By Pat Foster-Turley
March 31, 2023
When I enter the pool for my deep-water aerobics class I am greeted by all my pool buddies—some of these people I have known for a decade or more but mostly only “with their clothes off” in bathing suits, floating, heads above the water. At long last, I decided it was time to get to know long-term classmates Louise Bowers and her daughter Brenda a bit more. I heard Louise had a pet bird that she is very fond of. It was time to do a story!
It didn’t take long after I entered Louise’s home to notice Quaker—a couple of loud screeches welcomed my arrival. Soon enough Louise had Quaker on her shoulder to show her off to me. Quaker is a Quaker parrot, sometimes called a monk parakeet. Louise hand-raised Quaker with an eye dropper at first and they are very much attached to one another. But don’t try to touch her, I was advised, she bites strangers. “Don’t bite the mama,” Quaker says—she has learned that is not acceptable, but everyone else is fair game.
Quaker wasn’t thrilled with my presence and spent most of her time on Louise’s shoulder hiding behind her head so I couldn’t see her. Quaker got more animated when Louise brought out some broccoli, her favorite food, which she sometimes asks for by name. In fact, she knows a number of food items by name and often verbally demands what she wants. She is known to call out “What are you doing?” when Louise is in another room, or, when Louise is on the phone, says “Are you talking to ????” and she names a name.
When I was leaving, Quaker flew back to her cage and bobbed her head excitedly. And then she started singing her favorite song, “Hello everybody, I’m glad to see you,” and we all sang along with her. I really think she was singing “I’m glad to see you go,” but I can’t say for sure. All I know is she seemed happy to see me gone.
Quaker parrots are known to be good pets and over the years many have escaped or been released into the wild in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is not currently concerned about this exotic species, since they are mostly found in urban areas in south Florida and are not destroying crops that make them a pest in other locales. Pet owners like Louise do not need special permits to keep Quaker parrots. Quaker entered Louise’s life when she had to put her beloved dog down and decided she needed a new pet that would outlive her. She has had Quaker for 15 years now and hopes for many more to come. Did I mention Louise is now 102 years old!!!!
I didn’t want to write this column just about Louise’s age—she is so much more than that. Louise and Brenda are often disturbed by “ageism” when people think old people must be cognitively impaired and even doctors will direct their comments about Louise to Brenda, ignoring Louise who is intently there. Well, Louise is as sharp as anyone I know. She works out in the water aerobics class five days a week, like she has for many years, attends church and other events and her fried chicken is a family and friends’ favorite. She was driving herself around until her 100th birthday with no complaints from Brenda or her doctor, but she then declared, “Anyone 100 should not be driving anymore,” and she quit on her own. She uses a walker for stability and wears hearing aids but otherwise is perfectly healthy.
Her long life has been filled with people who love her, from her great-grandchildren to the many people she has helped and befriended over the years. When she retired from her long-time position as secretary to an important official in Jacksonville her retirement party was held in an auditorium with more than 300 people! And here in Fernandina Beach when she turned 100, during COVID isolating times, dozens of cars paraded along her street to safely wish her a happy birthday, as she sat on her porch, waving to us all.
Well her 100th birthday was more than two years ago and with COVID threats receding she has been a fixture in our class five days a week ever since. Some parrots live for 100 years but very few people do. It is not Quaker, but instead Louise, who is a very rare bird indeed!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist who lives on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]