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June 5, 2023


Commitment to a companion
We share our home with birds. Not the songbirds perched at the
feeders and baths in our garden, but the

Polly want a cracker

Commitment to a companion

We share our home with birds. Not the songbirds perched at the feeders and baths in our garden, but the “Polly want a cracker” variety.

Pico was the first to arrive. He’s been my companion for 32 years. In appearance, he’s probably exactly what you think of when someone says “parrot.” He’s green, with a blocky build and a hooked beak that says, “don’t mess with me.” Relative newcomers are Popeye, a peach-faced lovebird, and Stubby, a budgie.

They’ve been a source of joy, fascination and frustration to all of us. It’s the frustration I’d like to address. When people express interest in acquiring a parrot themselves, it’s my practice to discourage them.

While Popeye was handled and habituated to humans from the time she hatched, Pico arrived as a young, terrified wild bird. Thirty-two years later, he retains some of his wildness. When alarmed or fearful, he is inclined to bite, then flee. And his bites are not insignificant. A real confrontation ends with a trip to the medicine cabinet for several bandages and a dousing of antiseptic.

It’s important to consider the nature of parrots before making the decision to live with one. First, they’re long lived. Pico’s been with me since I was 13, and he shows no sign of departing soon. A lot happens over a few decades. I’ve grown up, married, and been blessed with children. None of these events pleased Pico. Parrots are monogamous, mating for life. Pico is not pleased to be sharing my attention with people, a dog, and other birds, and he makes his displeasure known. Parrots are highly vocal. They communicate a variety of things with piercing calls that can be heard for quite a distance. Typically, parrots in the wild gather at dusk, socializing with screeches. This practice usually doesn’t stop once they move into town.

Parrots are not fastidious. They enjoy a variety of foods, and they tend to fling less favored food items across the floor. Further, their feathers float about, clinging to walls, furniture and clothing.

If you’re a parent, you’ll understand this comparison. I often liken life with a parrot to life with a willful toddler who remains at that difficult stage for his entire life. Parrots (and toddlers) are demanding, noisy, messy and endearing. They are not low maintenance.

If all that doesn’t dissuade a prospective parrot partner, there’s more to consider. Reputable dealers sell captive-bred birds. While they are hardly domesticated, the birds are much better socialized than wild-caught birds. The wild parrot trade is brutal, resulting in the extermination of many more birds than those that make it, battered and terrified, into pet stores. Parrot hunters contribute to the decline of rare bird populations, since the rarest birds hold highest value. Buying a wild bird contributes to an industry that is wiping out what you value.

With all that said, Pico isn’t going anywhere. He’ll continue to perch in a corner that commands a view of our street, where he can survey the scene, commenting lustily as the whim strikes.

In other news

Like watching our children grow up, change can be difficult to detect when we witness it daily. But I paused to reflect on the changes in our community the other day, and we have good cause to be encouraged. A conversation with Brother Keith Warner, organizer of last weekend’s annual Harvest Fair at St. Francis Retreat, was the catalyst for my ruminations.

He mentioned how last week’s edition of The Pinnacle’s San Benito County edition ( had buoyed him. The tenor of coverage was positive, and there was no shortage of good news. He was absolutely right. I’m encouraged by the interest of hundreds of people who attended the Harvest Fair, and the pioneering approach to agriculture and the environment shown by the farmers and ranchers who attended.

I’m encouraged by the Hollister City Council’s (late) arrival at the table, and the opportunities for more enlightened management of the city and its myriad crises. This newspaper — and especially the commitment to the community shown in its letters pages — are cause for joy. It’s hard to attach one’s name to one’s beliefs right there in black and white, especially in the face of orchestrated opposition by a well-heeled minority. It’s called courage, and the people running this newspaper seem to have an endless supply. That courage is infectious, giving many of the rest of us the impetus to speak for ourselves.

The candor and professional expertise of John Gregg, manager of the San Benito County Water District, should encourage the most cynical among us. Gregg is proof that most of the people working within the government are competent, caring and hard-working. The San Benito County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors get a nod, too. When I visit with people outside our community, they often opine that the region is the center of an out-of-control land rush. That’s old news; sanity reigns anew.

Best bet

With cooler weather returning, autumn is a great time to visit Pinnacles National Monument. The throngs of spring are absent, and the monument’s stark beauty is better appreciated in greater solitude. The wildflower show won’t be appearing, but stunning geology that led to the creation of the monument a century ago is etched against the clear sky.

Pinnacles is best reached from our area by taking Highway 25 south from Hollister for 32, miles, then following the signs into the monument.

Mark Paxton
A staff member edited this provided article.

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