How exactly does one find themselves researching exotic parrots? For Dr. Janice Boyd ’86, it started with choosing a parrot as her new pet. “I had always liked cats,” Boyd said, perusing the shelves of books and scientific journals in her office. “I toyed around with the idea of conducting feline research. But cats sleep all the time, and parrots move all the time!”
She bought her first parrot, an African grey, and was fascinated by the bird’s intelligence and eccentric behavior. About a year later, she bought another parrot, a vibrant green Amazon. Slowly but surely, her collection grew and her curiosity deepened. Today, Boyd cares for four parrots as pets and more than 30 great green macaws as part of her research. She maintains one of the largest breeding collections of great green macaws in the United States.
When Boyd isn’t interacting with her macaws, she conducts research at Texas A&M University’s Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Her passion for all things psittacine—or anything pertaining to parrots—has taken her to dozens of countries and ingratiated her amongst similarly passionate peers. But for her, it’s not enough to do what she loves without making a difference. That’s why she’s leaving a planned gift of retirement and investment accounts for the Schubot Center so avian research can take flight for decades to come.
Out of the Nest
Boyd was four years old when her family moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1950. While her father worked in the famous Los Alamos National Laboratory, she found her love for nature and wildlife in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Years later, she enrolled as an undergrad at the University of Michigan studying physics and mathematics. She wasn’t sure what to do immediately after graduation, so she took a programming job working under Dr. Carl Wunsch, a prominent oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Working with Wunsch set Boyd on a career path in studying the sea. She earned her Ph.D. in oceanography at Texas A&M in 1986 and held a 20-year position at the Naval Research Laboratory in Mississippi. The job was good, but as the years went by, Boyd found herself ready for something new.
Around the same time, she adopted her first pet parrots. Soon after, she left her federal job behind for a part-time position that would allow her to visit parrot conservation areas in Central and South America. One of those areas was the Tambopata Research Center in Peru, where she first met Dr. Donald “Don” Brightsmith, who would become a long-time colleague, in the early 2000s. Boyd eagerly collaborated with Brightsmith on a few research projects, including a multiyear study that used tracking collars to monitor wild parrots’ migration patterns. “She’s tenacious,” Brightsmith said of Boyd. “Once she gets on a project, she keeps working on it and makes sure that collaborators stay on track until it’s done.”
Boyd continued to work in oceanography but periodically took unpaid leave to return to her work with parrots. Brightsmith, in the meantime, had found his way to the Schubot Center at Texas A&M, where he is now an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. In the summer of 2011, Boyd decided she was ready to leave oceanography for good and reconvene with Brightsmith in College Station.
Birds of a Feather
The Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology was founded in 1987 with a generous endowment from avid aviculturist Richard M. Schubot. Having made his living as a franchisee for Sheraton Hotels and McDonald’s Corporation, Schubot found a passion for parrots after taking one in as a pet in 1981. During the next 12 years, he took heed of threats to exotic bird populations and sought to make his own strides in conservation. “Yes, I realize I can’t save all the birds in the world,” Schubot wrote, “but I can do my share to help.”
In 1993, Schubot passed away after a lengthy battle with liver disease. Boyd, Brightsmith and the team of researchers at the Schubot Center honor his legacy by investigating obstacles, seeking solutions and exploring behaviors behind some of the most beautiful and misunderstood land animals on the planet.
Boyd’s research specifically focuses on the genetic makeup of Ara ambiguus, commonly known as the great green macaw. Native to neotropical rainforests, the great green macaw is an endangered parrot species aesthetically similar to the military macaw—so similar, in fact, that they are often confused for one another in areas where their populations overlap.
After she moved to Texas, Boyd purchased her own breeding colony of great green macaws in the interest of conducting critical niche research. “I wanted to discover my macaws’ ethnic heritage, how closely related they were to military macaws and if there were any genetic hybrids between the two,” she said.
So far, her work has been successful, but slow. “Genetic studies are pretty complicated!” Boyd laughed. Though she intends to publish her findings through the Schubot Center, decades of frugal living and smart saving have allowed her to completely self-fund her great green macaw studies.
On a Wing and a Prayer
Boyd doesn’t just want to do what she loves in working with parrots; she wants to leave behind a legacy. “I want to give back to both the human world and the natural world,” she said. By naming the Texas A&M Foundation as beneficiary of her retirement and investment accounts, she will establish an endowment to grant $65,000 for every pet parrot she has at the time of her passing to benefit the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, a unique retirement home for pets in Texas A&M’s veterinary college.
After her parrots’ lifetimes, the endowment will be combined with the Dr. Janice D. Boyd ’86 Endowment for Psittacine Conservation and Health to benefit the Schubot Center in perpetuity. “In creating this gift, I hope to follow in Richard Schubot’s footsteps by allowing more research to be done with parrots,” she said.
Boyd still owns her first African grey, Paula, who inspired her to study parrots more than 25 years old ago (the species can live between 40 to 60 years in captivity). Her love and care for her own animals mirrors her passion to protect those in the wild. Through every step of her life, Boyd’s sincere admiration for the magnificent workings of the natural world has remained steadfast. With her gift to the Schubot Center, that admiration can be assured of taking flight.
To learn more about making a planned gift using your retirement or investment accounts, contact Angela Throne ’03 at firstname.lastname@example.org or 979-845-5638. To learn about making a gift to support the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center, contact Chastity Carrigan ’16 at email@example.com or (979) 845-9043.