Monday, June 29, 2009

Top Ten Famous Parrots....

Alex - Dr. Irene Pepperberg's talking African Grey parrot, Alex has garnered more media coverage than any other parrot in modern history. Alex flew off to birdie heaven on September 6, 2007, at the age of 31. His story is immortalized in Dr. Pepperberg's book, Alex and Me.

As recounted in her book, Alex's last words to Dr. Pepperberg were:
"You be good. I love you," Alex said.
"I love you too."
"You'll be in tomorrow?"
"Yes, I'll be in tomorrow."

Snowball - of YouTube dancing fame. Snowball is a head-bopping, foot-stomping Medium Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, and subsequent studies have shown that he can move in time to differing rhythms and to different songs. More on Snowball's post YouTube life here: Snowballing Fame.

 Einstein - yet another chattering African Grey parrot of YouTube fame. Einstein has been a regular on prime time TV and late night talk shows. It's a great act; I especially like his spaceship and laser sound effects.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill - stars of both a film and a book, they are feral cherry-headed and blue-crowned conures in San Fransisco. The birds are free to jet across the open sky and generally act like parrots, while the humans spend their days cooped up in restrictive, enclosed spaces. While you're thinking about that, do the right thing and run out and buy your parrot a larger cage.

Paulie - star of the 1998 movie by the same name, Paulie is a wise-cracking blue crown conure, who sounds remarkably like Jay Mohr.

Fred - Tony Baretta's Triton Cockatoo. Baretta was a detective series that ran on ABC from 1975 to 1978. If the bird is still alive and collecting residuals from the show, I imagine it must be the wealthiest parrot in the world by now.

Gerald - a character in the late, great Michael Crichton's novel, NEXT. Gerald is a transgenic African Grey parrot who helps a transgenic chimp with his math homework and sings country music. Gerald's vivid memory, detailed powers of recall and intelligent banter land him in hot water with his humans.

Parrot Heads - Jimmy Buffet fans. Party with a purpose... and generally with a funny parrot hat.

Monty Python's Dead Parrot - a Norwegian Blue - they prefer lying on their backs.

Fawkes - Albus Dumbledore's phoenix. Okay, Fawkes may not be a parrot, but its beak has enough of a hook to qualify as such for the purposes of this list. It might pass for a ratty Scarlet Macaw if you were drunk enough and didn't know anything about birds. Finding ten famous parrots is more difficult than you might think.

Bonus Parrots!

Poll - President Andrew Jackson's African Grey parrot. He purchased the parrot for his wife before he was inaugurated (in 1829), to keep her company. His wife died, but Poll lived on in Tennessee, eventually outliving Jackson himself. According to lore, the parrot, who spoke both English and Spanish, had to be removed from our seventh president's funeral service (in 1845) as it was cursing up a storm in both languages. Present day guests of Jackson's home, the Hermitage, can be taken on a  tour by Poll the Parrot, though I'm not clear on how this is done as they don't allow filming on the tour.

Charlie - Winston Churchill's Blue & Gold Macaw. The bird was said to have been exceptionally foul-mouthed, constantly cursing Hitler and the Nazis. But this story has been denied by Churchill's daughter, who claims that her father kept only some budgies and an African Grey parrot for a time in the mid-to-late 1930s. Here's an NPR radio broadcast on the subject.

Here's a recent video clip of the 107-year-old Charlie:

Hank - Paris Hilton's African Grey parrot. I'm not sure I have much to add to that, except to guess that this isn't likely to be one of those Grey's with a very large vocabulary. I wish the bird well...

Dr. Clark Dunlop's pet parrot. Dr. Dunlop (who died in 1908) somehow managed to have his pet parrot (of unknown name or species) interred with him in his mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery. The good doctor was subsequently declared insane by his relatives, who later went to war over his estate. The parrot, who predeceased Dr. Dunlop by a good many years, was not mentioned in the will and does not appear to have been a party to the contentious legal proceedings.  More on this here (scroll down).

Also, here's a video from CBS News (Cemetery Tours: Monuments to Die For) featuring Dr. Dunlap's tomb and his beloved interred parrot. The bird appears at 4:30 into the video.

Harry the Scarlett Macaw - Harry has been living with pet expert Marc Morrone for over thirty years. He's a regular fixture on Marc's right shoulder, and never tires of playing with Marc's glasses at particularly inopportune times during his broadcasts.

