Two weeks ago, our beloved Quaker parrot Calypso flew over the Rainbow Bridge.  

Our precious Calypso….aka Fuzzy, Satan, Jerkface…

He was the smartest, meanest, funniest, nastiest, most spiteful parrot I ever knew.  And I adored him.  Dearly.  

It’s taken this long for me to talk about it.  Or write about it.  Without tears streaming down my face. 

Nope. I’m still crying.

I am shattered. He has been a huge part of our lives for 22 years.  We adopted him as a baby for my daughter when she was eleven.  The two were inseparable.  She weaned him and taught him so many things.  I know he inspired her career as a zoologist and a lifelong love of birds.  

His vocabulary was extensive, and he used words in context. At six weeks he asked, “What doin’?” and I would answer him.   He said, “Hola” or “Hi” to greet us, “Bye-Bye” when we left, and blew us kisses and played “Peek-A-Boo” every day.  

As the garage door opened, he’d chirp at our return.  

He called me a “Fat Little Chicken.”  When I told him to speak for himself, he’d say, “I’m a Cute Little Leprechaun!”  

He yelled, “Let Me Out!” when I closed him in his cage, and “Night Night” at bedtime when I covered him for sleep.  

He would switch from cuddly and loving to biting your face off in a nanosecond.  But when you were sad, he would say, “Awww!” and reach for your cheek and wipe your tears.  He would sell his soul for yellow squash or whipped cream. He loudly expressed his displeasure with any change to his routine. But he’d also purr like a kitten when wrapped in a blanket, letting you scratch the pin feathers on his neck.  

He loved running through all the animal sounds:

“Turkeys say Gobble Gobble Gobble.  Chickens say Buck Buck Buck BaBUCK!  Ducks say Quack Quack Quack.  Roosters say Cock-a-doodle Doooo!  Puppy Dogs say Grrr Ruff Ruff.  Kitty Cats say Me-owww!”  

My mother taught him the songs “Mares Eat Oats,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” and “You are My Sunshine.”  Mom’s been gone for twenty years, but every time he’d sing those songs I’d smile thinking of her.   

He had his own style of This Little Piggy:   “…this little piggy had BIRD SEED!  But this little piggy had NONE. NONE!!!  But THIS big fat green piggy cried WEE WEE WEE WEE WEE!  All the way home!”  

And he sang his version of the theme song from Cops—“Bad birds, bad birds, watcha gonna do?”  

The past two years I’ve watched him slow down.  He slept a lot during the day, and his feisty personality had mellowed.  He survived a stroke five years ago, and his health (and diet!) had improved much since then.  Seeing him age, I’ve known in my heart this day was coming. But I just cannot accept it now that it’s here.  

I will miss him forever.  I’ll never hear that wonderful voice of his again.  There is an empty space where his cage once was, and looking there hurts me to my bones.   I’m in a fog of pain, and I know this wound will take a long time to scab over.  

They’ll be no more “Ooo, yum yum!” when I give him a treat.

They’ll be no more “Awwww” when he knows we are sad.

They’ll be no more “Thank you!”s when we give him a kiss.

They’ll be no more “Ow ow ow!” when I stub my toe.

They’ll be no more “Go go go!” when I’m watching football.

They’ll be no more “Ah Choo! God Bless You!” when I sneeze.

They’ll be no more “Scary!!” when the Halloween decorations go up.

No more maniacal laughter when we’re happy.

No more yellow squash flung against the walls.

No more screeching when I put my shoes on, knowing I was leaving and he had to go in his cage.

No more alarm calls at tin foil and saran wrap.

No more griping when I move the furniture or dust the blinds.

No more squawks when I come home, reminding me to open his cage.

No more complaining that we’re keeping him up past his bedtime.

No more hysterics when he sees the ironing board.

No more smoochy kisses when he hears me get up in the morning.

Even with two other parrots in our flock, there is a deafening silence in the house.   I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.

Fly free, my cantankerous, ferocious, brilliant, beloved Calypso.   

