Shaffer: Parrot raises a Raleigh spectacle

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.comApril 21, 2013 

— On spring evenings, when the air feels right, Donald Perry loads Curly the parrot into his travel cage and drives to Cloo’s Coney Island Hot Dogs on Avent Ferry Road – celebrating a man-bird friendship that has endured for 23 years.

You can see them on the patio most Fridays, garnering stares. A yellow-cheeked Amazon, Curly would attract attention even if squawking were his only trick.

But this parrot eats French fries.

If provoked, he whistles Dixie.

Sometimes, he makes catcalls at passing women.

Companionship, especially with a large green bird, comes with some baggage.

“He can be a handful,” explains Perry, 67. “He’s rude sometimes.”

They make a remarkable pair for the color they bring to an otherwise beige strip mall, conversing together in Curly’s vocabulary of 35 words.

A retiree, single, Perry patiently acts as his parrot’s agent, endlessly fielding the same questions for passers-by who wish to be entertained.

“Does he talk?” asks everyone.

“When he wants to,” Perry explains.

“Can you make him talk?” they persist.

“No,” Perry answers.

Once, a woman in a flamboyant church hat dipped down to greet Curly, speaking to the bird in the sing-song voice you’d use to speak to address an infant.

Curly raised his beak and gave her this blunt reply:

“You’re weird.”

Befriending a tropical bird, and ferrying him about town, requires discipline.

Curly squawks if he can’t sit up-front. Perry endures this.

The bird remembers landmarks when they drive, and he fusses if Perry takes a wrong turn.

He raises his biggest flap when Perry takes him for his nail-clipping at the mall, a ritual that once forced Perry to point to a Santa Claus taking holiday pictures with children and warn, “Curly, if you go in there and cut up and raise a fuss like you do, he’s not going to bring you anything for Christmas.”

The bird hushed.

“He talks under his breath a lot,” Perry says.

Like any beast with a cantankerous side, Curly’s occasional churlishness masks a playful, feathered nature.

Long before he sees him, the parrot recognizes the sound of a young boy on his way into Cloo’s, a fellow Friday-night regular. Excited, he climbs his cage and taps on the bars with his beak until his friend appears in a Superman hoodie.

“He’s quite social,” says Perry.

Sometimes, Perry takes him to the airport for recreation, where Curly will mimic the sound of jet noise and spread his wings like a 747.

“Sometimes he watches Big Bird on TV in the morning,” says Perry. “Big Bird and Elmo. He knows them boys.”

Thursday marked their anniversary: 23 years together.

They celebrated at Cloo’s Friday, the same hot dog emporium where Curly had his 20th birthday party. At age 24, he is roughly middle-aged, offering Perry the chance for two more decades of parrot adventures.

“Daddy’s sweet boy,” as Curly would say.

But in the bird’s collection of phrases, one comes directly from his big avian heart. It’s the phrase Curly croaks whenever Perry leaves the room:

“Don’t go.”

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4818

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