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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Perhaps you've seen a colorful talking bird in the pet shop and thought, I've always wanted a parrot. Before you take the plunge, commentator Julie Zickefoose sounds a note of caution.

JULIE ZICKEFOOSE: As I write, the emerald green head of a macaw emerges from under my desk. He's crawled up my leg from a favorite perch on my foot. He's been doing this for 21 years. And I expect him to be sitting on me, giving creaky calls and showering me with feather dandruff, for at least the next 21, is the relationship I can't get out off.

I bought this parrot in 1986, the first time my biological clock rang. I needed something young and helpless to care for. It was one of the moments in my life when a crystal ball might have been helpful, to look forward 20 years and see myself still fixing a hot breakfast every morning for a bird, to see that sweet, cooing baby parrot morph into a crotchety tyrant, not averse to sinking his powerful beak into flesh to make a point. And yet, Charlie(ph) speaks a few words, he has a flare for slapstick. In the company of people, he listens to the conversation and laughs loudly at precisely the right moment. The bare skin on his cheeks is soft and warm. He likes to be hugged.

A captive parrot selects the only mate it can find, in this case, Charlie's picked me. But I just refused to follow the plan he's laid out. I share my affections with another of my own species. Even when Charles punctures my skin to prevent this perceived infidelity. I won't eat the breakfast, he regurgitates, no matter how tenderly preferred. Occasional furtive copulations with my sock-clad foot net him nothing but a temporary relief. He points out and protects his chosen nest site, a grotto under the sink, with cracked squawks and sudden rushes at passersby. But I can't succumb to his will, crawl under the sink and laid a two, round white eggs that Charlie believes I must have in me - that he so longs to incubate and protect. He crouches in the half darkness looking up at me with a Don King wig of feathers over crazed golden eyes. Come on in, baby, you know you're ovulating. Every once in a while, I look down on myself - a middle-aged woman with a middle-aged parrot dropping dandruff and worse on her shoulder.

Sometimes, after he's perforated my finger or lip in a fit of peak, it occurs to me that I might just surrender Charles to a parrot rescue group. Just as quickly, I discard the idea. Who am I to dump this slightly mad bundle of idiosyncrasies and multicolored feathers onto anyone else? We have a history together, forged in stone on that fateful December day in 1986 when I gathered a baby macaw in my arms and said, I do.

Parrots can be delightful, but they are raunchy, awful pets. I'll probably be an old, old lady before I figure out what has kept me and Charlie together all these years. And I'm sure Charlie, that tatty, old rotter will be sitting on my shoulder when I do. Maybe it's love but it feels a little more like marriage.

BLOCK: Commentator Julie Zickefoose loves birds of all species, but the intelligence and raunchy sociability of parrots makes them rank among her favorites. She's the author of "Letters from Eden."

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