You’ve taken a chunk of my heart with you. 

So You Want To Get A Parrot

Reilly and Orchids

Yellow Nape Amazon

So you want to get a parrot. You saw one at the zoo, pet store, on YouTube, whatever.  It talked and danced and made you laugh.  It was adorable!

Okay.  I get it.  You want a parrot.  But before you plunge right in and bring one home, consider these handy tips to see if you’re ready.

Take out a twenty-dollar bill. Shred it with a scissors.  Repeat with a new bill once a week for 6 months.  If this doesn’t bother you, you may be ready.  Parrot toys average that price and last about a week.  Parrots need lots of toys.  Lots. Of. Toys.

Next, invest in an antique cherry Chippendale side chair.  Every couple weeks, take a hacksaw and slice a few chunks out of its legs.  If you like that “distressed” furniture style, you might be ready.

Now grab a screwdriver and get on your hands and knees.  Crawl along the perimeter of the room the parrot will call home.  Gouge large areas of the baseboards at various intervals. This will approximate how the woodwork will look after your parrot gets loose and explores.


Golden Conure

Still interested?  You just have to have a parrot?  Because they dance and sing and say funny things? Fine.  Withdraw a thousand dollars or whatever the bird costs.  Set it aside.  Flip a coin.  Heads?—You win! Your parrot can talk.  Burn the thousand dollars.  Tails?—You lose! Your parrot doesn’t talk.  Burn the money anyway.  Not all parrots talk.  There are no guarantees.  Love the bird, not the ability.  If you only want something to talk to you, buy a different kind of Amazon—an Alexa Echo will suffice.  It will save you money in the long run and spare the poor parrot the neglect inflicted by a disappointed owner.

So you still want a parrot?  Great!  Go buy a bag of quality parrot pelleted food.  Grab a handful and stand where you plan to place the cage.  Toss pellets all over the floor.  Then spend time cutting up pieces of fresh apple, grapes, squash, banana, carrot, etc.  Fling food, especially the soft squishy bits, on the wall.  Allow it to dry and harden.  Scrub off without removing the paint while keeping your language fit for young children to hear.  Remember, parrots can mimic—usually what you don’t want them to say.

Calypso with orchids

Quaker Parrot

If considering a small parrot, place your finger on the kitchen counter.  Using a sharp object of your choice—the open end of a paperclip works—jab yourself hard enough to draw blood, simulating a minor bite.  Do not cry out; do not swear.  Birds love a strong reaction and will repeat the behavior if they like your animated response.

If you want a larger parrot, complete the step above.  Then place your bleeding finger into a vice.  Squeeze until your eyes water.  Do not cry out; do not swear.  Remain calm and remove your finger from the vice.  Admonish yourself for not understanding the vice’s feelings, and resolve to better learn how to read the vice’s mood.

Now if you want a cockatoo, especially a Moluccan Cockatoo, stop reading this and go smack yourself in the head.  Still interested?  Then you’ll need to ramp it up to Level 5 Prep. Drive to your nearest international airport.  Park nearby, and sit underneath the runway flight path.  And no cheating—you can’t wear earplugs.  When the 747s approach, enjoy the sound when they descend to a thousand feet.  A Moluccan Cockatoo’s scream is only about ten decibels less.  If you can stand this daily for hours on end, you may be ready.  But don’t say you weren’t warned.

Binky Bird Moluccan Cockatoo

Moluccan Cockatoo

So you still think you want a parrot?  All right. You’ll need help for this one. Ask a small child to sit where the cage will be.  Now take out random things—the ironing board, a yardstick, a balloon, aluminum foil or saran wrap—whatever.  Each time you hold a new item up, the young child must flap his arms and shriek at the top of his lungs.  Most parrots are flock animals.  They scream to alert others of danger.  And that ironing board looks like a mortal predator.

Sound like fun?  Are you all in now?  I didn’t think so.  Maybe it’s time to visit that dog or cat rescue.

