A cockatoo travelling with a flock of crows in Carlsbad, northern San Diego County, California, seems happy living on the run, two of its former owners said this week. The sulphur-crested bird, whose name is Fred, was a family pet for more than 36 years, according to Dee Mustoe. She said she and her husband kept Fred in a backyard aviary at their house until three years ago when they moved to a mobile-home park in Oceanside. “We couldn’t take the bird,” said Mustoe. “He does squawk, especially when there are neighbours around, so we couldn’t bring him here.” The Mustoes gave Fred to the family who bought their house and, when that family moved, the bird was again left to new homeowners, Joe and Maggie Morrison.
Fred seemed to have a tough time with the transition, Joe Morrison said. He grew more aggressive, and one day last summer he broke free.
Morrison and Mustoe both said they believe Fred prefers his freedom, though he returns home frequently to visit.
The bird has made something of a splash in Carlsbad, where one resident spotted a cockatoo perched with a flock of jet-black crows on a rooftop near his house. He wondered if the exotic bird had a home. Someone else filmed a video of the cockatoo with some crows pecking at food on a sidewalk.
A bird expert at the San Diego Natural History Museum said a cockatoo, which is a native of Australia, could easily survive on its own in Southern California and may naturally seek the company of crows, another highly social breed.
Cockatoos commonly live 40 years in the wild, and there are reports of a few living 70 years or longer in captivity.
At the house, Fred lived in the aviary with two other birds, a small dove and a large blue-fronted Amazon parrot named Trevor that the Mustoes had owned almost as long as Fred.
The Morrisons, a retired couple from rural New Mexico, took on all three birds when they bought the house a year ago. But Fred proved difficult to handle. He seemed to grow more aggressive inside his cage. Joe Morrison said he began wearing a motorcycle helmet and gloves to go into the aviary, after Fred tried to bite him.
“The cockatoo, he was never friendly,” said Morrison. The more dominant of the two large birds, Fred had also begun to bully his old friend Trevor.
“He was always the boss, and sometimes he picked on Trevor,” Morrison said.
“He would sit out in the cage, and if you didn’t pay attention to him, he would screech, screech and screech.”
One day last summer, when Morrison opened the door to enter the cage, Fred flew the coop. At first he was gone “for two solid months,” Morrison said. Then one day he came back. The Morrisons began feeding him again, and Fred became a regular backyard visitor.
“He will come in at 10:30 in the morning, eat something and fly out,” he said. The bird returns almost every day with a flock of crows, though he won’t come down to the back yard if there are strangers around.
Some days, as if he’s exhausted from flying with the crows, Fred will take a nap in the backyard.
Morrison said he could probably capture the bird again if he tried, but that doesn’t seem like a good idea. Fred clearly enjoys his freedom, and he’s more friendly now that he’s outside the cage. Sometimes he’ll sit on Morrison’s shoulder.
“He loves his friends,” Morrison said. “He’s doing real good with the crows.”