Erin’s boyfriend has lately informed her that his parents bought a parrot.  Erin’s response was “Uh… random!”  It does seem a bit odd.  I asked her if they realized that those birds lived to be about 100 years old and required interaction. 

“You mean they’re ‘needy’?”  was her response.  She was aghast.

I then told her some parrot stories.  It’s remarkable that I have any at all but I actually have several. 

When I was a kid, there was a pet store in Camden whose name escapes me at the moment.  I may have never known its name because if you’re the only one in town then everybody just calls it “the pet shop.”  The owner had a talking bird which was technically not a parrot but it would talk so it will fit into this story.  It was in fact a Mynah bird.  He was not for sale but simply there as the owner’s pet and for atmosphere.  He would talk quite a bit but it was funny to me that his most common phrase was “Can you talk?” with an Arkansas accent.  That’s obviously what most people asked him and so that’s what he said.  He would also chuckle exactly like the store owner did.  My friend Travis picked up on this and used to stand next to the bird and whisper “You’re full of sh^t” in the hopes that the bird would repeat it and shock little old ladies but he never had any luck with that plan.  I liked that bird and always enjoyed it when I went in there to buy tropical fish.

That bird reminded me of a scene from one of David Attenborough’s films about the bird of paradise which attracts a mate in part by showing off how many other birds it can imitate.  With the encroachment of man, the bird ends up also imitating the sounds of cameras clicking (complete with motor drive) and chainsaws.

Much later, while in graduate school, one of my fellow grad students (Russ) ended up babysitting a friend’s Macaw.  This was a large bright blue bird and was interesting in its way but it would squawk at such a volume as to make your ears ring.  These birds are also quite gregarious and so Russ was told by the owner that the bird must be interacted with; otherwise it would systematically yank out its own feathers from boredom.  Russ was not thrilled with this high-maintenance bird but friends are friends and he took the job.  Apparently Russ fell down on the job of talking to it though; he just could not think of anything to say that he would want repeated back to him ad infinitum so he simply left the TV on.  This was enough noise for the bird to keep from getting bored but he never repeated any phrases from it.  He did however start imitating the sound of the clothes dryer.  So Russ would enter the apartment and be greeted by a huge bird swaying back and forth making the sound of clothes drying.

His friend also said he wanted the bird to be taken for rides in the car for the visual stimulation.  I think Russ was pretty good about this until the bird got into the habit of wolf-whistling at people in traffic.  Russ’s car did not have good air conditioning so he would drive with the windows down and the bird would perch on the seat back next to Russ.  After one particularly awkward moment at a traffic light, there were no more car rides.  Russ told us about how a young woman was in the car next to his and the bird let out his typical loud wolf-whistle whereupon he then hopped down into the seat.  The girl whipped her head around in his direction with a look of shock and irritation and saw only Russ.  Russ tried to gesture at the bird and say “It wasn’t me, it was this parrot!”  Not unexpectedly, the woman flipped Russ the bird which is strangely appropriate in a way.

My mother had a friend who lived about two blocks away who had a parakeet.  I did not know parakeets could be taught to repeat sounds and it appears that it is rare but upon occasion they will pick up a word or two.  This woman had tried for a long time to get the bird to repeat the phrase “Hello” with no luck.  Then one day the bird jumped down to the bottom of the cage to get at the gravel paper that birds use for their digestion.  Mom’s friend apparently thought it was eating its own poop and said “Don’t eat that doo doo!” whereupon the bird immediately said “Hello Doo Doo!”  From them on, that’s all the bird would say.  Much to the chagrin of the old lady I imagine.

The lesson I took away from all this is: don’t ever own a talking bird.  They’re interesting enough if you can go visit a friend’s bird but it’s a bit too much responsibility to have one yourself.