“THOUGH SHE BE LITTLE, yet she is fierce,” Shakespeare wrote of Hermia in Midsummer Night’s Dream. It would be an apt description of Mira Tweti, a 5-foot, 2 1/2-inch, 108-pound animal-welfare writer and Zen nun who’s probably the best friend any bird—captive or wild—could ever have. Tweti’s exposé of the parrot trade industry, Of Parrots and People: The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collision of Two Intelligent Species, published this fall, is rattling bird breeders across the country— maybe the world—and challenging parrot owners to reconsider the wisdom of keeping a caged companion.
“This book, I think, will drive bird breeders to violence,” Tweti says matter- of-factly. “I’ve had breeders tell me that it’s all lies—and that I hadn’t said all the good things they’ve done. Like what? That they’re keeping the ‘stud books’ on parrots? Stud books are for horse breeders. That has nothing to do with keeping parrot species alive.”
Tweti (yes, it’s her real name, pronounced “tweety”) didn’t set out to be an animal advocate, it just evolved. She’s an award-winning journalist—an occasional contributor to Tricycle—and a filmmaker. Her investigative writing for the Los Angeles Times has helped change legislation in California on cat declawing and treatment of animals in pet stores, and was instrumental in the passage of the 2003 “baby bird bill” that prevents pet shops from selling unweaned birds. Tweti’s thirtyminute film, Little Miss Dewie: A Duckumentary, about an Indian Runner duck she rescued, is making the rounds on the festival circuit, sure to open eyes to the challenges facing our web-footed friends. She’s expanding Dewie to an hour-long version that will include footage on gavage, the abusive force-feeding of geese to make paté de foie gras. Then, too, there are book signings for her children’s book, Here, There, and Everywhere, for which Jane Goodall wrote the foreword. Most of the proceeds from the book are going toward parrot rescue, avian welfare, and animal protection.
Untold number of pet parrots like Tweti’s adopted lorikeet ZaZu are abandoned each year when owners find out they’re as demanding to raise as rambunctious toddlers. Photo © Mira Tweti
Through it all, Tweti remains Reverend Tam Xa, an ordained dharma teacher in the Vietnamese Zen tradition. Appropriately enough, her dharma name means “giver of lovingkindness.” But if you’re thinking of lovingkindness practice as warm and fuzzy, think again. Tweti’s a fearless and super-articulate dharma warrior, fighting for the rights and preservation of the 350 or so species under the parrot flag. Her passion extends to all creatures: she’s been a vegan for over four years. (If you aren’t at least vegetarian, don’t ask her to dine unless you’re ready for her to eviscerate every excuse you have for eating flesh. “I can’t even look at chicken on a plate,” she says with a shudder.)
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