A Word from Nancy

   White Fronted Parrot/Loro Frentiblanco

February 2024    

White-fronted Parrot/ Loro Frentiblanco

White-fronted Parrot/ Loro Frentiblanco

“Holding hands (or preening feathers!) is a promise

to one another that, for just a moment,

the two of you don’t have to face the world alone.” 


Picking bugs off each other with our beaks is something that, fortunately, Dan and I have never had to get in the habit of doing. We have however recently begun holding hands a lot more often. I think it started as a mutual balance aid and way to stay together in crowded situations, Now it has become a joyful habit.

I know that not everyone likes to be touched, and we all have different ways of expressing affection, but this works for us. On our recent trip north from Costa Rica, I was surprised by the number of times strangers told us how cute we looked. One young woman lamented that people her age don’t seem to hold hands, So I started paying attention, and sure enough, other than a few parent/child combos, I saw very few other people holding hands. In fact, it was sometimes hard to tell who was traveling together and who just happened to be in close proximity.

So during this month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day, maybe you could consider holding hands with someone, not just your life partner, but whoever you’re walking with. Let the world know the two of you are together! And if you’re really adventuresome, maybe go for some public grooming with your beak (just kidding!).






Here is a photo you may recognize from the February 2022 calendar, that shows two Scarlet Macaws allopreening.

I took this month’s photo last January while visiting Monteverde in Costa Rica. It turns out that birds spend a LOT of time grooming, about a third of their waking hours. Grooming rituals vary among species, reflecting adaptations to diverse environments. Tropical birds may have elaborate plumage requiring intricate grooming, while arctic birds focus on insulation through meticulous feather alignment.

Preening is a maintenance behavior used by all birds to maintain their feathers, which are important for insulation, waterproofing and flight.  It involves using the beak to position feathers, interlock feather barbules that have become separated, clean plumage, and keep ectoparasites in check. Most bird species have an oil gland at the base of their tail, and use their beaks to distribute this oil through their feathers, where it helps to keep them waterproof. 

Birds groom themselves and sometimes each other, known as allo- or social-preening. This can occur between mates, or within a family or flock. It is believed that this helps to strengthen social connections, build trust, and maintain a sense of community among parrots (I’m always a bit skeptical when observers attribute underlying motives to animal behavior). A related activity is allo-feeding, which I know I especially enjoy when chocolate is involved.

Scarlet Macaws Allo-preening





May you have lots of hands to hold in the coming month,


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