Parrots make Jerry’s a feathery island destination
When visitors or residents of Sanibel are strolling through Jerry’s Supermarket and shops, some fun conversations can be had with the residents of the garden area in the plaza.
Those conversations maybe just a one-worded affair or come in the form of a whistled theme of “The Andy Griffith Show”, but for the last 31 years, it’s been an attraction for guests and residents alike.
The six oversized cages scattered around the garden plaza at Jerry’s, located at 1700 Periwinkle Way, are the homes to a variety of exotic birds, who interact with visitors through “Hello’s”, whistles or stoic stare downs.
But no matter what interaction is had with the birds, people are always leaving the plaza with smiles on their faces.
“People love birds and they come here to get their bird fix,” said owner of Sanybel’s Finest Jack Elias, which is located in Jerry’s plaza. “They come here for hours talking with the birds.”
Each bird has its own personality and look.
There’s GW, the Blue and Gold Macaw, who has the first cage people meet. Jerry Jr., a Yellow Nape parrot, captures peoples’ eyes with its beautiful green coat, but he also has an inquisitive nature.
Caesar is the beautiful Sulfer Crested Umbrella Cockatoo, who is probably the loudest with his squawking, but his exquisite white coat is an attraction for guests.
The most popular bird among them all is Babe, the African Grey, who has been known to cat-call whistle to bypassing women, with the unfortunate innocent fella walking nearby getting the stink eye from the intended target.
Mia, the Military Macaw, is the grandest of the birds, with her stature dictating confidence. BeBe is the Double Yellow-Green parrot, and seems to be the shyest of them all.
“Every one of them does something different and they all have their own personalities,” said the birds’ caretaker Dick Muench, who raised exotic birds and owns Periwinkle Place on Sanibel. “Like (GW), the big blue one at the entrance. He will let people around him get all comfortable, then give out a big squawk to give them a scare.
“It gets all the people laughing and him laughing, as well.”
The parrots were added to the garden area when Jerry’s opened Oct. 15, 1983. In fact, they were living on the premises a week before Jerry’s Supermarket opened.
The cages they call home were constructed in 1983 and the same ones still stand today. Although none of the current parrots in the plaza are the originals, they usually do have a long tenure at Jerry’s.
“Over the years, one might be a biter or we may lose one or one just couldn’t adapt to the area,” Muench said. “We then either take them back home with use or give them to a (bird sanctuary).”
The birds are full-time residents of Jerry’s and stay in their cages overnight. Although Muench is the birds’ official caretaker and has been so for 31 years, they have a host of caretakers in all the employees and shop owners which are in Jerry’s plaza.
“The shopkeepers and the employees are very, very protective of these birds,” Muench said. “If anybody does anything wrong, they are watching them. These birds are the shopkeepers and employees’ babies.”
There is a watchful eye over the birds 24 hours a day, with Jerry’s open all day and night with an employee always on the premises.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been attempts by people to steal the birds. Twice in 31 years, the thieves got away with birds, which command a big price tag if sold.
But one would-be thief found out it’s not as easy to steal a very upset bird, who doesn’t want to be taken.
“Quite awhile back, a guy cut the bars of a cage and took the bird,” Muench said. “But before he could even get out of the parking lot, the bird ate the inside of his car. He ended up throwing the bird out the window, but was caught by police in the parking lot and was eventually prosecuted.”
The birds live in the lap of luxury and they do not like being taken out of their cages, as Muench finds out every time he has the task of doing so.
“Would you want to lose your room service everyday?” Muench laughed. “When I come around with a net, they know and they don’t like it. Once you open that cage door, they are an entirely different bird, they become quite offensive right away. One time, (Caesar) was able to grab the key from one of the workers, re-lock the door and throw the key on the ground.
“They are super, super intelligent.”
With those smarts, the birds interact with visitors well. They can talk and several of them say “Hello!” to bypassers.
Babe has his cat-call whistle down, as well, as Elias found out one day.
“Some time ago, a lady was in the shop with her husband and after buying something, they headed down the boardwalk towards Jerry’s,” Elias said. “I was following about 20 feet behind and (Babe) gives this whistle out after they passed him. She turned her head and I quickly pointed to the bird saying, ‘He did it!’
“Her husband was just shaking his head.”
Babe also has a welcoming tune for Linda Chisholm, who has worked at H2O Outfitters for the last 12 years, with the store located just across from his cage.
“When I come walking up in the morning, I can hear Babe whistling the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show,” Chisholm said. “Babe is just very sweet.
“We’d be lost without the birds, it would just be too quiet then.”
Muench feeds the birds a parrot seed mix, along with a healthy dose of veggies and fruits. The signs on the cages signifying “Don’t feed the birds” are there for a reason, he said, and that’s to keep them healthy.
“They will eat anything and we don’t want them eating junk food all day,” Muench said. “They are just like us, if we eat too much junk food, we get fat and unhealthy. We want to keep them healthy, so we ask people don’t feed them.”
The parrots do get moved out of their cages in some circumstances, such as if there was a hurricane burrowing down on Sanibel, or if it gets too cold. But that is just to placate the guests who complain to shopkeepers when it does get a little chilly out.
“We’ll take them to a specially built room back at the trailer park (Periwinkle Place), but really, the cold doesn’t affect them,” Muench said.
The care the birds receive is second to none, with Muench being the best caretaker a bird could have.
“Dick does the best job and nobody loves these birds more than he does,” Elias said.
It’s a perfect spot for these sociable and intelligent birds, as they are waited on beak and claw, while being entertained by their human friends at all hours of the day.