Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reformed parrot dies at 125

If you’ve ever considered getting a parrot as a pet, think about this: Parrots are a life-long commitment, sometimes outliving their owners, and keeping a parrot is a lot of work. They are also very social, and enjoy interacting with people. The combination can make for a long and interesting life.

Case in point: Polly, the resident parrot of the Caribou Hotel in Carcross, Yukon Territory, Canada. The Associated Press ran a story about the famous bird, who died at the estimated age of 125 in November of 1972. His age was estimated because no one alive at the time had been around when Polly was born; it was said he was already “a bit grey around the beak” during the Gold Rush of 1898.

Originally owned by a barber from Vancouver, according to one story, Polly came with his owner to the Yukon during the gold rush years. He was next under the care of Captain James Alexander, who ran the Engineer Mine on the shore of Tagish Lake in British Columbia, in the early 1900s. But in 1918, the bird was orphaned when Alexander and his wife died in the shipwreck of the Princess Sophia while navigating the Lynn Canal. Polly was taken in at the Caribou Hotel and quickly became its most distinctive resident.

Polly was unfortunately influenced by the wrong crowd at his new home. He had a reputation for being the hardest-drinking, most profusely profane parrot north of the 60th parallel, though hotel owner Dorothy Hopcott said he always knew when to just glide off his perch and pass out in the bottom of his cage. More than 60 years of hanging around with bar patrons left him with other bad habits, including biting and spitting. And he never developed a taste for crackers, his favorite response to the question being “Go to Hell.”

Later in life, Hopcott said Polly chucked the bottle for religion, guided by a hotel patron who taught him several verses of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” His bluer streaks of profanity ceased and he also stopped singing salty sea chanties. He snubbed the adults who reminded him of his past but loved to talk to children, usually in an incomprehensible, but apparently well-mannered, mumbo jumbo.

Polly was buried on the outskirts of the Pioneer Carcross Cemetery, complete with bronze grave marker, and a wake held in the Caribou was attended by people from across the Yukon Territory. The hotel’s owners received condolences (and offers of replacement parrots) from around the world.

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