Beside her sits Ariessohn, who speaks back conversationally. Kiki, in her nearly human voice, mumbles a few garbled syllables.
“She talks a lot of macaw,” Ariessohn explains.
Kiki, half great green and half blue and gold macaw, is a parrot-in-residence at the Parrot Education and Adoption Network, a nonprofit organization designed to rehome birds and educate the public about their care. Bonnie Kenk, at whose house Kiki resides, is the president of the organization, which has chapters in Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and her home serves as its headquarters.
Ariessohn has been taking Kiki for walks for the past two of the three years she’s been coming to see her. For a few weeks after she was able to pick Kiki up, Ariessohn, who works as a medical-text editor, carried her around Kenk’s backyard until, quite suddenly, Kiki herself requested they venture farther out of doors.
“One day she said, ‘Go outside and take a little walk,’ ” Ariessohn says. “It’s something her previous owners taught her. And so we went.”
Two years later, they still walk together, traveling up the hill from Kenk’s house to a wooded park.
Bird-walking, according to both Ariessohn and Kenk, is not and should not be done for the “cool” factor; birds, like humans, need sunlight and a change of scenery.
“We give them tons of toys to play with and different places for them to be outside and inside, but, you know, if you sat in the same room all day, no matter how many toys you had, you’d get bored,” Ariessohn says, with a laugh.
“Walking them isn’t, as some people feel, for the humans’ benefit,” Kenk adds. “Walking them is for their benefit, to get them out, to get them stimulated with something besides the four walls they live in, to allow them to feel the sun on their heads and the wind in their feathers.”
The park Kiki and Ariessohn walk to is not far from Kenk’s, its entrance at the bottom of a small but steep hill. Ariessohn, with Kiki perched on her hand, ventures only a little ways in, to a large rock shaded by a low-lying pine.
Kiki scuttles along the rock’s surface.
Typically, they stay until Kiki gets restless, which, on this outing, doesn’t take long. She picks up her foot and extends and retracts her talons, a signal that she’s ready to go. Kiki in hand, Ariessohn gets off the rock, and the pair head back to Kenk’s house.
Aside from a quick “hello” from a neighbor, Ariessohn and Kiki walk without interruption. When Ariessohn used to walk her own bird, China, in her old neighborhood downtown, reactions were more frequent.
“Whenever I’d see a neighbor, I’d cringe because they’d come over and say, ‘Oh, you’re the one with the birds.’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, my God, I’m so sorry about the noise they’re making.’ And they’d say, ‘No, it’s great.’ I lived right in the airport’s flight path, it’s such an urban environment, and it is great to hear wild birds — it sounds like wild birds — it’s really refreshing.”
Her daughter Shannon, a senior in high school, also walks her own bird, a brightly colored white-bellied caique named Spanky, in her neighborhood in La Mesa. She, too, describes the attention she and Ariessohn would receive walking their birds downtown.
“We’d get stopped every ten feet, sometimes a little less,” Shannon says. “It’s not bad because you get to answer questions, and people are really interested in finding out what’s going on. They’re interested in learning about birds.”
Their La Mesa walks have been fairly quiet, but Spanky, a small and spirited parrot who imitates the beep of the microwave as well as various car noises, had fun at the Embarcadero when they lived downtown.
“He loved looking at the water,” Shannon says. “He liked [the Embarcadero] because there were so many new noises. He’d get all excited, and he’d always look up and look at the water, and he was so excited by everything going on there.”
She pauses, kissing Spanky’s beak.
“He loved it,” she says.
Raz and Carly
When Linda “Raz” Rasmussen purchased her African gray Carly, Carly couldn’t fly at all.
Now, Carly is a streak of gray body and bright red tail against the clouded blue sky at La Jolla Shores.
She flies straight and true, making the bloop sound of a cell phone notification, until she does a crazy dip to the left and lands, legs protruding, onto Rasmussen’s arm.
“She was very outgoing from the very start,” Rasmussen says of Carly, as Carly chirps happily into her ear. “What?” she’ll ask, imitating Rasmussen on the phone. “What?”
She takes off again, fluttering from Rasmussen’s shoulder. Following close behind is a trio of green, blue, and red macaws who light up the quasi-gray day with their rainbow of colors. They glide on their brilliant wings, circling and calling each other.
Along for the “fly” with Rasmussen are Hugh Choy, owner of the red-fronted macaws, and Hillary Hankey, who is flying her two cockatoos, a bare-eyed and a slender-billed. Choy has brought along a long-lensed camera to capture the birds, and clicks pictures while they soar over his head. The cockatoos perch on Hankey’s shoulders, one on either side; her T-shirt, which bears the words “Surf Wyoming,” is streaked with bird refuse. She doesn’t seem to mind.
“This is the largest concentration of amateur free-fliers in the world,” says Choy, speaking of the group.
In the air, Carly circles and, responding to Rasmussen’s call, lands squarely in her hair.
“Crazy,” Rasmussen says affectionately to Carly. She lifts Carly off her head and places her back on her shoulder.
Rasmussen purchased Carly almost three years ago from a local bird shop, Bird Crazy, and began teaching her to fly after her wing feathers, clipped when she was a baby, began to grow back in.
“I’d been taking her on walks on the beach all the time, and her wings started to grow out,” Rasmussen says. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ Because I