Invasion of the Macaws

(Bloomberg) -- Editors Note: There are few places as chaotic or dangerous as Venezuela. “Life in Caracas” is a series of short stories that seeks to capture the surreal quality of living in a land in total disarray.

The macaw, a big, brilliantly colored and scandalously loud species of parrot, is definitely not indigenous to Caracas.

And yet the bird now seems to be everywhere here.

On a given day, I may spot a pair of them soaring past my window in the morning, a handful on my way into work and a few more as I head home at night. They float in and out of trees and zoom from apartment balcony to apartment balcony—big streaks of neon blue and yellow and green—in search of the scraps of food that their admirers leave out.

Invasion of the Macaws

I love them. We all do. In a city where misery is seemingly encountered on every street corner, they provide a brief moment of joy. They’re beautiful, exotic and, like Caraquenos, a little flamboyant. (They also add, I will say, to the post-apocalyptic feel of the place; much of the human population has fled, the buildings have crumbled and the macaws have swooped in.)

But where did they all come from exactly?

That’s something of a mystery. There are many theories. The most common of them posits that the birds were first introduced in the city several decades ago. They were illegally trapped in the rainforests of southern Venezuela and shipped northward as pets.

Invasion of the Macaws

Macaws, though, aren’t really great companions for cooped-up apartment dwellers. They’re big—about three times as long as a cardinal—and they chatter at full volume. Many people turned them loose, especially as the collapse of the economy started to strain personal finances in recent years.

Today there are four species of macaws living in the wilds of Caracas. Ara ararauna—the blue and yellow variety—is the most common. Malu Gonzalez, a biology professor at Simon Bolivar University, says the macaws have assumed the role of symbol of the city and helped reconnect its inhabitants with nature.

Invasion of the Macaws

“I’m not sure if this has been good for the species,” says Gonzalez, “but for the people, it’s magnificent.” And then she says something that is almost never heard in a country that has been plunged into misery by one public-policy misadventure after another: “Fortunately, this experiment worked out well.”

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