Adventures in parroting

Carrie J. Sidener and her Quaker parrot, Simon.

Simon isn’t much of a talker.

He has a few favorite sayings he’ll dole out whenever he feels he really needs to garner my attention, such as “good boy,” but mostly he resorts to whistling or other non-verbal means of communications when he’s angry.

If my little green Quaker parrot has eaten all of his pepper and wants more, for instance, he will grab the once-abandoned pepper stem and carry it to one of his top-most perches. There, he angrily shakes the empty stem at me.

I haven’t really tried to teach Simon to talk — his whistles are so pleasant to listen to, especially since I can’t whistle. As far as training goes, we have been working on coming when called (and I say we, since I’m pretty sure Simon is trying to train me as well).

But that’s about it. I just end up getting seduced into rubbing Simon’s rose petal soft head feathers.

Some parrot owners are more ambitious than I.

A Washington Post report by Meagan Flynn noted that a lime-green Amazon was taken into custody in late April after the bird alerted his owners — suspected crack dealers — of an imminent raid by Brazilian police in the state of Piauí.

When the parrot caught sight of police as they surrounded the joint, it began yelling “Mamãe, polícia!” (meaning “Mama, police!”).

The parrot almost succeeded, too, but police managed to make two arrests. Officers speculated the parrot must have received training in identifying and alerting its owners to the presence of the authorities.

I wonder how you would teach that. Do you drive around until you see police cars or officers and point them out to your bird? Is there an identifying police flash card set for studying at home?

However this training was conducted, the parrot clearly was paying attention. But its warnings came just a little too late.

Footage from the raid, Flynn reported, shows the parrot sitting obediently on a counter top as police catalogued bags of crack.

“An officer then carried the papagaio do tráfico — or ‘trafficking parrot,’ as news outlets referred to the bird — out of the house on his fingertip, before placing him in a cage and taking him into the Teresina Police Department,” Flynn reported.

Officers tried to extract more information from the parrot, but it wasn’t talking anymore.

If this had been in the United States, I would say the parrot chose to remain silent, since anything it said could be used against it in a court of law.

A defense attorney for the two people arrested during the raid questioned whether the bird really did try to alert its owners since it remained closed-beaked at the police station.

It’s clear to me that defense attorney hasn’t spent appreciable time around a parrot. The police station was likely a noisy place, filled with strange people without its guardians in sight.

And parrots can be quite stubborn.

Simon sometimes comes with me to the office at night when things are calm and quiet. He won’t utter a single chirp unless I venture out of his sight, presumably out of fear of bird-napping or worse from these strange people he doesn’t know.

This parrot isn’t the first to be used as a lookout for elicit activities. Flynn reported in 2010 about a Colombian parrot named Lorenzo who yelled “Run! Run!” in Spanish when he caught sight of approaching officers. Lorenzo stood guard over guns and pot.

Columbian authorities said they have seized 1,700 birds believed to have been trained to alert their owners to approaching police, the Associated Press reported.

The Brazilian parrot ended up at a local zoo where it was being taught to fly. Flynn’s report indicates even then, the parrot refused to speak, despite the best efforts of the police.

That doesn’t surprise me. But I wonder what will happen a few months down the road, when a police officer decides to visit the zoo with his family. Will it remain silent then or perhaps warn its fellow cage mates by yelling, “Mamãe, polícia!”?

Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

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