When Ziggy Should Have Zagged

Pets can bring joy into almost any household. As dog owners know, you’ll rarely find a companion as faithful or full of joy as a puppy. Cats are affectionate when they’re not disinterested, and are pretty easy to care for, relatively speaking. Turtles — okay, maybe they don’t bring joy, but they’re cool. And an aquarium full of fish is like a living, moving work of art.

Unfortunately for a British man named Chris Taylor, he didn’t get a pet dog or cat, or even a turtle or some fish. He got a bird. An African grey parrot, specifically. Named Ziggy.

Taylor acquired Ziggy in 1998, when the bird was just a young chick and Chris was 22 years old. Named after Ziggy David Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust, the parrot made for a nice companion — while it couldn’t fetch or roll over or carry on a conversation, it could repeat words and phrases, erasing the quiet loneliness common for those who otherwise live alone. As African grey parrots can live to be 60 years old, Ziggy and Chris could have been friends forever. But then, in 2005, the Ziggy/Taylor household expanded a bit. Chris’s girlfriend, Suzy Collins, moved in.

It didn’t last. A few months into their cohabitation, Suzy moved out. — and Ziggy was the cause. Suzy didn’t particularly like Ziggy; as she complained to the Guardian, Chris “spent more time talking to it than he did to me.” But she was willing to tolerate the bird and her boyfriend’s bond with his pet. Ziggy, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have an issue with Suzy. If anything, Ziggy quickly became fond of Suzy, if imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery. Ziggy — perhaps unfortunately, in retrospect — began to mimic Suzy’s speech. As CNN reported, whenever Suzy’s phone would ring, Ziggy would chime in with two words: “Hiya, Gary!”

As Chris’s name was not Gary, this was cause for concern. But love makes us stupid and Chris was no exception. At first, he didn’t see any need to raise the obvious “whose Gary?” question with Suzy, and their relationship carried on. But Ziggy wasn’t done. As the Guardian reported in the above-linked story, “Chris’s suspicions deepened after Ziggy started to make long kissing noises whenever he heard the name Gary on television or the radio.”  And yet, Chris didn’t do much, if anything, to figure out what was causing this not-so-mysterious behavior. His love for Suzy was clouding his judgment.

That ended before 2005 did. As the New York Times recounted, while Chris and Suzy “snuggled together on the sofa” on the day before Christmas, Chris finally heard Suzy’s voice say those three little words: “I love you.” Unfortunately for the couple, that voice wasn’t coming from Suzy’s mouth — it was coming from Ziggy’s. And to make matters irreconcilably worse, the full sentence uttered by the bird was “I love you, Gary.” Suzy broke down, admitted that she’d been having an affair for the last four months, and the couple broke up. She moved out shortly thereafter.

To add insult to injury, Chris’s relationship with Suzy wasn’t his only one to collapse as a result of her infidelity. Ziggy, being a bird, didn’t realize that Suzy and Gary were no longer in the picture, nor that repeatedly making reference to either would cause Chris pain. Per CNN, Chris told the British press that, even after the breakup, “the bird continued to call out Gary’s name and refused to stop squawking the phrases in his ex-girlfriend’s voice.” This was too much for Chris to bear, and he ended up finding a new home for Ziggy. Hopefully, he found a nice new home, ideally with someone named Gary.

Bonus fact: While parrots may be good pets (or spies), they’re probably not good mascots. In 2009, a fan took a parrot to a football game — and got thrown out. Or, more accurately, the parrot got thrown out. As UPI reported, “Gary Bailey, a referee in the game between Hatfield Town and Hertford Heath in Hertfordshire County, said the parrot began creating confusion on and off the playing field by mimicking the referee’s whistle about 10 minutes into the game’s second half.” The confusion became so great that Bailey ejected the parrot from the grounds, much to the chagrin of its owner — but to laughter and applause from the others gathered. 

From the Archives: Companion Companion: The place where you can’t have a guinea pig for a pet. But you can have two.