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Much ado about cockatoodle-do

Fletcher the cockatoo has a 4,000-word vocabulary.

He likes to whistle as he walks behind owner Katie Morris. He watches as she tends to household chores at their serene Weeki Wachee home on W. Richard Drive.

"I love you," he often reminds her in his soft, bird voice, waddling across the linoleum floor in the kitchen.

But if 49-year-old Morris disappears around a corner, or if the 4-year-old bird gets excited enough to reveal his salmon colored crest of feathers, the loving whisper turns into a squawking scream. A very loud, high-pitched, head-rattling scream.

It's so loud that some neighbors have decided they can't stand it anymore. Since Fletcher has been allowed outside for the past year, they've been trying to figure out how to make their neighborhood quiet again.

Following the lead of Kay Voegelin, who lives four doors down from Morris, about 20 of them have signed a petition asking Hernando County code enforcers to keep the peace.

Voegelin, who has already contacted the county, doesn't buy that there is nothing the agency can do about Fletcher's shrill sound. Aside from barking dogs, animal noises are exempt from county code, which states that such sounds are regulated by the state.

But there appear to be no state statutes - the legislature leaves that discretion up to counties - governing animal noises.

"This squawking runs up and down your spine," Voegelin said. "We can't be outside while the bird is out, and we moved here for the peace and quiet. What are we supposed to do?"

Sometimes it starts at 10 a.m., just as Voegelin, 68, has stepped onto the lanai for coffee or begun to paint the animal-themed furniture she creates in her garage. She and her husband, Al, 75, say they have heard Fletcher as late as 11 p.m.

Once the squawking starts, it usually goes on for long periods of time, some say. Sometimes the Morris' dog, Freedom, joins in and howls. It goes on for so long that the Voegelins and other neighbors go inside and shut their doors and windows.

"I live at least a block away, and I can hear that bird from my house," said 69-year-old Joyce Moody. "I am an animal lover, but I don't love that bird. It's noise pollution."

According to Morris and her husband, 64-year-old Nelson, Fletcher never squawks more than several minutes at a time. They know he's loud, and make sure to keep a check on the noise. But she adds that her pets, including three other birds, deserve fresh air and sunlight like any other living being.

Aside from being loud, Moluccan cockatoos are known for needing lots of attention and constant mental stimulation. Morris said that Fletcher, an abused bird the couple bought from its previous owner, has made a huge turnaround in the last year, which is why he has been allowed to go outside.

"If I didn't let them out, then animal control would probably be here saying that I was cruel to them and take them away," Morris said.

Besides, she said that none of her neighbors have ever come to talk rationally about the situation. All scenarios include Fletcher getting the boot.

For Morris, that isn't an option. Especially when she believes she's doing nothing wrong.

"It is my right to have this bird," she said, as Fletcher rested on her forearm. He tilted his feathered head and rested it on her shoulder, his version of a hug.

A few moments later, as he watched Freedom chase a ball, Fletcher let out a loud, screeching squawk.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

FAST FACTS

Moluccan cockatoo

Moluccan cockatoos are one of the most affectionate of all parrots. They have light peach bodies and bright salmon pink crests.

Average size: 18 to 22 inches long

Life span: 40-plus years with proper care

Behavior and care:

-Highly intelligent and inquisitive. Require a lot of attention; may vocalize loudly in the morning or evening, which is normal and should not be overly discouraged.

-Often show their mood with their crest: standing straight up, moving up and down slowly, or sliding back, depending on how they are feeling emotionally.

-Owner must provide ample mental stimulation, lots of toys for playing, chewing and shredding and keep cages well-secured.

Source: www.petco.com

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