Peter the Parrot: "Help! Help! I'm drowning!" From The Adventures of Superman, The Haunted Lighthouse (Season 1, Episode 2). Peter provides a bit of comic relief at the end of an otherwise tense Man of Steel episode.

Skylar the ParrotFrom The Adventures of Superman, The Whistling Bird (Season 2, Episode 25). Unlike his cousin Peter (above), Skylar has a central, starring role in this episode and was featured from start to finish. The story is about Uncle Oscar and his exploding postage stamp glue that tastes like home-cooked meals. Skylar, of course, has the formula; secret agents and parrot kidnappings ensue. They don't write 'em like they used to...

Ping Pong Hurley: Ping Pong is a Blue-Fronted Amazon who lives with actress/model Liz Hurley. The bird is further distinguished by having her own Twitter account, and can be followed at:!/PingPongHurley  Be forewarned, it doesn't appear that Ping Pong follows back. 

Blu and Jewel from the movie Rio:

Given their advertising budget and worldwide marketing campaign, there's really not that much I need to say about the story, is there? Blu is voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, Jewel by Anne Hathaway. More here. The birds are supposed to be modeled after the critically endangered Spix's Macaw, already likely extinct in the wild. Here's what the real deal looks like:

They're not as blue, not nearly as talkative, but deserving creatures none the less. I've posted much more on the Spix's Macaw: Spix's Macaw Breeding Center, The Spix Macaw..., From collector to conservationist..., and Spix's Macaw - the world's rarest bird....

Cocky Bennet, the world's longest lived parrot (that I know of).
"...a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita), he stood out not by the age he would reach, but for its unusual physical features. Born in 1796 (according to Brisbane’s weekly summary, The Queenslander), near Sydney, he was removed from his nest on a eucalypt by a local farmer. As the years passed, he started to lose the feathers, looking like a plucked chicken with a wrinkled skin. Moreover, his upper mandible had an extraordinary long tip, so that he could only eat mashed food.

The bird spent his first 78 years travelling the world with Captain Ellis, his owner. Following the death of the captain, he was bequeathed to a Mr. and Mrs. Bowden. With the death of Mr. Bownden in 1889, his wife soon married Charles Bennet, with the couple then moving to Tom Ugly’s Point, Blakehurst, in 1891, where Mr. Bennet became the licensee of the Sea Breeze Hotel.
Popular, Cocky lived in the hotel for most of his last 25 years. Talkative, his repertory included phrases like “one feather more and I’ll fly” and “one at a time, gentlemen, please”, when harassed by other birds. Cocky was more talkative and with more lurid language after being given a ”sip of strong brew”.  He received the visitors while moving and jumbling at the top of his cage in the hotel’s front verandah."
After his death, The Sydney Morning Herald published (in 1916) the following note:
A Venerable Cockatoo
“Cocky Bennet,” a sulphur-crested Australian cockatoo, died on Friday in his 120th year at Canterbury. This age is a record in longevity for an Australian parrot so far as the officials records are concerned. For many years this bird was in the possession of Mrs. Sarah Bennet, the licensee of the Sea Breeze Hotel, at Tom Ugly’s Point. When she left there, about 12 months ago, she transferred the parrot to her nephew, Mr. Murdoch Alexander Wagschall, at Woolpack Hotel, Canterbury. The old bird was absolutely featherless for the last 20 years, but it maintained its “patter” till the day before its death. “Cocky Bennet” was a great traveller, and is said to have journeyed seven times round the world. Mr. Wagschall has arranged to have remains of this historic parrot preserved by a taxidermist.”

If you're really into parrots (especially transgenic African Greys), please be sure to check out my novel Little Birdies! It's available both as a softcover book and as a Kindle ebook.  Excerpts from LittleBirdies! can be found here, and reviews here.


Anonymous said...

Has somebody not noticed that in the Winston Churchill's video, the bird in the picture is a different species of macaw than the bird in the video. Look at the two birds' beaks. The live one has a solid black beak, while the one in the picture appears to be a scarlet macaw; it's beak is horn colored on the top and black on the bottom.

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Flu-Bird said...

And remember Willey the Monk Parakeet that saved that little child from chocking