Sometimes, the phone rings in the middle of the night at Kathie and Don Scheuerle’s St. Simons Island home.
“Ring ring. Ring ring.”
“Hello. Yeah? Yeah? OK. Uh-huh. OK. Bye-bye.”
It seems mundane. After all, phones ring from time to time. But the late-night calls are far from ordinary. In fact, they are not calls at all.
The voice is Lucy, a 22-year-old blue-and-gold macaw. Lucy, along with a second African gray parrot named Quincy, are the prized pets of the Scheuerles.
“We take Lucy all over the place,” said Kathie Scheuerle. “We take her down to Dairy Queen. We ride bikes there — it’s about six miles. We sit outside with Lucy and Quincy, and they eat Dairy Queen ice cream.”
Kathie Scheuerle has rigged a perch in her bike’s front basket where Lucy comes along for the ride.
The sight turns heads. Adults and children alike are drawn to Lucy and her feathery friend, Quincy. Lucy, in particular, has become a bit of a celebrity on St. Simons Island.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped and people want to take a picture,” Kathie Scheuerle said. “I don’t mind. She’s a bit of a novelty. But I do watch the kids. I tell them not to touch her, but they can look.”
With every encounter, Kathie Scheuerle gives a quick tutorial — and with good reason. Lucy’s sharp beak evolved for cracking open tropical nuts, and can easily slice a finger.
Macaws are one of nearly 400 species of parrots. They are indigenous to Central and South America where they populate rain forest canopies. These intelligent birds are known for their ability to mimic human speech, and Lucy is no exception.
Lucy can say “a couple dozen words, at least,” Kathie Scheuerle said. “They say the words they want to say. Her thing right now, if we’re out and she sees somebody, she’ll say ‘Hi. What doin’?’ And she expects them to answer.”
The Scheuerles, both retired, got Lucy from their daughter, Anne, in 1996. Anne came home for Christmas that year and had to leave Lucy and Quincy behind. As an airline pilot, she simply wasn’t able to give the birds the care they needed.
“We had to scramble to get a cage,” Kathie Scheuerle said. “We didn’t have anything big enough to house her. We hunted around and finally found one.”
Since then, Lucy and Quincy have become members of the family. But taking care of the two avian amigos is no easy task.
“People come up to us and say, ‘Oh, they’re so beautiful. I’d love to have one,’” Kathie Scheuerle said. “The first thing I tell them is: ‘No, you don’t.’”
That’s not because the Scheurles don’t love their winged companions. It’s because having an exotic pet can be a daunting task.
“They have to have a special diet,” Kathie Sheuerle said. “They need to go to the veterinarian on a regular basis — about every six to eight weeks. You have to have a big cage. And if you go on vacation, who’s going to take care of them? It’s a big responsibility.”
And Lucy can be cranky, too.
This time of year, her hormones are going bananas. She can be a little grouchy, and even occasionally nips at Kathie Scheuerle. Lucy chases Kathie’s husband, Don, around the house sometimes.
“She chases me, and I run from her,” Don Scheuerle said with an unironic laugh. “She’ll bite my shoe, or me, if she can get me. I’m afraid that I’ll step on her by accident.”
Don Scheuerle isn’t afraid of Lucy, per se, but he recognizes her mood can be a little up in the air.
“They can get mean if you don’t play with them,” Kathie Scheuerle said. “They want to be outside. If they don’t get enough activity, they’ve been known to chew up door frames, furniture, all kinds of things — just like a dog.”
Despite the challenges of caring for Lucy and Quincy, the Scheuerles love their birds. They have the intelligence of a 5-year-old person, Kathie Scheuerle said.
“We had a cat named Peanut, and (Quincy) knew Peanut the cat,” Kathie Scheuerle said. “He would call her, but he also knows peanut the food. He would say things like, ‘Want a peanut,’ ‘Like a peanut,’ ‘Quincy need peanut.’”
Kathie Scheuerle understands the allure of owning a colorful bird like Lucy, but she has advice for people considering a macaw as a pet.
“We tell people if they want a bird, get a cockatiel,” she said. “They’re big enough that if they want, people can play with it, but it doesn’t need this kind of care.”
Birds are not ornaments, she cautions.
“I would not recommend anyone getting one of these birds as a pet, unless you’re willing and committed to having it be a major part of your life,” Kathie Scheuerle said.
Lately, because of her hormones, Lucy as been a bit of a bad girl. Luckily, she’s able to say “sorry” when she misbehaves. And who know — if she cleans up her act, maybe the Scheuerles will take her out for ice cream.