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Saturday
Sep282013

All this parrot has to say is 'Thanks for the ride'

Herb sits on his bike with Barney the Biking Bird near Cafe Hollander in Wauwatosa.When it comes to amazing feats by parrots, it's hard to top the fact that they can speak like humans. A bird opens its beak and out comes actual words and sentences. That would seem impossible.

Barney takes it a step further. He — we think it's a he — rides a bicycle and talks at the same time.

He is not actually pedaling the bike, though I wouldn't put it past him. That role falls to his human, Herb, who constructed a cage for Barney and attached it to the front of his ride. A folded bath towel serves as a "cage diaper."

"Believe it or not, you can't go to a bike store and say, 'I'll take the parrot kit,'" said Herb, who knows because he tried.

Like all the great parrot tandem riders throughout history, Herb goes by just one name. OK, in truth I can't name anyone else who ever shared a bike with a parrot, and Herb said he just wants to protect his privacy.

He and I and Barney rode 10 miles together last week on the Oak Leaf and Hank Aaron trails. I can't really explain the thrill of hitting the open road with a yellow-naped Amazon parrot. You have to live it.

A woman talks to Barney the parrot in his cage as Herb takes him out for one of their regular bike rides. - Image credit: Mike De Sisti One thing is that people look at you funny. Often that leads to a smile that says, "What the...?" As you zip past, there's often time to catch a word or two, like "cool" or "wow" or "hi, birdie."

Then there are those people either so deep in thought or so lacking in any sense of wonder that they don't see a biking parrot when it's right in front of them or show any noticeable reaction. The bird could be juggling fiery swords and it wouldn't register anything.

This is a parrot with his own Facebook page at Barney the Biking Bird. "It's interesting," Herb said, "Barney is only 297,000 followers behind Donald Driver."

Herb rides his bike Wednesday near Cafe Hollander in Wauwatosa. His bird, Barney, talks and interacts with the many people who stop in their tracks at such a sight. - Image credit: Mike De Sisti Herb and his wife — "empty nesters, as it were," he said — got Barney in March. The New Berlin couple knew parrots need stimulation and socialization, so Herb came up with the idea of taking him along on bike rides. He built the cage from linen closet shelving, mounted it on a slab of wood and affixed it to the bike with a metal frame.

Since April, he and Barney have logged some 2,700 miles together on the bike, working around Herb's schedule as a website creator. They started with a few miles at a time and worked up to rides of 30 or 40 miles, mostly on the New Berlin Recreation Trail. They even did the UPAF Ride for the Arts.

Herb talks with Mary Delcore (left) of Wauwatosa, Jennifer Reckmeyer of Whitefish Bay, and Taylor Ford, 15, of Wauwatosa, as he’s stopped on his bike in Wauwatosa on Wednesday. - Image credit: Mike De Sisti Barney stands on a flexible perch to absorb the bumps, and he gnaws on chew toys to pass the miles. Herb supplies grapes to keep him hydrated, and they avoid riding on days that are too chilly or hot or rainy.

Herb is certain Barney enjoys rather than tolerates all that riding. I'm no expert on the emotional state of birds, but he did seem to dig the wind in his wings as we rode. When Herb or I would laugh about something, Barney would mimic us.

His best word is "Hello," which he can do in male or female voices. He also says "Oh," like he's acknowledging what you're saying.

We encountered a group of students on a field trip who gathered around Barney's cage and all at once asked if he wanted a cracker — still one of the most asked questions of parrots — and tried to get him to say hello. Barney finally gave them a hello as they walked away, which caused them all to run back and try for more.

"Sometimes if we see something new, he'll say, 'What is it?'" Herb said. "Sometimes he'll just mumble because he thinks he's participating in a conversation."

It's when Herb stops that people flock to him and whip out their camera phones. It's like taking a puppy to a parade. We attracted a lot of attention on the Harwood Ave. pedestrian bridge in Wauwatosa.

"I think he likes me, or he's pretending," Michele Campbell said as she and Barney shared a moment nose to nose. To avoid a bird bite, you don't want to put your fingers in the cage.

Herb rides his bike Wednesday near Cafe Hollander in Wauwatosa. Herb likes to bring his pet parrot, Barney the Biking Bird, along for the ride so he can get some fresh air. - Image credit: Mike De Sisti Mary Delcore and Jennifer Reckmeyer stopped on their way to lunch and had many questions about Barney. With all that biking, Jennifer was surprised the word "Wheeee" wasn't in the bird's vocabulary.

Herb has heard a lot of surprising questions. Many people immediately want to know how old the bird is. The short answer is about 10 years. The longer answer is that he's likely to outlive Herb, who is 55. Some people want to know if that's an actual bird. They ask if Herb is riding around trying to sell the bird or find its owner.

"I've had a few people say, 'Why are you biking with a parrot?' and I tell them we've run away from the circus."

Good one. Barney should tweet that.

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