Whidbey family makes pet parrot subject of new children’s book

A talking bird with Whidbey roots is the star of a new book and the model for a new African Grey parrot puppet.

Pierre is an African Grey parrot who lives part of the year in Langley with his owner, psychologist Dr. Fran Smith, her husband Dr. Bob Smith and their poodle, Cosette. The bird charmed his way so far into his owner’s heart, she decided to write a book about him.

Smith has created a delightful and informative portrait of Pierre’s family life in her recently self-published children’s book, “Friendly Feathers: Life with Pierre, an African Grey parrot.” The book features vibrantly colored illustrations by local artist Deon Matzen.

A book reading and signing of “Friendly Feathers” will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 14 at Act II Books and Puppets in Langley.

When the book hits the shelves, Pierre may well become a local celebrity and as beloved as he is by his owners.

African Grey parrots are said to have the intelligence of a 5-year-old and the emotional development of a 2-year-old, a fact that Smith said had endeared her to these type of birds since her first encounter with them.

Smith, who lives part of the year in Florida, has been raising African Grey parrots since she was 10. She’s had Pierre for 16 years, and since African Greys can live up to 60 years or more in captivity, it’s obvious Pierre has become and will remain an important member of the Smith family. He also seems to have an interest in the financial market.

Every day, Smith said, Pierre greets her husband by saying “Good morning, Bob. How’s the Dow?”

The bird once scolded Smith for leaving him too long in the bathroom and said to her, “You’re late! Where have you been?”

That made Smith laugh. But it also made her realize that Pierre is more than just a pet that lives alongside the family in his large cage.

“Our family is his flock, just as his natural family in the wild would be. He just learns a different language from us.”

Smith said Pierre craves attention and when she is out of the room for any period of time, he’ll call her.

“Fran, Fran. Come here, Fran,” he’ll say when she is watching television in the other room with her husband.

Pierre will also call the dog over and tells the dog to “sit” and “stay.” Cosette follows the bird’s commands.

Indeed, if the bird could tell you what the pecking order of their household is, Smith said Pierre would put her first, bird second, husband third and dog last.

Although the species of the African Grey is known for its ability to learn a certain amount of language through repetition, Smith sees more than just mimicking when it comes to her bird and other African Grey parrots.

“Pierre is in a relationship with us when he speaks to us,” Smith said.

“He will chirp a thank you to me every time I give him a grape or some other treat. He knows when to say thank you.”

Pierre also refuses to say good night.

Smith explained that she thinks it’s because he hates to be alone. He is a very social being, she said, adding that these birds are known to mate for life.

This social aspect of Pierre’s personality was what motivated Smith to create the book which succeeds in portraying this aspect of the bird’s personality.

“The family dynamic that we have with this animal is so interesting to me,” she said.

Although the African Grey is not one of the most colorful parrots, with just a smattering of red on the tail feathers, Matzen has added plenty of color to Smith’s easy-to-read, day-in-the-life format.

Each page features a different angle of the bird expertly drawn by Matzen and illustrates in large-print how Pierre lives within the family, what he eats and the particular things that he says each day.

The book is suitable as a story to be read to very young children and also as an early reader for students learning to read.

And, young bird lovers will be pleased to know that Pierre will be the model for the national puppetmaker Folkmanis Puppets’ first-ever African Grey parrot puppet. The puppet will be available at Act II Books and Puppets some time in February.

The book is already available at the store, as well as at www.amazon.com, www.ingrambook.com, www.bookmasters.com or by calling Atlas Books at 1-800-247-6553.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff@southwhidbeyrecord.com.