The parrots of the Peak District

Motley enjoying all the Peak District has to offer

Motley enjoying all the Peak District has to offer - Credit: Chloe Brown

Head to one of the Peak District's legendary beauty spots and you may witness a spectacular sight - and the backstory is equally compelling

Should you head out into the glorious Peak District and happen upon parrots flying through the sky you might want to hold off on booking a trip to the opticians. 

Chances are you’ve stumbled across Motley and his friends, beautiful birds that love our great outdoors and stunning landscapes as much as we do – and they’re starting to develop quite a following. 

And that’s all thanks to Chloe Brown, a passionate raiser of parrots, cockatoos and macaws, who has dedicated years to caring for and raising these fascinating and beautiful creatures, whilst educating the public in the process. 

‘I’ve always loved animals, they’ve always been part of my passion,’ explains Chloe, who is currently taking a degree in Biology.  

‘A couple of years ago I took in a rescue parrot and it all started from there. I didn’t realise how complex and intelligent they or what incredible personality they have - it was a real eye-opener.’ 

And for Chloe, that was the start of a heart-warming journey, with her birds giving her immense pleasure; not least because they all have such distinctive personality traits. 

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‘I now have five and no two alike,’ she reveals.  

Taking a nosedive

Taking a nosedive - Credit: Chloe Brown

‘Motley is perhaps the best known. I got him when he was 21 weeks old and he will be three in June. He is very clownish, loveable and we have a special bond - he’s adorable and very sweet natured. 

‘I took Jekyll as a rescue and have had him for just over a year. He was badly abused when he was young and initially terrified of people, you couldn’t get anywhere near him. 

‘I called him Jekyll because his personality is very much like Jekyll and Hyde. One minute he can be sweet and attentive and the next he’ll bite you. 

‘That is partly because he is a hybrid, a mix between two species known for being quite feisty, but mainly a consequence of how he was previously treated. 

‘Most birds get re-homed within the first two years of their lives – often three or four times – and that can have really negative effect. However, I’ve gained his trust and he’s now free-flying, although he’s not ready to go out into the Peak District just yet. 

‘I also have Zeba, a little Patagonian conure, and she’s a rescue too. Someone got her as a lockdown pet and went back home abroad when restrictions eased and dropped her off in a sanctuary.  

‘Unfortunately, the sanctuary in question cut her wings so she couldn’t fly, which is awful. I wasn’t intending to get her when I visited, I was actually looking for toys and bits and pieces, however when I saw her I decided to take her in.  

‘She’s now flourishing and enjoys free flying with Motley. She’s absolutely hilarious and a very good and clear speaker - bossy but in a funny way! 

King of the sky

King of the sky - Credit: Chloe Brown

‘There’s also Salem, a galah cockatoo. He’s the baby of the group and really starting to come into his own, despite being shy and timid in nature. 

‘He makes a sound like a gun a going off and I can’t replicate it. Now he has learned to imitate my attempt, so he’ll make his distinctive noise and then afterwards the ‘pew pew’ that I say!’ 

Chloe’s final bird, Link, is the personification of the bond and love that can develop between a bird and its carer. 

However, it also provides an insight into the challenges of raising and looking after these complex creatures, which requires a lot of skill, experience and attention. 

‘There’s a whole story behind Link,’ suggests Chloe. ‘He’s a little, yellow-collared macaw and I actually bought him from what I was led to believe was a reputable breeder.  

‘There are a lot of rogue breeders around and one of the main issues with birds is that, unfortunately, you don’t need a licence. Anyone can go and get a bird, no questions asked, and that’s something I want to change. 

‘I always quarantine my birds when I get them, they’re never together initially, and I get them individually disease-tested.  

The moment of release

The moment of release - Credit: Chloe Brown

‘Unfortunately, Link came to us with two deadly diseases that are highly transmissible in birds, so he had to go and live with my friend for a year. She looked after him and we essentially co-parent him now, it’s quite unusual,’ Chloe laughs.  

And, whilst Link is now disease-free and enjoying life with Chloe and her other birds, the bond between Link and Chloe’s friend remains strong. 

‘She comes and sees him a couple of times a week, says Chloe. ‘When Link sees her at the window he’ll start calling ‘hello!’ excitedly to her and they’ll have a cuddle; it’s lovely. 

‘She calls him thuggish – he’ll find a teddy, grab it and just throw it around the room, or he’ll go into the cupboards and take everything out; he's very funny.’ 

Seeing birds flying freely against a backdrop of our stunning countryside seems the most natural thing in the world, and to an extent it is. 

However, when it comes to Chloe’s birds, this breath-taking sight is the culmination of hours and hours of hard work and dedication, as Chloe explains. 

‘Training for each parrot is completely different because they are so unique in personality,’ she says. ‘They all learn different things in different stages because they are different species. 

‘Funnily enough when you get a baby bird they don’t actually know how to fly, it’s almost like you have to teach them. They have a tendency to bump into walls and fall over, it’s like a toddler trying to walk – it takes time. 

