Scotland to London.
Living a life of luxury, the birds are fed a healthy balanced diet of organic pressed pellets, fresh vegetable chop, mixed nuts, and the occasional treat of fresh fruit. And with healthy macaws having a lifespan of up to 90 years, Chloe has already written Motley and his crew into her will so she knows they will continue to be looked after.
“My life revolves around the birds but the bond I have is unlike anything else.”