Nikki Goodbird is our 3-year-old Quaker parrot. We named him Nikki as an acceptable androgynous option before we knew his gender. He added the “Goodbird” all on his own.
Everything we ever read about Quakers is true: In spite of their harmless appearance — brilliant green backs with little gray bellies — they are fire-breathing dragons, fiercely loyal to their “flock,” and in kill mode if you’re perceived as foe.
When he is in an affectionate mood, he will get the cuddles he craves by any means necessary. If squawking doesn’t work, Nikki, who is roughly the size of a female cardinal, will boldly climb down from his perch, walk across the floor in a house with three dogs, and tap on my foot with his beak to be picked up and adored.
If he’s feeling frisky, he will initiate a rousing game of hide-and-seek, accomplished by poking his head in my sleeve. “Where’s Nikki?” I ask. He agrees: “Where’s Nik-Nik?” Then he pulls his head out of my sleeve while enthusiastically screeching “Peek-a-boo!”
This can go on for hours.
There is only one person that Nikki has loathed with a passion since first sight — my mother. He runs at her whenever she visits, his beak open, ready to take a large chunk out of her foot. The feeling is more than mutual; I can see her strongly resisting the urge to punt.
She used to impart at least a pretense of fondness, for my sake, but that was left in the dust long ago.
“Back off, you little shit,” she commands, and he does. They seem to have developed that sort of mutual respect only found between opposing generals in old war movies.
Considering his brain is the size of a lentil, Nikki has a pretty large vocabulary.
He can say “Nikki’s a good bird. Yeah!” And “tickle, tickle, under the wing.” And “I’m gonna get you!” And “upside down.” And “pretty bird,” followed by a wolf whistle, along with many other gems.
He sings and dances to a song he wrote himself, with the help of my children: “Yeah, Nikki/Time to dance/Oh yeah, oh yeah.” (If you are interested in more, you can probably find it on YouTube under “Nikki the Quaker Parrot.”)
He calls the dogs by name — which confuses them, and amuses him, to no end — gives kisses, asks for “yum-yums,” and always says “thank you” when he gets them.
Here’s what he can’t say: “Little green pants.”
For the past three years, I’ve been working on, “Nikki, what are you wearing?” to which the only proper reply should be, “Little green pants.”
I mean, he does wear little green pants.
Recently I took to saying, “Nikki, what are you wearing?” and then, after a few stupid birdie blink-blinks, I say, “What’s this?” while pointing to his leg, hoping somehow that will force his hand, so to speak.
This is how the conversation generally goes:
Me: Nikki, what are you wearing?
Me: What are you wearing?
Nikki (whispering): Wuhziss?
Me (pointing at his leg): What’s this?
Nikki (grabbing my finger): Pleez ta meet-cha!
Me: Pleased to meet you! Nikki, what are you wearing?
Nikki blinks, still gripping my finger, tightly, in his claw.
Me: Is it . . . little green pants?
Nikki: (same time): . . . pants?
Me: Little green pants?
Nikki (same time): Pants?
Me: What are you wearing?
Nikki (getting bored): Kisshes. Mwah!
Me (relenting): Okay, kisses.
Nikki (happily): Nikki Goodbirdgoodbirdgoodbird. . . .
He then goes into the little parrot hut which he shares with his life-mate (an orange Ping-Pong ball), and talks to it in a quiet voice, sounding eerily like Edward G. Robinson.
“Schwah,” Nikki grumbles to his round ginger friend. “Schwah-schwah-schwah.” He is an odd little creature, who provides endless hours of pleasure with his eccentricities.
Quakers live for about 35 years, so someone in my house will undoubtedly be wearing a pirate costume every Halloween from now through 2043.
Nikki, of course, will be wearing little green pants.
Bridget LeRoy is a reporter at The Star.