But if you really are in—if you truly still want a parrot—if you are willing to share your life with a feathered companion, possibly for the rest of your life and then provide for it in your will—then consider carefully what kind of home you can offer one of these brilliant creatures.  Find the right bird for your lifestyle.  If you choose to buy, purchase one from a reputable dealer.  Better yet, rescue a poor soul that has been abandoned at a shelter by someone who didn’t quite think it through or sadly became too ill to care for his friend.

Birds have been my lifelong dear companions.  I’m the first person to admit how much they have enriched my days.  I hope I’ve enriched theirs.  But I’ve seen the other side–the abandoned, neglected, wretched souls who’ve lost all hope and now self mutilate for lack of care.  No bird should suffer this just because someone thought it was cute and purchased the creature on a whim.

You think you want a parrot? If you truly are willing to provide a quality diet, safe enclosure, toys and enrichment, avian veterinary care, a lifelong commitment, and lots of love, you are ready.  Good.  I hope so. Because I know that out there is a parrot who wants you.

Hyacinth Perus

Hyacinth Macaw


On Bird Brains and Wild Spaces


Little Blue Heron         Photo by Tara Powers


I needed an adventure.   Not a big one, just something fun for a day.   Florida only gets a few pleasant months for exploring before the heat and mosquitoes make my Irish blood miserable, so the clock was ticking.

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has been on my bucket list for years.  I’ve been to the Kennedy Space Center a few times.   As my husband and daughters marveled at NASA’s engineering feats, I’ve stared off into the swamp and admired the birds and gators.   So we packed a cooler and made the two-hour drive north.

At the visitor center, we walked past tourists taking selfies with an orange tree.    Songbirds darted about the boardwalk, and a pair of ospreys guarded their nest.   Leaving there we drove down a dirt lane that opened up to a vast vista of mangrove swamp and open water.   NASA’s launch pad and Vehicle Assembly Building towered in the distance, a stark reminder that though surrounded by wilderness you weren’t far from modern society.

The Refuge is a bird watcher’s dream.   My daughter grabbed binoculars and checked off species on her list. I grabbed my camera and clicked in every direction.   My husband grabbed his lunch.   Everyone was happy!

Merritt Island spans diverse ecosystems—swamp, pinelands, scrublands, and coast. We viewed alligators, shorebirds, passerines, and birds of prey.   Florida scrub jays greeted us with their raucous screeches, and a bald eagle swooped just over our heads.  An elusive roseate spoonbill tormented me by staying too far away for a decent photograph, but the herons cooperated for the camera.  The Black Point Wildlife Drive—a single lane unpaved trail–is the heart of the Refuge.   It winds through three miles of wetlands filled with herons, egrets, and waterfowl.   But the highlight of our trip was the nest of Great Horned Owls. It was almost dusk when we found them.   Two little fuzzball owlets popped their heads up over the side of the nest while Mama (or Papa) sat nearby.  I was in heaven.

What a perfect adventure.   I needed that day in old Florida–a Florida that existed for eons before the population grew and paved everything around it.   We birdbrains still need the wild spaces.



American Coots       Photo by Tara Powers




American Bittern–He was so well camouflaged that we almost missed him.  Photo by Tara Powers




Florida Scrub Jay      Photo by Tara Powers




Northern Shovelers      Photo by Tara Powers




Roseate Spoonbill        Photo by Tara Powers




Snowy Egret–His massive yellow feet are hidden underwater.              Photo by Tara Powers




American Alligator       Photo by Tara Powers




Pied-Billed Grebe            Photo by Tara Powers




Great Horned Owl with Owlet in Nest             Photo by Tara Powers




Great Horned Owlet            Photo by Tara Powers

You Never Get Over Losing Your Mother



My sweet sister-in-law joined our club this week. I wish she never had to face the initiation. She became another daughter who has lost her mother. Too soon. Much too soon.

