It was midday as Gary Mortimer and Karen Hirsh, black bags in hand, headed for West Hollywood on a house call. Sinbad, Johnny Mathis' crested cockatoo, had been booked for his regular grooming.
Sinbad, who is no singer (truthfully, Mortimer noted, "he doesn't do much at all"), is only one of the to-the-manor-born parrots whose fine feathers are clipped and shampooed, beaks buffed and nails trimmed by the staff of Pyramid Birds in Burbank, a parrot spa and hotel otherwise known as Parrotdise.
The birdmen of Burbank are Pyramid proprietors Mortimer, 45, and partner John Ingraham, 42, who are unreservedly dotty about parrots, even though, Ingraham is quick to say, parrots are rowdy, basically anti-social and frequently ill-tempered and "will destroy anything and everything that's chewable."
In fact, Mortimer and Ingraham at one time owned 1,200 parrots. Even so, their menagerie did not begin to include all of the 350 major species and 750 subspecies of parrots, which include cockatoos, macaws, amazons, love birds, cockateels and budgies, among others. "You could have a whole zoo of nothing but parrots," Ingraham said. "I wanted to do that at one time, to have the largest private collection in the world. I love extremes."
Ingraham laughed and said, "I guess I've suppressed that desire." Today, neither he nor Ingraham owns a single parrot, having completed a divestment that began a few years ago when their CPA put her foot down: Their World Parrot Foundation, with its 200 breeding pairs, was a luxury they could no longer afford.
"It was outrageous," Ingraham recalled with obvious pleasure, "an assembly line of parakeets making babies. We kept these elaborate records of eggs, dates, numbers. . . ."
The idea had been to gather information to share with breeders worldwide. But the project somehow got out of hand. "They breed like flies," Ingraham said.
Their salvation was a breeder from Utah who expressed an interest in buying some young birds--300 or 400 young birds. He had a deal.
And then Mortimer and Ingraham went back to running their parrot hotel and spa, the "Parritz."
A green-wing macaw peered between the wrought iron bars of its custom-built king-size cage and gave forth with a squawk that shook the walls. "Morgan is what I call parrotnoid," Ingraham was saying. "He chews his own feathers," a rather unseemly habit not unlike nail biting. Morgan flapped his tattered wings as Ingraham went on to explain that Morgan was a regular hotel guest whose owners were currently visiting England.
From his perch nearby, Caesar, a salmon-crested cockatoo of formidable size, emitted a megadecibel screech and then reached out with his hooked bill to nibble on a visitor's notebook. Caesar was staying at Parrotdise until a new home was found for him; the woman who brought him in had found she was allergic to the fine white powder in cockatoo feathers.
The truth is, Caesar may be a female. "You can't tell by looking," Ingraham said, adding that if there is a need to know (for breeding purposes), a surgical sexing procedure can be performed.
The other bird boarders, some on open perches ("We've never had a bird walk out," Ingraham observed, "but we have had someone walk out with a bird"), the more temperamental and nervous in cages, were being heard from. There were Zorro, Max, Angel, Jake and Salty.
There was Mercedes, a rose-breasted cockatoo carrying a $2,500 price tag on her pretty head. And, in the adjacent cage, a garden-variety English sparrow nursing an injured wing. Parrotdise does not ordinarily cater to sparrows--or, for that matter, to canaries or finches or mynas, just parrots, please--but the sparrow was left on the doorstep in a shoe box. If its wing mended, Ingraham said, the bird would be released to the wild; if not, it would be offered for adoption.
'Patrolled by Attack Cockatoo'
Lady Love, the small black and white house dog, moved freely through Parrotdise, neither disturbing nor disturbed by the birds. After nine years, Mortimer said, "They could land right on her and she'd look the other way." Posted prominently in the front shop area was a warning: "These premises patrolled by an attack cockatoo."
On this day, there were about 100 feathered friends at Parrotdise, half of them "hotel guests," the others brought in on consignment by owners who didn't understand them or, perhaps, needed to "liquidate" them to settle a divorce.
If birds have severe psychological problems, Mortimer and Ingraham will not accept them for sale. "If they're feather pluckers," for example, Mortimer said, it's hard to find a buyer. Severe rowdiness is another problem, though a few blue words are usually acceptable.
Ingraham stooped to scoop up a dropped feather. It would be placed in a jar and saved for trading or selling. A contact in New Mexico takes feathers in barter for pine nuts, sold at Pyramid as bird treats. A man who designs costumes for Las Vegas showgirls comes in regularly to buy feathers.