Ann Marie Zito from Helena, AR
My Amazon parrot, Pepè, is a shady lady with a tainted past. In order to tell her story, I must mention my first rescue parrot, an ornery Cockatiel that led me to Pepè.
I’m living in Colorado Springs in 2003 when this adorable Cockatiel flies up and lands on a picnic table at work. It is a chilly, fall day with temperatures predicted in the high 30's that night. I fear that the little bird won’t last through the night unless I capture him. My attempts fail, but a gruff-spoken man I work with is able to coax the bird on his shoulder with no effort and smuggle him inside the building, against company policy, of course. This should have been my first clue that THE BIRD doesn’t like women.
Efforts to locate his owner fail, so I eventually become the proud Mama of this charming parrot creature. Armed with a carload of fresh veggies, fruit, special birdie treats, seed, and toys to decorate his new cage, I know immediately that he'll love me for saving his life, for providing him a secure home, and for furnishing him all the treats and healthy food he wants. WRONG!
For some reason that I never understand, THE BIRD hates me on sight. I teach him to wolf whistle, thinking he will whistle at me when I come home from work. Wrong again. He only whistles at my husband. It isn't long before THE BIRD adopts my husband as his “flock mate,” whereas I am the animal lover, who has rescued this ungrateful critter! It also isn’t long before THE BIRD takes regular showers with my husband, and one day, we learn his name when he declares quite distinctly, "Amadeus is a Pretty Bird." Fine, he thinks he’s Mozart, where I’ve been calling him Brat Bird, which suits him better. I soon discover that, when I play opera music, Amadeus sings like a canary. We even capture his complete repertoire on tape.
I try to laugh it off that Brat Bird hates me, but it hurts, because this is the first time in my life that I've had a pet that doesn’t like me. What did I do wrong? So, I set about learning more about parrots and their personalities. Nothing that I learn and implement changes Brat Bird's feelings for me. However, parrot research, personal health problems, and the death of my mother in 2004, lead me to drive to Denver one Saturday to The Gabriel Foundation, a parrot rescue organization, for their "Meet the Birds Day." I have no intention of adopting a bird. After all, I have one that hates me; I don’t want two. I just need a diversion and some powerful cheering up this day. My visit is pure heaven! I mingle with, play with, and hold their parrots. I discover that birds like me! Yes!
As I prepare to leave, I notice a green parrot housed in a separate area. When I inquire, I learn that this rambunctious, 25-year-old Amazon parrot speaks Italian, Spanish, and English. He’s arrived from Chicago the night before and is being held in quarantine until his medical tests assure he is disease free and won’t infect the other birds. Since I speak enough Italian to get me in trouble, I know I have to meet this newly-orphaned bird named Pepè. I approach his cage singing Che La Luna, an Italian song my daddy used to sing to me. Pepè stops, walks over, and listens intently. When I finish the song, Pepè looks at me, I swear, with a glint in his eye, and breaks into hysterical laughter. Startled, I bargain that I won’t laugh at his singing if he doesn’t laugh at mine. I know then that I’ve found me a bird.
The Gabriel Foundation has stringent rules for parrot adoption. Not only do I complete a 20-plus page adoption form, but I also need approval by their board of directors and must “bond” with this bird for six to eight weeks to see if we are a match. This involves weekly Saturday trips from Colorado Springs to Denver, 120-miles round trip, until I finally adopt Pepè and bring him home. We sing Che La Luna all the way home, both off key.
My first challenge is that Pepè smells so much like garlic that I gag when he sits on my shoulder and wants to cuddle. Frequent showers solve this problem. Our adjustment period is not a smooth one -- I have scars to prove it -- and some of Pepè’s behavioral problems turn out to be hormonal. A DNA test reveals that Pepè is a female, where she has always been assumed to be a male. Imagine going through your first 25 years as a boy, then learning you are a girl. Plus, just what I need, a menopausal parrot. My colorful past pales in comparison.
A great deal of time and patience resolves most of Pepè’s problems, but in the process, I learn that parrots are not for everyone. They are beautiful, intelligent creatures with diverse temperaments and may only like one family member. Unless a person is willing to devote the time to training, play time, proper nutrition, and companionship, the relationship will fail.
Pepè dislikes my husband, which I don’t brag about, but in which I secretly take spiteful pleasure.
Pepè has lived with us now for more than six years and is 31-years-old. According to his wrist band, Brat Bird is 16. I have many more stories of my exploits with Pepè. I still get a kick out of uncovering her every morning when she greets me with, “I JUST GOT UP!” We still sing together often, both off key.