Sadly I know just how she’s spent the past days. The phone call that feels like a punch in the stomach. The frantic packing. The twelve hour drive in the middle of the night—devoted husband at the wheel and frightened daughters in the back seat. Walking into the brightly lit ICU to find Mom, dearest friend and confidante, hooked up to all manner of tubes and wires. A sister—who just faced the same sequence of events—racing in with her baby. Dad with the vacant look in his eyes. Talking to Mom. Hoping she hears us. Holding her hand. The last kiss goodbye.

I realize most of us have to face this someday. But someday is supposed to be a long time from now. When we’re older. When our daughters and sons are grown up and might understand why Grandma won’t be there for hugs and kisses, birthdays, holidays, and tea parties.

I want to tell her it will be okay. I want to tell her that time will soothe the pain. I want to reassure her that as the years pass the hole in her heart will heal. I want to tell her that as her daughters reach each milestone, there won’t be tears wishing Mom could have been there. But I can’t lie to her.

You never get over losing your Mother.



Lime Time


Pumpkin Patch in Georgia



Margarita the Red Rat Snake

Fall may be pumpkin season around the country, but here in Florida it is key lime season. My tree is drooping from the weight of so many limes. While others are baking pumpkin bread, molasses cookies, and snickerdoodles, I’m trying to decide what to do with all these tart and tiny fruits.

Key lime pie is obvious—and delicious! But sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba as I dream up ideas: key lime cake, key lime chicken, margaritas, key lime white chocolates, key lime cookies, margaritas, key lime frozen yogurt, key lime iced tea, key lime shrimp, margaritas, key lime salsa, key lime cupcakes, key lime mahi—did I mention margaritas?

Last weekend I harvested a basket of the beauties. I was just about done when a little face popped out through the leaves. There was Margarita, the red rat snake who resides in the lime tree. She wasn’t happy that I was disturbing her, but she tolerated the tree shaking as I picked the limes. She even let me snap a few photos showing off her vivid colors. A tiny tree frog hopped from leaf to leaf, likely saved from becoming a snake-sized morsel by my interference. Margarita finally tired of the photo shoot, plopped on the ground with a loud “thump,” and slithered into the saw palmetto. I imagined her muttering under her breath as she retreated.

So it’s Lime Time. While other states are enjoying crisp weather, colorful leaves, and pumpkins, I’m swimming in the pool and looking at a bushel of key limes. One thing is certain—I will never suffer from scurvy.



Margarita in the Key Lime Tree



Baby Tree Frog Hiding from Margarita



Margarita Slithers Away



Key Lime Harvest

Renegade Reptiles


Cuban Knight Anole
Martin County, FL


DSC01578 - Version 3

Rat Snake in the Garage

Dear Reptilian Neighbors,

I am a lifelong Floridian, so I am accustomed to sharing my world with you.  We go back a long way.   As a toddler, I tried to teach a green anole lizard to swim.   It didn’t end well, and I apologize.

When I was five we found a corn snake in the back yard.   We kept him in a large coffee can and played with him everyday—until Mom found the empty can in the living room.   We searched all day for “Corny” and finally found him when we couldn’t open the sliding glass door.   He was stretched out in the track.   Mom insisted “Corny” be released, so we bid him farewell and set him free.

I do regret that incident with the rattlesnake.   But you have to concede that it was a dangerous situation.   My friend and I wandered down to the creek, and he was coiled up where all the kids liked to play.   He struck out at us, and we raced home.   Worried about the neighborhood children, Mom called for help and the police removed the threat.   I’m sorry it had to end that way.

But for the most part we have peacefully coexisted.   As a kid I remember alligators roaming the streets during mating season.   I’ve admired rough green snakes, gracefully draped in the mangrove trees as I’ve paddled a canoe underneath them.   Box turtles are adorable, and I’ve helped many gopher tortoises safely cross a busy road.   You lizards have overrun my patio while puffing out your red dewlaps to challenge me to “your” territory.   And I don’t complain when ringneck and brown water snakes insist on swimming in the pool.   I’m not thrilled when I surface and find you in my face, but you have to admit I rescue you and return you to the safety of the backyard.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed some changes around here.   Some odd relatives of yours have arrived, and our encounters are more frequent.   A couple years ago I was shocked to see a large black and orange African Agama lizard at the CVS pharmacy.   I thought some joker had painted an iguana until I looked up your species and learned how colorful you can be.   Now I see your kind all over town.   Then last year I found an invasive neon-green iguana in my White Bird-of-Paradise plant.   But this week you have gone too far.

