By Hannah Wallace
Seven years ago, Dan Sweeney “committed the sin of buying a parrot,” he said, referring to the sometimes-problematic exotic pet industry. Only later did Sweeney, now 58, fully understand the responsibilities involved in properly caring for the bird.
“There’s obviously a lot of abandonment (of parrots) because people buy them without realizing how much care they take,” said Sweeney. “They get neglected, and then they get mean. There are birds out there that have been sold five or 10 times.”
Sweeney was determined that Gringo not suffer that same fate. He educated himself about exotic birds, reading books like The Parrot Who Owns Me while catering to Gringo’s current needs and pondering his future.
As a yellow nape Amazon parrot, Gringo, who was only about 6 months old when Sweeney met him, will live to around 70. He now essentially has the run of Sweeney’s Siesta Key home, including the biggest cage that would fit in his owner’s music room and about 100 feet of rope perches on the back porch. He has a playhouse as well as a dark box where he can hide away.
“He has more square footage than I do,” said Sweeney.
He also keeps the bird’s flight feathers trimmed to keep from unfortunate run-ins with windows or ceiling fans.
Now that he’s hit puberty, Gringo likes to shred towels and assemble them in his house like he’s trying to build a nest.
“He’s still just a kid,” said Sweeney.
Gringo sings songs, tells jokes, and is learning how to count and spell. Pedestrians near Out-of-Door Academy might overhear his performances.
“Some things he never forgets. Some things you’ll hear for a while, then you won’t hear it for a year, and then it comes back,” said Sweeney. “If you leave him alone, he’ll break into a matinee and do everything he knows.”
He added, “His laughter is addictive.”
As fond as he is of Gringo, Sweeney now knows that the bird will likely outlive him by several decades. He’s already begun planning for Gringo’s future without him.
“I don’t know anyone I could trust to give him the proper care for the rest of his life,” he said. Instead, Sweeney is looking at organizations that rehabilitate exotic birds so that they can eventually be re-released into the wild in South America. (Gringo was bred in captivity, but he can still be trained to survive in the wild.)
Before release, these organizations spend time teaching the birds how to fly, navigate, and find food. Then the animal is fitted with a tracker, released, and monitored for safety. The former owner receives regular updates about the bird’s new life.
Sweeney estimates Gringo’s transition may be about 10 years away.
“As long as I’m able to, I’d like to keep him in my life,” said Sweeney, “but I’d also like to see him raise his own family.”