By Fred Dickey San Diego Union-Tribune March 27, 2017
I do this for you.
I occasionally have story subjects snap at me, but not with a beady eye and a sharp beak shaped like the scimitar that medieval Turks used to swing at Crusaders. It’s a beak that could probably slice round steak, and could inflict nasty damage to me if the bird brain that operates it decided to ignore my jittery smile.
You might scoff and say it’s only a macaw, a souped-up parrot with an attitude. But remember, this bird is a descendant of dinosaurs.
My adventurous spirit was drawn to the residence of a nice couple in Point Loma, Ray and Marcella Perez. He’s a retired carpenter; she’s a homemaker, not retired. Their home is easy to find because of this big bird, which was hanging on the screen door as an admiring neighbor said he would be.
The bird, Makita (this bird’s not going to be named Chuckie or Emily) is known in the neighborhood for two things: an amazing verbosity and clinging to that screen door as he squawks conversation at passersby.
He tends to say nice things in words he’s picked up along the way. It’s a good thing Makita never hung out in a biker bar, otherwise it would definitely make the homeowners’ meeting agenda.
The Perezes have to caution visitors about their door guardian before they enter. This is not Tweety Bird. Makita is alleged to love people, of which I saw no proof. He can also turn into the feathered assassin, whenever he feels assassin-ish.
When I see Marcella or Ray handle the bird, it’s obvious they love ol’ Makita — about $4,000 worth. That’s a lot of love. The bird cost $2,000, and his two cages cost another two large.
Marcella says you can add $60 to $70 per month to that in food. He eats fruits and vegetables and, oddly, chicken, which strikes me as kind of cannibalistic.
Then, of course, he has to get groomed. I’m thinking, if I’m grooming Makita, I’m gonna be the richest groomer in town. Lawyers won’t charge as much.
For all those freebies, the ungrateful buzzard tries to eat his owners, too. We will watch that unfold.
Marcella said when a dog wanders into Makita’s midst, he chases and the dog runs. I point out that if Makita chases a canine of like disposition, they’re going to have a new feather bed.
From beak to tail, Makita is about two feet long and weighs maybe two pounds. That doesn’t sound like much. However, while bird bones are said to be on the hollow side, that beak ain’t. It’s probably half his body weight.
Once safely inside the house, my macaw education begins. Ray tells me that Makita’s beak could break a human collar bone. Fortunately, he’s content this day to just peck, but even so, this is not a barnyard hen’s corn-kernel peck.
Ray is fond of his bird, but Makita just tolerates him. Unrequited love. Marcella is the one with whom he has bonded.
I say “he.” That’s what they think. Since Makita doesn’t do his business standing up, they can’t be certain. They acquired the bird 15 years ago from a rescue situation. They believe he’s about 17. He should be a good investment because macaws can live to about 80, and even beyond. That means the Perezes might have to put Makita in their will.
I settle into the living room with Marcella and her bird. Makita is perched on a chair-back in all his blue-green-yellow glory. He is agitated. Marcella says that’s because he doesn’t know me.
The bird chooses that moment to, er, evacuate on the family’s shiny hardwood floor, which might explain why they don’t have carpeting. As we both stare at the white blob, I say that monkeys and birds, being arboreal, are almost impossible to house-train. And I can see that Makita is the type of guy that doesn’t care who’s walking below.
Marcella says he ordinarily shows some consideration and uses his cage or the patio. She also says some parrots have been house-trained.
I say maybe, but I’d pay scalper’s prices for a ticket to see it.
Marcella coaxes Makita onto her arm, which puts him in striking distance to take a nip at her. “Opportunity” could be his middle name.
“Don't do that. Why are you acting like that?” she says in a mock scolding voice, shaking a finger at him.
He just snapped at you, I say, needlessly.
“Yeah. I mean, that's kind of a love pat compared to what he could do,” she says, rubbing her finger. “He’s territorial, and he’s nervous because you’re here. He doesn’t know you. Normally, he's very easy-going.”
If he were serious, I assume he could administer an owie to remember.
“Yeah. If he got me, yeah, it would.”
Is he sorry for it?
“Sometimes a little, I think.”
Has he ever drawn blood?
“Well, he has on me. Our veterinarian said he’s never seen a bird have enough nerve to charge him except this one.”
Does he know the vet?
“He knows the vet. He does not like the vet. You know the things they use at the airport, those earphones? They have to wear those because of how loud he gets.”
I’m watching Makita doing a little Polynesian-type macaw war dance, like the New Zealand rugby team. Then he starts toward me. Marcella, though, intervenes and diverts him onto her hand.
I will never admit to being afraid of a bird, but I do not sit deeply in the chair.
