Birdies in the Background: Life With Three Playful Parrots
Muggles, Beaker and Dino in their tree.
Muggles, Beaker and Dino in their tree.

What is happening there?

“What’s going on in there? Do you have a little boy in the back?” asked the lady from Sears. She seemed puzzled and rightly so.

I was trying to place a catalog order over the phone. I say “trying” because my African gray parrot, Bailey, has been hitting it big. She kept interrupting, “Peek-a-boo. I see you. Give me a big KISS!” (accompanied by loud clicking sounds) in a normal telephone conversation.

I told my caller that I was home alone, then realized that my parrot had been happily talking in the background!

far from normal

Of course, “normal” is a relative term. Those of us who share our lives with parrots have developed the unique ability to speak and listen over decibel-busting background noises. As a mother of two young children, I honed my ability to tune in to what I thought was an accomplished level, then brought this sanity-saving skill to the “master” camp when I became a parrot parent. I could comfortably talk to anyone, in any situation, without realizing it, forgetting that I had feathered friends listening and eagerly adding their two cents.

Bailey sharing time on her knees.  She always brings her bit to our conversations.
Bailey sharing time on her knees. She always brings her bit to our conversations. athlyn green

“Sounds like you have another kid who loves to talk,” the teacher said reprovingly, clearly annoyed. One of my parrots had been barking a blue streak in the background!

Naughty Boy or Naughty Parrot?

This “forgetting ability” came to mind in the most embarrassing way during a conversation I had with a school teacher. He had called me to tell me that my son had an intrusive habit of interrupting to talk to the rest of the class. The teacher said that while they appreciated my son’s enthusiasm and willingness to share his views, the consensus was that he needed to learn to give others a chance to speak.

Reading between the lines, I knew the man saw my son as a braggart, but he was too polite to say it directly. The professor was getting excited about his topic when he stopped, clearly frustrated. “Sounds like you have another little boy who loves to talk,” he said, his tone oozing reproach. “In fact, I can barely utter a word.”

“Oh no,” I assured him confidently, “I’m home alone.” I could tell that he thought we were a troubled family and I was concentrating on this, not paying attention to what he was saying.

Upon reflection, I realized how silly that must have sounded, because one of my parrots had been barking a blue streak in the background!

Beaker was missing some feathers when he came to us as a rescue bird.
Beaker was missing some feathers when he came to us as a rescue bird. athlyn green

Beaker would imitate a smoker’s cough and loved to get attention by coughing. He was so convincing that visitors wondered if he was sick.

Beaker and his Jekyll and Hyde transformation around the guests

Another gray parrot of ours, Beaker, came to us under difficult circumstances. At first, Beaker was pretty quiet, but it showed that he, too, liked playing for an audience. He underwent a Jekyll and Hyde transformation every time the company visited him. Beaker would wait until the conversation started, then put on a stellar performance, giving a gravelly rendition of a smoker’s cough: “Hoo-wuh! Hoo-whu! Hoo-wuh!” which leads visitors to express concern for his health.

Poor Beaker came from a harsh background.
Poor Beaker came from a harsh background. athlyn green

The telemarketer seemed convinced there was a “boozer” playing in the background, and her tone of voice indicated that she thought she was making a pathetic attempt to cover up for a drunk fellow when I told her it was actually my parrot asking for a drink.

Beaker had a deep “Boozer” voice

Beaker recently gave us some surprising insights into his previous home life. A telemarketer contacted us one night and called us just in time for dinner. The saleswoman began her sales pitch, but her words were trailed off as Beaker, in a voice that would have made any bar patron feel at home, leered. “Do you want a… drink? I need a drink. Well, come on… give me a drink!”

“Is there a problem?” asked the salesman on the phone mischievously.

I tried to explain to him that it was only my parrot speaking, but I don’t think he was convinced.

I have learned that parrots, like children, have a strange habit of saying things at the most inopportune moments. Competing for attention, they magnificently and instinctively rise to the occasions when attention is focused elsewhere, outdoing themselves in verbal acuity.

"Do your exercise!  One-two, one-two.  .  . "
“Do your exercise! One-two, one-two…” athlyn green

Bailey insults a guest

I remember when Bailey insulted my husband’s sister, Merilee. She came through the door, and Bailey sang in a cheerful voice, “Hi, Tubby.” At least, that’s what Merilee thought she heard.

Bailey had made a habit of greeting visitors by saying “Hi, honey,” which we tried to convey to Merilee, but she remained convinced that Bailey had commented on her appearance. She resignedly said, “Hey, even the bird can tell that I’m overweight.”

She sat down on the sofa and pointedly ignored Bailey. He must have sensed her reserve because he took a stance and vocalized, outdoing himself trying to get her attention. Finally, he stared at her, bobbed his head up and down, and commanded, “Exercise. Come on, do your EXERCISE! One-two, one-two.”

Merilee’s head snapped around and she looked at Bailey. “That’s it!” she said, absolutely floored. “That bird is too knowledge somehow.” Merilee said Bailey gave her the creeps. She has never forgotten Bailey’s derogatory comments and avoids him whenever he comes to visit.

A prayer and a parrot in love

In another incident, we saw that even sacred moments can have a humorous side. My sister, Dee, dropped in and brought an impromptu dinner. We were standing in the kitchen giving a blessing, when Bailey, who had a crush on her, revealed her true feelings during a break in prayer. “I missed you, Dee,” she declared tenderly. “I love you Dee.” My husband, stunned, lost his train of thought; my sister laughed; the rest of us, all composure lost, shattered, laughing helplessly, the prayer completely forgotten.

Muggles acting foolish.
A prayer and a parrot in love

goofy miss muggles

The newest addition to our family, a Moluccan Cockatoo named Miss Muggles (who, in retrospect, I think, should have been called Miss Snuggles) does her ridiculous act whenever visitors come to visit her. She puffs up and pretends to be threatening, then when this has lost its effectiveness on her, she dances, sways and staggers drunkenly from side to side, trying to regain attention. When the flustered visitors understandably back off, she scolds them by launching into an unintelligible round of loud scolding.

Most people retreat to the safety and expected quiet of our living room, but Muggles insistently yell, “Hello? Hello? Hello?” I know it’s best to bring her into the room, allowing her to see our company. I try to temper her enthusiasm, but I’m often in trouble, because she launches into a deafening squawk, until I let her run across the carpet and onto my nearest leg!

Muggles snuggling with a visitor.
Muggles snuggling with a visitor. athlyn green

mental hospital

The other night, I was on the phone again, foolishly thinking that my office would be a quiet place to conduct an interview; however, I made the mistake of leaving the door open. I shake my head at my failure to learn from past experiences. Muggles and Beaker decided it was happy hour, all the better because “Mum” was on the phone.

The Muggles began to laugh. Not wanting to be left behind, Beaker joined. The muggles laughed and Beaker followed suit. The volume increased. “HAHAHA!” Soon, the walls reverberated with maniacal laughter. The guy she was talking to said, “My God, you look like you’re living in a madhouse.”

I had to agree with him. I have learned that days and nights are never boring when there are little birds in the background.

A great movie about parrots

In “Look who’s talking“parrots sing opera, play catch, open and close doors, slide down railings, knock over a car, and engage in other mischievous and playful behavior. One of my all-time favorite parrot documentaries, as seen on their colorful beauty in the wild and in homes around the world.The way these birds interact with their owners is especially heartwarming and downright adorable.An invaluable addition to the home library.

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