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World's oldest cockatiel lives in St. Pete Beach

	Sammy, a soon-to-be 31-year-old cockatiel from St. Pete Beach who was named the “Oldest Cockatiel” by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Sammy, a soon-to-be 31-year-old cockatiel from St. Pete Beach who was named the “Oldest Cockatiel” by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Published Aug. 1, 2015

ST. PETE BEACH— Sammy the cockatiel will turn 31 today.

He won't blow out any candles — his eyes are clouded from blindness. Objects appear to him as different shades of darkness.

He won't sing Happy Birthday with a crowd of revelers. In his old age, he has grown silent.

He won't flap excitedly from room to room. Arthritis stops him from flying.

But Sammy has won a small victory — a title from the Guinness World Records. He is the world's oldest cockatiel.

Diane Miksch, Sammy's 53-year-old owner, seemed to know the bird was destined for greatness from the moment she saw him.

On her 23rd birthday, her roommate, George Cuonzo, proposed a trip to a breeder as a gift. She had owned parakeets as a child, but cockatiels were of a different feather. There, in a nest full of babies, she noticed one singing a wolf-whistle and instantly she knew.

"I was like, 'I have to have this one,'" Miksch said.

It was the start of a beautiful friendship. Where Miksch went, Sammy followed. Graduation from graduate school? Sammy was perched on her shoulder. Dinners out at restaurants? Sammy would sit on the table. Teaching a course at the University of South Florida? Students would take turns holding him during class.

Beloved by Miksch's friends, Sammy quickly learned how to perform tricks. He could walk backwards down a ladder and whistle Pop Goes the Weasel at random.

He was spoiled by the attention. So it was difficult when two new characters made their way into the equation — Sydney, Miksch's cockatoo, and Dylan, her now 13-year-old son.

The two birds have an infamous rivalry. As the larger one, Sydney has the advantage.

"I can't ever leave the room with both of them out," Miksch said.

Her son, Dylan, has his own complicated history with the bird. When he was a child, he would knock Sammy's cage over. Now they have a friendlier relationship, but old grudges die hard.

"He's still feisty with me," Dylan said.

• • •

It wasn't until February that Miksch considered submitting Sammy's information. On a lark her son decided to look up the oldest cockatiel. He and his mother were astonished at what they found.

"27 years? I said, 'Wait a second, Sammy's older than that,'" Miksch said.

Soon after, she sent in Sammy's records. For months she heard nothing. Then on July 1 she received an email from Guinness World Records deeming her application for "Oldest Cockatiel" successful.

So what's the secret to Sammy's eternal youth?

Turns out it's human food.

Miksch feeds Sammy whatever she is having for dinner that night. Pasta, peas and popcorn are some of his favorites.

Dr. Joel Murphy, the lead veterinarian at the Animal and Bird Medical Center of Palm Harbor, who treats Sammy, said cockatiels are actually supposed to eat human food and not bird seed.

According to Murphy, 99 percent of all cockatiels die from malnutrition. The normal life span is 20-30 years, but many only make it between 5 to 10 because they are eating bird seed.

He recommends formulated bird pellets that mix all the nutrients they need into one food.

Feed them correctly and treat them right, and Murphy says you can't go wrong.

"Cockatiels are the sweetest little birds," Murphy said. "When people ask me what bird to get for their family, cockatiels are really way undervalued."

Undervalued is not a word one could use to describe Sammy. But like many of us, Sammy has only gotten more crotchety in his old age.

"He's crabby as hell," Miksch said. "He's an old man."

Contact Elizabeth Djinis at edjinis@tampabay.com or (727)-893-8913. Follow @djinisinabottle.