A flier at some pet stores and animal hospitals in our area asks for help finding Hobson, also known as Hobby, an African grey parrot, who flew away from home July 23. The bird's owner, Jessica Angeli of Accokeek, says her heart is broken but not her spirit, and she has not given up hope.
"Hobby would see me in the morning and say, 'What are you doing? Are you hungry?' " she recalled during an interview at her home. "Hob is very articulate. She can whistle the theme song from 'The Andy Griffith Show,' whistle Jimi Hendrix's 'Angel,' and do 'Sunshine of Your Love' by Cream."
Not your average birdbrain.
For the past week, Angeli has put her grief aside and sprung into action with Katrina Parrots, a nationwide effort spread by word of mouth to save birds that were separated from their owners during the storm. This might seem to some like a trivial pursuit in the midst of such overwhelming human suffering. But consider that the bird people have been rescuing parrots and cockatoos from places in New Orleans where others wouldn't go even to save their neighbors.
"We send rescuers to the addresses where owners had to leave their birds behind," said Angeli, 34, a secretary with Northrop Grumman at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. She also volunteers with a bird rescue group called 911 Parrot Alert, which has a Web site for posting reports of parrots in distress worldwide. "Our people on the Gulf Coast have waded through water, broken down doors, climbed through windows, whatever it takes to get the birds out alive."
Perhaps only pet lovers can appreciate such devotion. But even the most die-hard PETA person must acknowledge that parrot people are a breed apart. A dog may express itself with the wag of tail; a cat may purr. But when you've heard, say, a verbal exchange between your parrot and your 3-year-old stepson, as Angeli has, the phrase "It's not a pet; it's a member of the family" takes on a whole new meaning.
"Hobby would say, 'Where's Dada?' " Angeli recalled. "And Dominique would say, 'Hobby, stop asking about Daddy.' And Hobby would say, 'No. Where's Dada?' "
Chris Teutsch is Dada, an auto mechanic and recreational hunter who is more inclined to blow a bird out of the air than try to coax a parrot out of a tree. That is, until Angeli brought the bird home in 1998. Before long, Teutsch was taking showers with Hobby perched on a stand that he'd installed near the showerhead.
"I liked that bird," he said.
He'd been riding a lawn mower that evening in July, and Angeli had opened the door to bring in pieces of a bunk bed when Hobby was startled by the noise and flew the coop. Teutsch got out the night-vision goggles that he uses for hunting, and Angeli grabbed a whistle that Hobby always mimicked, and they stayed out until sunup looking in vain for the bird. And they've been searching ever since.
On the day of my visit, Angeli and another parrot person, Cindy Magee, were about to take pounds of donated bird food and dozens of bird cages to BWI. Continental Airlines had agreed to fly the supplies, no charge, to Baton Rouge, where they would be distributed to volunteers who were keeping the rescued birds until they could be reunited with their owners.
For the record: Birds are a big deal in the Big Easy. Before the storm, flocks of feral parrots nested in palm trees throughout the city, although there was not much love for their incessant squawking. The domesticated variety, on the other hand, is the object of much affection. You might see an exotic scarlet macaw perched on a mahogany stand at a mansion in the Garden District or come upon a child playing with a parakeet in a Lower Ninth Ward apartment or be whistled at by a handsome African grey riding on the shoulder of a hustler in the French Quarter.
"What we are doing for homeless birds in New Orleans is amazing," Angeli said.
Now all she needs is for someone to help Hobby find her way home.