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Birdman of East Village

They’re not pets

Victor Vasquez: “I have to be discreet."
  • Victor Vasquez: “I have to be discreet."

Has anybody seen the Birdman of East Village lately? Okay, that’s just what I call him. I met Victor Vasquez, 53, taking his three birds: Sydney, 30 years old, a medium sulphur-crested cockatoo from Papua New Guinea; Coocooberry, 20–25, a red-lored green Amazon parrot; and Ginger, 10, a Goffin’s cockatoo from Australia, walking them in his three-tiered backpack cages around Park and Market in East Village. It’s like a walking coffee klatch.

Sydney, the one with the biggest heart.

Sydney, the one with the biggest heart.

“Where are you going? Yes or no?”

That’s Coocooberry, the green one, with the biggest vocabulary, Victor says.

“Hi. Hi. Hi!”

That’s Sydney, the one with the biggest heart.

“These birds are equal to dolphins and chimps in intelligence,” says Victor. “They have dignity. They have solidarity. They need your company.”

Of course, there’s a price to pay for all this sociability. Victor’s roommate moved out. “Couldn’t stand the constant back-and-forth,” he says. “They’re great company but high maintenance.”

He didn’t have to tell me. I’d been at an exotic pet hospital in Mission Valley when this gent brought in his green parrot. The parrot spotted another in a waiting-room cage. He insisted they go to the cage, and the two birds went crazy, crying out expletives and great “Woaah!” and “Wow!” sounds and flapping and laughing.

“They haven’t seen each other for ten years,” said the gent. “They have always loved each other.”

Victor’s birds were quiet but giving commentary as he bounced along Market with them on his back the day I spotted them. “They have to chat,” he tells me. “They’re not pets. They use their eyes. They want people to know they understand.”

“I know, I know,” says Sydney.

“Sydney’s buddies are nearly extinct in the wild,” says Victor. “There are fewer than 2000 left.”

“I know, I know,” says Sydney.

“And they love Ratatouille.”

“I know, I know,” says Coocooberry.

“Jujuberry?” says Victor.

“No! Coocooberry.”

He says Sydney is truly compassionate. “If he sees someone sad, he cries. I have an autistic grandson, and every time he saw him, Sydney would say ‘Hi! Hi! Hi!’ We’d go to their house, and Sydney would knock on their door with his beak. And the boy became responsive. He’d say, ‘Hi Sydney!’ And Sydney was so proud.”

Victor starts lowering his voice as we approach his apartment building.

“I have to be discreet. I’m worried the management will kick me out if there’s too much noise.”

His other worry: that his birds will live longer than him. “They can last 40, 50, 60 years, even longer. Bird Rescue would take them. But they wouldn’t be happy. They have to belong. They don’t want to be free. So I worry.”

I left Victor and the birds near where I met them around Market and 13th. I haven’t seen them around there lately. So I worry.

If you see them, say “Hi, hi, hi” for me.

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