Two remarkable Honduran parrots have proved to be invaluable family members bringing joy and comfort to two households in East End.
“Billy,” who for 14 years was a fun, loyal companion to 89-year-old Eleanor McLaughlin until her passing, is bringing that same bird joy to her sister Pearlina Christian some two years later.
“Lila,” a 17-year-old parrot is just like Billy, intelligent and loyal, bringing closeness and happiness to East End residents Nancylee McLaughlin and her husband George.
The yellow-naped or Honduran parrot is distinguished by its green forehead and crown, and a yellow band across the lower nape of the bird’s neck. Cayman parrots by comparison are much smaller and more colorful, with their iridescent green feathers with darker edges over the body, a white eye ring, red cheeks, black ear patches and brilliant blue wing feathers.
Like other parrots, both Billy and Lila imitate words, but remarkably can sometimes appear to engage in an active conversation with their owners.
“The day mama died and they were taking her away, Billy said, ‘Lena, where’re you going with her?’ and I said, ‘Billy, they have taken her away to never come back again.’ And Billy just said ‘Oh!’” recalled Lena Powell, Eleanor’s daughter, who then became the bird’s caretaker.
Ms. Powell said for quite some time after she started looking after Billy, who is named after her deceased brother, everything was all right. It seemed that Billy accepted Ms. McLaughlin was gone, and got on with life, talking and entertaining other family members in the household.
Then one day, Billy just started attacking Ms. Powell.
“I did not want to give Billy away to a perfect stranger, and asked Pearlina if she would have him since she knew Billy from visiting the home … Billy seemed happy to go,” she said.
Since the parrot has been living with Ms. Christian, Ms. Powell said he has taken to asking her to tell him who is his father. Ms. Powell told the parrot she did not know who his father is, because they had gotten him out of a nest in a tree when he was very young.
And once again the parrot said, ‘Oh!’
Ms. Powell said when her mother was alive, the parrot went everywhere with her. When she got sick, Billy, along with 11-year-old Smallie the dog and Sebastian the 8-year-old cat, spent their time by her bedside. Sebastian died right after her mother did, said Ms. Powell.
The first time the parrot spoke to her, he said, “Lena, you going to work?,”
Ms. Powell said, “Yes, you want to go, and what are you going to do there?” And the parrot responded: “Woooork.”
After that the family said Billy just started talking up a storm. From telling them he wanted to go to the bathroom, to telling Ms. Christian not to leave him ever, Billy just keeps on talking.
Down the road at Nancylee McLaughlin’s home, Lila is enjoying the attention from a visitor.
“Hi,” the bird says as Mrs. McLaughlin encourages her out of the cage on a stick. Lila says a cheery “Good morning,” and climbs onto Mrs. McLaughlin’s hand and up her arm until she reaches her shoulder, where the parrot gives her a peck on the cheek.
Lila starts a conversation with Mrs. McLaughlin involving her day.
“Happy birthday to you,” Lila sings. Suddenly, she hits an operatic high note of “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord,” not letting go until she spots the dog and pelts out a shrill whistle followed by “Here, boy; here, boy.”
“I got Lila when she was just a baby from a nephew of mine, who brought her to me from Honduras,” said Mrs. McLaughlin.
“I hand fed her and placed her most days in front of the television and by the radio to get her talking.”
Mr. McLaughlin spent time with Lila by taking her to his farm. “She used to go with me, but then I stopped taking her because she started to bite,” he said.
According to the Feather Me website, which offers information on pet parrots, even the nicest birds will have a moment where they feel threatened or mistreated and will decide to attack.
“An attack can seem to have come out of nowhere from a bird who is usually very loving,” it states.
“As a result, people can develop phobias of their own parrots after just one incident.”
Indeed, five years on, Mr. McLaughlin said he still keeps his distance from the bird, but still talks and plays with her.
“Lila is also good with names,” said Mrs. McLaughlin, who said the bird calls the neighbors by name, and when they pop over to visit, Lila shouts, “Mummy, come.”
“Polly is a pretty bird,” shouts Lila, bursting into a big laugh, even raising and lowering her head as some humans do. Then she is on a roll as she jumps from one sentence to another, stopping only when she tells herself to “shut up, Polly.”
The Feather Me website notes that parrots can be amazing companion animals.
“They are highly trainable, they can be cuddly and affectionate, and if treated correctly they will form very strong bonds with their caretakers,” the site states.
“The flip side is that they are such social and intelligent animals that they demand a huge amount of attention and mental stimulation in order to thrive. Many people eventually find that they can’t give enough time and energy to their pets, especially in the long run when the joy of a new pet begins to wear thin. To make matters worse, many parrots can be aggressive, especially once they become sexually mature. A parrot bite is not a fun thing to endure.”
As parrot owners can assert, keeping a parrot can be a joy for those who actually do have the money, time, patience, pain tolerance and the desire to learn what is needed for the lifelong hobby of parrot keeping.
For these ladies in East End, they say their parrots are like children, who have brought both joy and companionship to their lives.