June 3, 2011
Weekly Editorial Intern Joey Large hung with L.A. seagulls as a kid, then flew with the pelicans as a college student in Santa Barbara. This week he chilled with a local named Coconut the cockatoo (and snapped these snappy pictures):
Though not as well known for speech as some of his parrot counterparts (see also: African greys and Amazon parrot ), Coconut the cockatoo rivals them in intelligence, and certainly in personality. And maybe that owl-like economy of speech is also a strength: Though he can articulate with the best of the birds—the first time the Weekly met the snow-white teenager asked “What’s your name?,” unprompted—he chooses his surprisingly apt and well-timed words wisely.
His owner, Monterey's Nancy Greco, remembers a trip to The Home Depot garden department, where Coconut pronounced, “I love you,” to an unexpecting employee, who responded, “But I don’t even know you.”
The interactions should continue for a while. The 14-year-old white cockatoo, endemic to the Indonesian islands, may live 80 years or longer.
Greco is fond of recounting the stories of her feathered friend’s encounters with people—and her cat, for that matter—though their collaborative moments might be her favorite. When the cat was once distraught at being placed in a carrier for travel and crying over her displeasure, for instance, Coconut didn’t miss the chance to chime in, in mocking fashion, delivering his best strangled cat imitation.
Rather than indoctrinate him to repeat stock phrases, Greco insists that she lets Coconut be himself.
“I prefer to let his whole personality come out,” she says. That includes his penchant for petting from strangers, and even climbing aboard their arms.
Greco bought Coco for $800 when he was still just an egg, and took him home when he had been weaned by the now-defunct Carmel-based exotic animal rescue service he came from. When out in public he often travels in style and comfort atop her shoulder.
While the bird has certainly made life interesting, and loves attention, Greco no longer believes in keeping exotic birds as pets.
“It’s obviously designed to maneuver a huge rainforest,” she says, citing Coconut’s plumage, his social nature, his need to constantly chew and nest and his proclivity for ear-splitting shrieks that make the neighbors less than enthusiastic fans (though he only shrieks when he’s left home alone).
Mechanically inclined to an incredible degree, Coconut learns much about opening cage doors—and even disassembling his cage—by watching Greco. He cleverly bides his time, however, to make his bids at freedom when nobody is around to stop him: Greco has come home to find all the screws removed from the cage and the entire top half slid open.
Once on the lam, Coco is particularly fond of tearing up anything he’s not supposed to—namely hairbrushes and toothbrushes. Greco likens him to a 2- or 3-year-old. He even sleeps in bed, crouched down like a chicken, with her and the cat.
His dietetic preferences are also childlike, Greco says: He enjoys peanut butter, ice cream, junk food and generally anything else he’s not supposed to have.