CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – In one of the world's most-hostile urban jungles, the spectacle of rainbow-colored tropical birds streaking across the late-afternoon sky has become a natural respite from rampant crime and choking pollution.
Macaws are thriving amid the high-rises and traffic of Caracas thanks to a group of amateur birders who feed them and watch out for their nests. Visitors to Venezuela's capital soon grow accustomed to lifting their heads at dusk and dawn to see the stately birds glide by, usually in a pair.
Some residents of Caracas go even further: actively inviting the parrots to stop by.
Ivo Contreras has built a circular platform with 58 feeder bowls on the roof of his apartment to attract macaws.
"For me, it's a pleasure to see them come every day ... to share a space with them where you can recharge and find harmony," said Contreras, who is a stylist for the Miss Venezuela beauty contest.
Wild parrots that escaped or were released are an increasingly common sight in urban metropolises around the world, from the cherry-headed conures of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill to the thousands of parakeets that have taken residence in London.
Caracas' signature bird is the blue-and-yellow macaw, one of four such species that inhabit the valley. Legend has it that it was introduced in the 1970s by Italian immigrant Vittorio Poggi, who says he nurtured a lost macaw and trained it to fly with his motorcycle as he cruised around his neighborhood.
The city of around 6 million people does not seem welcoming for exotic birds. But the macaws supplement the food they forage with snacks left for them by bird lovers. They are a common site sitting on the ledges of high-rise buildings or perched on antennas. While solid figures don't exist, the population of macaws in Caracas is estimated to be several hundred.
Caracas residents are trying to preserve the birds' breeding grounds, said Miguel Lentino, scientific director of the Caracas-based Phelps Ornithological Collection.
"There is an attitude of defense and protection because everyone likes to see macaws near their homes, not in a cage," Lentino said.
Bird-lovers swap experiences and advice at meet-ups organized by "Macaws in Caracas," an informal group that has more than 2,000 members.
At a recent meeting inside an aviary at one of the city's largest parks, people shared stories about their encounters with the birds — the fright they felt the first time they saw one at their window, the way they learned to identify repeat visitors, how some macaws seem to learn to recognize a call to come in and eat.
A group of gold-and-royal blue birds poked their heads through Vanessa Silva's window on a recent afternoon, as if saying, "I'm here, is anyone home?"
"I'd seen them flying when I was down on the street, and I thought, 'Oh how pretty,'" she said while a macaw ate out of her hand.
After they'd had their fill, the birds flew off against the setting sun.