Would I get bit if he reached me?
“Yeah, probably. He has to show you who’s boss. That’s the thing with these guys. Especially him. I’m sure other birds are a lot more docile, but he came out of a rescue situation.”
So he’s a victim of a bad bird-youth? Prisons are full of guys like that.
Marcella watches the bird casually, but also warily. “He’s getting more at ease. I think he now likes you. Do you see when he puts his little hand up? That means, ‘Pick me up.’ He’s trying to get you to pick him up.”
In his dreams.
“If he could, he’d probably nip at you. He wants to show he’s more aggressive than you. That’s why you probably don’t see a lot of these birds, apart from being really expensive.” She sighs. “I do wish he’d be more handle-able.
“He’s so loving. If you’ve never held a big bird like this, it’s a memorable experience.”
So is feeding a wolverine.
Mikita scoots across the floor and goes for Marcella’s foot.
“Ow!” she says, pulling back. “What’s your problem today?”
He just bit you on the foot, I point out, again unnecessarily.
lifts the bird by letting him hop on the back of her hand. He moves to
“Well, he’s still trying to get to you, and I’m in his way.”
I’d be happy to pay you for doing that.
Makita gets back on the floor and takes another bite at Marcella. She snaps her arm back. “Stop! See? That’s what he does.”
What happens if you didn't pull back?
“He’d bite. He could bite me pretty bad. Pretty bad. It could get violent.”
I’m told he doesn’t play well with others.
Marcella nods. “He went to birdie daycare at a place that board birds. He went there, and he almost got thrown out because he got out of his cage and started opening all the other cages. He took all the toys out, springing all the birds.”
If he got 86’d from a bird hotel, he’s definitely got issues.
Mikita’s wings are clipped, making him house-bound. Otherwise, he’d be tempted to join the large feral “pandemonium” (a group of parrots) that travels the trees of Point Loma and La Jolla, making enough noise for a Hitchcock movie.
I admit to amusement at the image of squawking parrots pooping on mansions and waking slumbering elites at 5 a.m.
Enough about Mikita’s hoodlum behavior. Let’s talk about his more positive qualities — actually, amazing qualities.
Marcella proudly recites Makita’s extensive vocabulary like a teacher boasting of the progress of the class delinquent. She says he mimics not only words, but voices and even accents. Marcella admits that he says, “For God’s sake, you better shut up. Shut up!” She quickly adds that he knew that passage when they got him.
Unfortunately, my presence seems to have made him so uptight he refuses to speak, like a petulant child. That’s an effect I sometimes have on men, never on women. That’s boorish behavior by Makita, but I’ve already seen worse from him.
Marcella is undeterred by his muteness. “When we come down in the morning, he says, ‘Good morning.’ When we had a cat, he goes, ‘Kitty, kitty.’ He barks because he’s heard dogs in the neighborhood. He also says, ‘Aloha.’
“Neighbors know that when you walk past he'll say “hello,” or he’ll say “Hi” with a Texas accent. He’ll record someone’s voice for a new noise, then sit and practice it. He says all kinds of stuff.”
She tells me he also says “I love you,” though I wonder about his sincerity as a sweet-talker, just like some other guys I’ve known.
However, what’s a parrot good for if it doesn’t know a few cuss words? For me, I wouldn’t want a preacher parrot; I’d want a sailor parrot that could talk like a chief with a hangover. It would amuse my friends and answer telephone sales calls.
Marcella says somewhere along the way, Makita has learned to mimic a police siren.
“He can do a siren that’s so loud, it’s like being at a rock concert. You honestly can’t hear out of your ear for about three or four minutes.”
I’m thinking that over, and I see an obvious benefit that I share with Marcella: When he’s in the car with you, and you’ve got tight traffic, roll down your window and have him do a siren. Cars will pull over, but cops won’t ticket a bird.
Makita, in fact, is an amazing animal, certainly near the top of the intelligence ladder among non-humans (and some humans).
Marcella says he loves to untie things. “You can’t wear jewelry around him. He is so smart. We bought escape-proof cages, but we've had to put locks and chains on them because he'll push the drop-tray out with his feet, squeeze out and go upstairs.
“He's learned to crawl up the side of the door, jump on the handle, swing open the door, cross the bedroom and get out on the balcony.
“These guys are escape artists. And if you teased him and came back about three months later, he'd remember you. He’s really, really smart.”
One last thing, Marcella, are you ever afraid of Makita being stolen?
The idea amuses her. “They’d better know what they're doing because that's a whole lot of bird to get a hold of.”
Someone would have to want a bird real, real bad.
Fred Dickey’s home page is freddickey.net
He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org