The St. Vincent Parrot
earliest years, I recognized a deep sense of emotional
connection to parrots, for all parrots, but my life as an artist
lacked schedule and steady continuity to justify such hopes.
Then in the summer of 1966, on the Caribbean island of St.
Vincent, I met my first St. Vincent parrot, named Dora, which
live with a family of 16 members, each of whom Dora addressed by
name. I knew of parrots’ voice mimicking, but Dora showed an
Being 16-18 inches head-to-tail, the indigenous parrot of St.
Vincent is magnificent and as I found out, was/is in real danger
of extinction. Suddenly it became a calling for me to find a way
to help the birds. My days on the island became a frantic race
of arrangements toward obtaining a few fledglings, in hopes of
beginning a breeding program in captivity. My concern of lacking
such specific experience vanished in the face of knowledge
obtained from natives who told me how tasty is the parrot flesh.
I befriended a man who needed my help, and in return was eager
to help me. Together we met a couple of hunters who were happy
to receive “cigarette money” from me, to be further paid once
delivery of the young parrots was made to my collaborator. The
island’s veterinary doctor was wined and dined toward his hoped
for eventual exit certificate for the parrots, as was my
“agent”, helped by cash gifts of appreciation for seven years.
Then by 1973 I met Rosemary Low in London, arguably the world’s
most knowledgeable bird lady, who kept some 150 parrots in her
back yard. All my hopes for the St. Vincent parrot breeding came
together , as by then for a few months four young birds were in
the care of my agent’s children, and Rosemary was delighted to
obliged my offer for her to keep them to begin the breeding
program. I built a special transit box of four compartments, I
made all airline arrangements of scheduling and payments, while
the excitement of anticipation was truly enormous.
Then came the news: as the special crate with the four birds and
fresh corn cobs secured for the trip was delivered to the
airline at St. Vincent’s airport, the island’s vet confiscated
the crate. The trumped up excuse for confiscation was found a
few years on to have been motivated by the doctor’s extramarital
involvement to an American woman to whom he gave my parrots.
1973, while in London for over three months, Novak
met Rosemary Low a few times and fell head over heels for her Grand
Eclectus parrots, which were the first he had ever seen. At a point,
Rosemary convincingly urged Novak to keep a pair, in her certainty that
he would succeed in their breeding. She assisted him in obtaining a
young pair in time for his scheduled departure to New York.
Within a few weeks he built three successive cages, inventing
improvements by logic and observation. By the time 18 months had gone
by, they hatched the first young. His studio where they lived, was a
semi-basement sharing a wall with the 72nd and Central Park West subway
station entry, which meant 24/7 of considerable noise every couple of
minutes. Yet the hatching began, and continued.
The birds looked and obviously were in prime condition by contrast to
three such pairs in the famed parrot collection of the Bronx Zoo, a few
miles across town. The PHD ornithologist in charge, assisted by three
graduate zoologists in their 12 years of efforts to breed the three
pairs, which were in protective isolation, had failed by then to produce
a single hatching. When Novak left New York and offered to the zoo his
latest design of a 12 ft. breeding cage and all of his parrot keeping
information as a gift, they refused.