I was carrying an armful of recycling into my closed garage, and I almost stepped on a large red rat snake.   Now I am not afraid of you, but you startled me.   I don’t expect you inside the house.   And did you really have to leave that disgusting pile of scat at the entrance?   Later that day I saw the beautiful hawk in the backyard.   Racing out with my camera, I barely avoided tripping over “Licorice,” the southern black racer snake who resides in our privet hedge, peering up like a periscope to spy on us.   And yesterday as I was watering plants, something large leaped from the Petrea Vine into the neighbor’s hickory tree—and it wasn’t fluffy with a bushy tail.   Almost invisible, it crept through the branches.   The military should study its camouflage pattern.   After twenty minutes and thirty mosquito bites, I had enough photos for my zookeeper daughter to identify it.   We now have a Cuban Knight Anole, another invasive species, in the yard.

So let’s call a truce.   I will watch my steps more carefully and make a lot of noise so you can slither away quickly.   And you will stay outside and not leave poop on the door step.   We have a long history together.   I know we can work this out.


Florida Girl


IMG_2596 - Version 2

Neighborhood Gopher Tortoise



Southern Black Racer–“Licorice”


DSC01599 - Version 3

Cuban Knight Anole with Amazing Camouflage



Baby Florida Box Turtle

It’s Sprummer!


Orphaned baby opossum on his way to the wildlife sanctuary.
Photo by Tara Powers


DSC00911 - Version 2

Male painted bunting visiting the feeder.
Photo by Tara Powers



Cattleya orchids in full bloom.
Photo by Tara Powers

It’s Sprummer!—the season in Florida that follows our two brief months of winter.   If you live here, you understand.

I’ve heard folks from other states opine that Florida does not have seasons.  As a native Floridian I can attest that we actually do.   They are just more subtle than those up north.   We joke that we only have two REAL seasons—Tourist and Hurricane–but observant individuals will notice the changes we experience.

True summer sets in during May.   It gets hot—really hot.   And if a west wind blows across the Everglades, it gets even hotter.   Early in May twenty years ago, I chaperoned a field trip of kindergarteners to Miami’s Metro Zoo.   It was 98 degrees in the shade with a hot wind blowing from the glades.   I can’t remember the animals we saw, but I can recall every water fountain we stopped at.   May can be fickle—nice one day, brutal the next.   But some of our most beautiful trees—like the flame red Royal Poinciana and purple Queen’s Crape-Myrtle—burst into dazzling bloom at this time.   By June the daily afternoon thunderstorms build up, and this pattern lasts through September.   To make things more interesting, this also coincides with the height of hurricane season.

Autumn heralds its arrival with a change in the light.   The sunlight shifts and softens in the house.   Usually by the third week in October we finally get some relief with a mild cool front.   Migrating birds pass through, and our family of painted buntings settles in for the next six months.   It often warms up again for Thanksgiving, just in time to wilt the holiday trees that have sprouted under roadside tents.   By Christmas I am praying for a blast of arctic air, but more often than not I’ll have the air conditioning chugging away as we open gifts and listen to carols.

Finally January brings some beautiful crisp cold air, and my Irish blood is happy.   Some trees, realizing they missed autumn, now change color and drop their leaves.   I enjoy two months of cool weather while listening to tourists complain that they came down here for warmth.   I smile and invite them to return in August.   The backyard is full of wildlife enjoying the bird feeder.   The birdbath is even busier as winter can be dry and parched.   And the golf courses are dotted with the flamingo pink and lime green plumage of the annual snowbirds.

