Poe, A Love Story

Dr. Irene Pepperberg with Alex, an African Gray Parrot (Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Accompanied by intimate portraits of birds and their owners by photographer Miisha Nash, for Topic, bird enthusiast Karen Abbott recalls her beloved, quirky, slightly devious African gray parrot, Poe, who passed away of heart failure at the very young parrot age of 18.

I have never wanted children, but I’ve always wanted birds—a realization that dawned in December 1997 in the unlikeliest of places: Las Vegas’s MGM Grand casino, where my husband and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary. One afternoon, in between rounds of $5 blackjack, I wandered to a lobby and discovered a long perch supporting a dozen parrots—scarlet and hyacinth macaws, eclectuses and lilac-crowned Amazons among them—riotous bursts of red and blue and yellow and green, a preening, chirping string of jewels. I’d owned birds since childhood, a succession of mild, low-maintenance parakeets, beginning with a pastel beauty named Jake who rested on the wire rim of my 1980s orthodontic headgear. But parrots were different beasts, exotic and unpredictable. And some breeds have a life span of 60 to 80 years. A parrot, I thought, could outlive us both.

I had promised my husband I would look but not buy. We were 24 years old, had just bought our first house, and owed a combined $100,000 in student loans. The bird cost $1,500, not counting cage, formula, and toys, and required a nonrefundable $500 deposit. I lifted her close to my face. Struggling, she managed to pry one obsidian eye fully open and met my gaze. I named her Poe, after the writer.

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