Gray Matters: Woodville parrot has slew of followers on social media
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for Juju, the same proverb applies to “bad.” The 18-year-old African Grey Parrot has a habit of doing what she knows is wrong, but to Juju, it’s ok because she sweetens the sting with charm.
Take, for instance, the morning she finished her breakfast, climbed down from her cage, opened the kitchen cabinet doors under the sink and started peeling the luan from the bottom of the cabinet. “No, no, no!” Juju yelled as she did it, beating her owner, Tracey, to the punch. “What are you doing?” Tracey asked. “My baby,” Juju answered sweetly, “good girl.”
Then there’s the evening Juju was biting and puncturing the shower curtain while Tracey took a shower. An argument between the two ensued, with each of them yelling “No!” and “Stop it!” and “YOU stop it!” back and forth. Juju puffed up and began squawking aggressively, only to be told “You don’t speak to me in that tone!” Then, Juju hopped on Tracey’s freshly showered finger and crooned, “my baby,” and offered a kiss so that peace was restored.
These antics and many more are showcased on the “That’s Bad Juju” Facebook page, created more than a year ago and followed by many who have become enamored with the 18-year-old psittacine. Evidently, Juju thinks it’s her job to make sure the Lake Country household of Tracey Buckalew and Mark Brill is never boring.
“Juju makes life like living with a 2-year-old toddler that never grows up,” Tracey’s introduction of the Facebook page says. “She shares our home with three dog siblings. She is sassy yet sweet, and swears like a sailor. Welcome to our world.”
The African Grey is one of the most talented talking/mimicking birds on the planet, according to the Lafeber Company of veterinarians, which gives the parrot the moniker “The Einsteins of the Bird World.” “Understated beauty and a brainy no-nonsense attitude are what keep this parrot at the peak of popularity,” the Lafeber website claims.
After happening upon Juju’s social media page one evening while perusing Facebook, I wanted to know more, so I called Tracey. She said Juju was watching closely and taking in every aspect of our conversation, more than likely the result of hearing her name repeatedly. As soon as her phone rang, Juju immediately said “Hello… Yeah.” “She says that every time it rings, and then she mimics the phonetics of a conversation,” Tracey said; “we laugh at her all the time.”
Tracey estimates that Juju has the mental capacity of a 4-year-old, although her language isn’t always child-friendly. And she isn’t as sociable as other Greys because her previous owner kept a cover over her cage. But after a few months in her new home, Juju blossomed. She calls Tracey “Toots,” and because she can’t pronounce the “B” sound, she refers to Brill as “Grill,” Tracey said with a laugh.
“She mimics our voices so closely to the point that if we’re not in the same room, we think we’re carrying on a conversation with each other, but we eventually realize that it’s actually Juju we’re talking to,” she added, explaining they realize it’s Juju when they ask a question that isn’t a “yes” or “no” question, and the response is one of those single words. “And we’re like, ‘wait a minute, that’s not right.’”
Many people, especially the Facebook followers, request pictures or videos of what Juju is saying or doing, but Tracey says Juju doesn’t perform on command. All of her conversations are at her own pleasure, and if she is talking and Tracey reaches for her phone to capture it, Juju stops and says “Hello.” And if Tracey reaches for her camera, Juju again stops her Kodak-moment behavior because she becomes curious to know what Tracey is doing.
“This morning, she got irritated when I was trying to take pictures of her for the magazine; so in the pictures, you can see that her eyes went from round eyes to little slits, and finally she turned around and showed me her red butt the whole time,” Tracey recalled.
Tracey cautions wanna-be owners that African Greys require a lot of attention. “I have to make time every single day to spend with her,” she said, noting it begins as soon as the sun comes up. “She just wants to be interacted with. I don’t have to hold her, but she wants to be included in the same room. (“Yes,” Juju confirmed in the background.) And she loves when Brill plays his drums. She bobs her head to the music. (“Yes,” Juju said again in agreement.) She loves music, so I play my Pandora a lot for her.”
Although it isn’t known if the parrots understand what is being said, Tracey said the high occurrence of Juju responding in context never ceases to amaze them. “Sometimes it’s in the right context because she understands what’s being said, and sometimes I think it’s just serendipitous timing. I was cooking one night and she was supervising from the counter and bobbing her head to my Pandora music. It was an 80s block and that Men At Work song came on, the 'Down Under' one where they say ‘Do you speak-a my language?’, and Juju yelled “YES!”
One morning, Tracey says she needed to sleep in and kept the curtains pulled so Juju would stay quiet. When she got up and started opening the curtains to let the sun in, Juju started laughing and yelled, “NOW YER TALKIN’!”
However, there are just as many sentimental moments as there are funny or bad ones. One December morning, Tracey got up and let Juju out of her cage before the sun had risen. While Tracey was making coffee, Juju waddled over and stuck her foot out and said “up, up.” Tracey picked her up, and Juju said “Good night, buddy.” So, Tracey put her back in her cage, and Juju responded softly, “Good girl, go lay down.” “Sometimes, she is just precious. It was adorable,” Tracey recalled.
Juju has claimed several drawers in the house to be hers, and the drawers remain slightly open so she can perch on the edge or get inside and nest or play. One is in the laundry room and when she’s perched on it, Juju doesn’t allow Mark in there to get his clothes, according to Tracey. (Juju could be heard in the background laughing at that story.) Juju also occasionally chases Mark around the house, biting at his feet, and then calling “I love you,” Tracey said. (“I love you!” Juju repeated.)
In its description of the African Grey’s personality and behavior, the Lafeber site says “A Grey can also become a ‘one-person bird’ even if every member of the household socializes with it from the beginning.” Apparently that concept applies to the dogs in the home, too, because Juju consistently is nice to two of them and mean to the third, Tracey said, explaining that the third dog, Henry, a small mixed-breed, avoids Juju after he was bitten by her once. A posting on the “That’s Bad Juju” page probably explains it best:
First thing after waking up this morning, the dogs headed outside to potty. As they came back in one by one, Juju greets them from her cage as she eats her breakfast.
Arthur walks by.
Juju: “Hi handsome!”
Henry walks by.
Len walks by.
Juju: “Hi buddy!”
Juju uses the dogs for her entertainment, too. She habitually slings food everywhere because she likes to see the dogs scamper for it. “And then she laughs,” Tracey said.
“You don’t realize when you get one how much work it is,” she added. “She gets intense. We’ll probably have her another 30-50 years, so we had to make arrangements for when something happens to us.
“People who follow her on Facebook ask where they can get one, but they only see the cute things she does. They don’t see the chunks she takes out of my drawers and cabinets.
“Really, it’s a commitment because it’s like adopting a child. I can’t leave things out on the counter; she shreds paper all the time, chews up the TV remote, I’m constantly cleaning up after her.
“It’s not a pet I’d recommend, but at the same time, she’s brought me a lot of joy.”
The day after our conversation, I noticed a new post from Tracey on the “That’s Bad Juju” page: This morning, Juju discovered light switches. I did dishes to strobe lighting.
I could imagine Juju laughing out loud, while singing to herself, “Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover.”
-Written by Lynn Hobbs in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Lakelife Magazine