But in March Sprummer sets in. It’s too warm to call it spring.   The patio orchids explode into bloom, and flowering trees decorate the landscape.   Brightly colored butterflies and bees flitter and buzz among the blossoming bougainvillea and petrea vine.   Winter birds journey back north while native ones court, nest, and raise their young.   Yellow crested flycatchers return to the nest box, and catbirds splash in the birdbath with delight.   Bunnies scamper through the yard, a muddy mess from the raccoons digging for grubs and worms.   Meanwhile the house periodically shakes from the squirrels rampaging across the patio screen.   Alligator mating season commences, and they occasionally wander around the neighborhood looking for love.   And baby opossums, turtles, snakes, and lizards appear, delighting (or terrifying) residents working outside.

So enjoy our Florida Sprummer.   It’s warm enough to enjoy the pool and beach, but the humidity is still somewhat tolerable.   That won’t last.   The sunlight will strengthen and shift again as we prepare for the long hot months ahead.   I dread the thought of a hurricane, a constant concern once June arrives.   But on the plus side, traffic is a lot lighter.   And for those tourists seeking warmth—you’ll really enjoy August!


Momma Gator and baby.
Photo by Tara Powers



Petrea Vine in full bloom.
Photo by Tara Powers



Gulf Fritillary Butterfly emerging from chrysalis.
Photo by Tara Powers



Orphaned adorable baby opossum on his way to the wildlife sanctuary.
Photo by Tara Powers

Winter Walk on the Wild Side


Reflections on the St. Lucie
Halpatiokee Park in Martin County, Florida
Photo by Tara Powers


DSC04427 - Version 2

Osprey near Vero Beach, Florida
Photo by Meaghan Powers

When many people think of Florida, they think of palm trees, beaches, and Disney World.   As a huge peninsula, we certainly have some beautiful beaches.   And Disney World is, well, Disney World.   But most people don’t realize that Florida still has some wonderfully wild spaces left in our rapidly changing state.

While the Everglades are well known for being remote, there are many other settings to spend a quiet day or even take a short walk.  Thankfully caring local and state leaders have had the foresight to preserve these areas as parks, and you can take a walk back in time exploring these trails.   As I wander these paths, I imagine what life was like for the early pioneers and original inhabitants of our state.   They must have faced many challenges settling the territory.

Diverse ecosystems are highlighted by these parks.   In some places the terrain is wet, dense, and jungle-like; other areas can be dry scrub or pinelands.   Some of these trails actually cover different habitats mere yards apart.   One minute you can be walking through a dry sandy path, and a few feet later you enter a thick cooler hammock.   There are various critters inhabiting these places.   Lizards, snakes, and gopher tortoises thrive in the sandy patches.   Squirrels and birds dart through the hammocks.   Deer graze and sandhill cranes forage in the grassy fields.   If you spot a dead pine tree, look up.   You’ll likely see woodpecker holes in the trunk.   If you’re lucky you’ll see an osprey or hawk surveilling the terrain from the top.   Take care on your hike, though.   These may be designated parks, but they are still wild places.   You can encounter snakes, alligators, and invasive wild hogs.   While some of us enjoy seeing these critters, others might not feel the same way!

Winter is the best time for this exploration.   The cooler dry air keeps the mosquitoes at bay, and the crisp days are too gorgeous to stay inside.   We Floridians have only limited days of cool weather to enjoy—those are the best times to go on these adventures.   So check your local parks to see what trails they have to wander.   The Florida Trail Association lists interesting ones to explore.  You can go for a day trip or just take a short walk.   Either way you’ll discover a different Florida and hopefully see a beautiful part of our state that we need to preserve and protect.   And admit it, the trails are a lot prettier than the treadmill at the gym.   So go ahead, take a winter walk on the wild side.



Red Bellied Woodpecker in Halpatiokee Park
Photo by Tara Powers



Deer Munching on Leaves
Western Martin County, Florida
Photo by Tara Powers



Sandhill Crane Foraging for Food
Martin County, Florida
Photo by Tara Powers



The Wild St. Lucie River
Halpatiokee Park
Photo by Tara Powers