‘It’s a gradual approach. You begin with them on a harness on a big, elastic line and you take the perch out and recall – from point A to B and from B to A. 

Circling Mam Tor

Circling Mam Tor - Credit: Chloe Brown

‘You make the points progressively bigger until you’re confident they’re going to be coming back to you. Then you take them off the harness and begin the process again, with the points put back to a short distance and gradually increase. 

‘Eventually they get to a point where they are so bored going from A to B that they’ll fly past you and that’s the beginning of them doing exploratory flights; they’ll start doing circular flights before coming back to you.’ 

Despite the close bond and the hours of training, the first time Chloe’s birds fly freely is, naturally, a nervous albeit magical moment. 

‘There are six levels to flying. Motley is level six, there aren’t many about, and that means he can fly pretty much anywhere. I could probably go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and he would come back. 

‘If I did that with a beginner that would probably be it, I would more than likely never see them again. 

‘Motley was my first free-flying trained bird and when I first let him off it was terrifying but I minimised the risk as much as I could - being in a wide open space allowed him to make mistakes -but yes, your heart is absolutely pounding. 

‘I go to Thorpe Cloud a lot with Motley which is surrounded by miles of sky – if he goes further or gets into trouble I can’t just go and fetch him, but because he’s trained well and has bonded you can put your faith and trust in him.’ 

And, describes Chloe, another important factor is getting the birds used to their surroundings, many of which are naturally influenced by people. 

‘A massive part of it is desensitising, taking them out everywhere you go to desensitise them to loud noises, people talking and everything that goes on outside. I take Motley to Matlock Bath where there are motorbikes revving and lots of people around because I need to make him as ‘bombproof’ as possible. 

Anyone for cake?

Anyone for cake? - Credit: Chloe Brown

‘Essentially they are a prey item so you need to make them aware of predators but equally be confident enough not to freak out.’ 

We all have our favourite parts of Derbyshire that we frequently explore and return to. So which spots are Chloe’s birds particularly fond of? 

‘Motley loves Curbar Edge because of the updraft of the winds there,’ she says.  

‘Thor’s Cave too, he loves that one. It’s normally the cliffs. We went to Chrome Hill recently and he enjoyed that but he much prefers the cliffs. 

‘I’ve take him to Millstone Edge and he will literally just divebomb straight down at an angle and come straight back up – the more severe the cliffs the better.’ 

Motley and his crew, unsurprisingly, have certainly developed celebrity-like status and their fame, says Chloe, has both its positives and negatives. 

‘You get a lot of generic questions from the public – ‘is that a parrot?’, ‘will he come back?’ - but I find it is a great opportunity to educate people.  

‘I enjoy stopping and chatting to people but I always tell them that the reason I take them out is for one core reason - the birds’ enrichment. In the wild, macaws fly up to 17 miles a day. Probably 99% of birds in captivity are trapped in cages and don’t even fly quarter of a mile a day. 

‘I also actively discourage people from getting a parrot. The last thing I want to do is glamorise owning a macaw or a parrot because they are far more complex than a dog or cat or the majority of domesticated species – they're not even classed as domesticated animals. 

Sharing the skies

Sharing the skies - Credit: Chloe Brown

‘A lot of people buy birds because they look pretty and talk – sometimes I will even say they don’t talk as I don’t want to glamorise it, or I will say they only talk when they want to – which is true.’  

Of course, parrots are famous for talking. Even this, though, is complex and, reveals Chloe, how her birds interact vocally offers a fascinating insight into their mindset at any given time. 

‘There’s always a meaning behind what they say,’ says Chloe. ‘I immediately know what mood they are in and what they’re wanting by what they say and how they say it. 

‘Motley has the phrase ‘I love you’ and depending on the way he says it, it will tell me how he is feeling.  

‘If he’s stressed, he’ll say ‘I love you’ repetitively at a fast pace but equally he might see me walk in and be happy to see me and say ‘love youuu’ in a much more relaxed way.’ 

In order for a bird to be relaxed, birds must be comfortable and confident in their own surroundings and, in Chloe’s case, the birds certainly rule the roost! 

‘Our parrots have their own rooms in the house and we have a fully-netted garden, so in the spring and summer months they can fly in the house and garden as and when they like.  

‘A lot of birds live in tiny cages and that’s when you get plucking and behaviour issues. Because they have the average intelligence of a five-or-six-year-old child they need to be treated that way, you can’t just put one in a cage and leave them without any toys or enrichment – that's before you even think about the complex and varied diet they live on.’ 

One would assume the beautiful images that both accompany this piece and have been enjoyed by thousands on the Derbyshire Life Facebook page are the work of an experienced professional using a top of the range camera – they are simply stunning. 

The reality, then, is something of a surprise. 

‘It’s actually me and my phone!’, concludes Chloe.  

‘I have always loved photography and nature. I’ve tried different cameras and different equipment and because I can predict Motley’s flight behaviour and where he is going to go, I know where and when to take the pictures and videos. 

‘Of course, having Peak District locations as fantastic backdrops is certainly a bonus too!’