Birds of a Feather

When Father Michael arrived at Portsmouth Abbey in 2018 he brought along some feathered friends.  Over the last thirty years, Father Michael has kept parrots as his pets, beginning in 1988 when he was living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. 

Growing up, Father Michael was always drawn to these colorful birds, and it helped that his childhood home was across the street from a zoo in Rochester, New York.  His brother worked at the zoo during summers, and Father Michael would spend a lot of time there. He was fascinated by the many types of parrots, their colorful plumage, and their friendly nature. 

Before Father Michael entered the monastery, he shared his home in D.C with twenty-five parrots. He entered the monastery with two and now has seven parrots here at the Abbey: Hassan (Yellow Naped Amazon) 38 years old; Buddy (Yellow Naped Amazon) 37 years old; Sallahuddin (Congo African Grey) 33 years old; Susila (Congo African Grey) 25 years old; Nur ( Blue & Gold Macaw) 14 years old; Loki (Severe Macaw) 14 years old; and Harley (Harlequin Macaw) 9 years old. The parrots have their own quarters in the former science building; the room has been dubbed "Parrotland" and you can always hear the parrots' friendly squawks as you pass the building. If your timing is right, you can watch Father Michael caring for and feeding the birds, sometimes with a polka soundtrack playing in the background! You can stop to say hello but please do not bang on the glass. 

Over the years Father Michael has acquired the birds in various different ways, primarily via rescue organizations. Some came from employees and co-workers; another from a breeder after the bird was expelled from the Wild Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis for bad behavior; and another from a bird rescue group who posted the bird’s availability on their website.

"Parrots learn how to talk the same way we do," says Father Michael. "They learn what our sounds mean and in what situations to use those sounds. They will never say hello or goodbye when I enter or leave their room. Not every parrot can talk, but they all can understand. They are always listening, so you never know when they will suddenly speak up." 

Father Michael is not planning on adding to his flock but he has thoroughly enjoyed caring for his birds over the years. Parrots can live to be 70-80 years old so if anyone would like Father Michael to leave a parrot or two to you in his will, please let him know!

"It is an amazing thing to interact with animals of another order. Dogs, and even cats, are mammals and are put together like us anatomically and in their nervous systems, They react like us. Birds are totally different, so you learn a new 'language' of behavior, how they express affection and how you express it to them, and so on. Having birds and learning to communicate and accept them on their own terms has made me much better with people. Birds have made me a nicer person."