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Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

A friend on his shoulder

Area man shares his life with grand bird

By Shelley Grieshop

Keith Patton shows off his green-winged macaw to the Angstmann family of Minster. . .

ST. MARYS - Scooter perches gracefully on her owner's shoulder as a slight wind from Grand Lake ruffles her rainbow-colored feathers.
The green-winged macaw basks in the sun after a dip in a water fountain along East Bank State Park.
"Scooter goes just about everywhere I go," says former St. Marys resident Keith Patton, who raised the 15-year-old bird from an egg.
The bird's long claws nearly pull the parrot-print shirt off Patton's shoulder before the 56-year-old slides it back in place. People walking and driving by this sunny afternoon slow their pace and smile at the sight. A woman in a pickup truck snaps a photo before driving away.
The magnificent animal - known as a gentle giant - is a member of the parrot family and is native to Central and South America. To Patton, Scooter is much more than a pet. He is a friend that earns and deserves respect, he explains.
"A lot of people don't realize these birds are quite social. They don't belong in a cage," says Patton, who has raised numerous bird species and found homes for lost and/or abandoned ones. "It's all about how you treat them. Treat them well and they'll treat you well in return."
Green-winged macaws are known for their brilliant plumage, easy-going nature, show-stopping personality and ability to repeat words. Traveling down the highway one day, Patton soon found himself uncomfortably face to face with his feathered friend. "What?" Scooter quipped in the tone of a feisty teenager.
"I looked back at her and said 'I didn't say anything!' " Patton explains, hardly able to keep a straight face as he recalls the moment.
Scooter also says "hi," "hello," "pretty" and "cracker" and can squawk out "bathroom" when it's time to find a sheet or two of paper to get the job done.
When mealtime rolls around at Patton's home in Kossuth, Scooter gets her own plate. But it must have the same food on it that Patton prepares for himself.
"If she sees I've got something that she doesn't, she takes it off my plate and puts it on hers," he says with a laugh.
The strapping bird, which measured only about an inch or two at birth, now spans about 3 feet from head to tail. She has a keen sense of smell and won't eat foods that have spoiled. Patton finds that talent quite helpful when rooting through the refrigerator.
Scooter regularly eats people food. Her favorite snack is popcorn, which often accompanies her favorite movie, Disney's "102 Dalmatians."
Her beverage of choice is a bit unusual, too.
"She loves beer," Patton says with a grin.
Patton was talking to a friend at the Holy Rosary Festival in St. Marys recently when he noticed Scooter leaning away from him, dipping her large, curved beak into a nearby cup of beer.
Her passion for suds has led her to another talent: she opens beer cans.
"I've had people buy me beer after beer at picnics just so they can see her open the cans," Patton says as Scooter affectionately bobs her head up and down.
Despite being invited guests at numerous functions including the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., Scooter isn't comfortable being touched by strangers. And not everyone is comfortable with her. Scooter and Patton have been shunned by people who aren't happy about their presence in stores and restaurants, even though business owners often find them a welcome attraction.
"My biggest fear is someone will try to hurt her," Patton says.
He looks forward to spending many more years with Scooter and his expectations aren't without merit: the bird's own parents are still flappin' in their 70s.
"Right now I feel like I can't live without him," Patton says. "We're a team."
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