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Monday, September 26, 2005

Fishing couple finds bird to be first-rate shipmate

If you’re walking on the West Main Dock at the Port of Ilwaco, Wash., and hear a whistle, it’s not tuna fisherman Harvey Cosky trying to get fresh. The musical note comes from Koko, an African grey parrot and full-fledged crew member on Cosky’s bright red 67-foot fishing boat EZ 1.

Forget whistling. Koko is more than likely to quack like a duck, howl like a wolf or even ask what you’re doing.

Cosky and his wife, Judy, obtained Koko when he was 6 months old. They were headed for Midway Island and hand-fed the chick with an eye-dropper on the way.

“The breeder wouldn’t let us have Koko until we assured him we’d be up 24 hours a day to feed him,” Harvey said. “He looked like a buzzard. We asked ourselves why would we want a bird like that.” That was when the “buzzard” first learned to say “no” and to identify his favorite foods – apples and grapes.

Koko is now a fine-feathered 6-year-old and part of the Coskys’ crew full-time, traveling the coast from Alaska to Mexico during fishing season.

Koko African Grey Parrot

The bird can, like many parrots, imitate the sounds of a number of animals. He asks to go for a walk, to go outside, says “Good morning. Have a cup of coffee” to the Coskys and sings “Koko is a good bird, a good bird, a good bird” when he’s by himself. The Coskys are not surprised. Previously owners have reported that African greys have learned multiple lines of songs, prayers or plays and can actually use word combinations that go beyond simple mimicking.

Before he wised up, Harvey was running down two flights of stairs to the boat’s engine room because he heard the low-water alert for the main engine go off. “I finally caught on it was Koko imitating the alarm,” he said.

If Koko can’t find the Coskys, he says “hoo-hoo,” Judy said. “When we answer him, he says ‘Oh, there you are.’ Not your average bird-brain.”

He sits on her head while she’s doing the dishes. “Lately he’s begun asking me what I’m doing,” she said. “He’s also started asking ‘What’s that?’ and won’t shut up till I tell him what each utensil I’m washing is. I think he’s trying to learn more names for objects.”

Koko can be sneaky, Judy said. “If there’s something on the table we don’t want him to play with, he’ll fluff his feathers and say ‘pet Koko’ to divert attention while he sidles closer to what he wants.” Apparently the bird also loves listening to music with a beat and piano music, dancing along as it plays.

But what really impresses the Coskys is Koko’s need for companionship. “He wants to be with his flock, period,” Judy said. “He’s completely bonded with us.” And that’s a good thing, she said. African greys can live to be 80 and their owners are told to be sure there’s someone to pass them on to.

— Nancy Butterfield, Daily Astorian


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