The Park District of Oak Park has lost one of its most beloved — and colorful — residents. George, the double yellow-headed Amazon parrot, died on Aug. 26.
The golden boy of the Oak Park Conservatory spent much of his very long life chatting and showboating for visitors and staff. And his presence is already missed.
“It’s definitely more quiet,” said Patti Staley, the conservatory’s director of horticulture and operations.
He was a geriatric parrot when he died, but his exact age is unknown. George was donated as an adult bird to the conservatory sometime in the early ’90s, before Staley worked there. Double yellow-headed amazon parrots live quite a long time, with a life span of up to 70 years.
George may have been closer to 80 years old at the time of his death. He was considered one of, if not the, oldest of his species living in the Chicago area by his avian veterinarian Dr. Scott McDonald, who cared for the bird over many years.
With his beautiful green and yellow plumage, touched with scarlet at his shoulders and blue at the tip of his wings, George was an eager conversationalist. He said “hello” to conservatory staff members individually each morning, customizing the tone of his greeting for each individual.
Now endangered in the wild, yellow-headed Amazon parrots are native to Mexico, Central and South America. George spent his years at the conservatory in the tropical room, shared by the other two, much younger, resident parrots, Skipper and Sarah, another yellow-headed Amazon and an African grey.
Parrots are known to grieve the loss of a companion, but Skipper and Sarah have yet to show any signs of stress. Staley noted the two birds have been a bit quieter, even though Sarah is still “showboating” for guests. Staley’s not sure if they’ve quite grasped that George won’t be coming back.
Conservatory visitors are certainly noticing. During a visit last Wednesday, one woman asked where George was but was overcome with emotion by the answer.
“She was in tears and upset,” Staley recalled.
The woman wasn’t one of the conservatory’s regular patrons. She’d only started visiting the conservatory during the past year, but Staley learned the woman had started walking there every day to see the birds.
“We like to think that people come here to see the plants and the flowers, but it’s really the birds that are the stars of the show,” Staley said.
Especially George. Birds of his species are as much known for their love of the spotlight as they are for their chattiness. The birds possess a high level of intelligence, making them capable of cultivating large vocabularies, and are prone to bursting out into song.
George fit that bill. Gregarious and gorgeous, he loved attention and when he felt he wasn’t getting enough, he made it known. A true entertainer, he required visitors of the tropical room to visit him upon entering. If they didn’t, they were sure to get an earful.
“He’d call out, ‘Ello!’” Staley said. “Then he’d get louder and just elaborate it to bring you to him because he wanted to have a conversation with you.”
George especially loved having children visit, but he maintained cordial connections with his conservatory colleagues. Like Skipper and Sarah, George would hang out with volunteers and employees before opening, which Staley said is one of the special things about working in the conservatory.
“Oftentimes I’ll walk into my office and there’ll be a bird sitting there on the back of the chair,” she said. “Or they’ll be flying around the lobby.”
George lives on in the mural on South Boulevard near Oak Park Avenue, where he’s featured alongside his former conservatory neighbors, Skipper and Sarah. The mural was painted by former park district employee and Oak Park resident Alonna Dray through the Oak Park Area Arts Council.
Throughout his time in Oak Park, George served as the muse of many artists and photographers, professionals and hobbyists alike, according to Staley, and the team at the conservatory would love to see the results.
The conservatory is inviting everyone to share their pictures, memories and drawings of George. Visitors can place the mementos inside George’s home at the conservatory or email them to email@example.com. In honor of George, the conservatory plans to share pictures, cards and memories of the beloved parrot on the conservatory’s Instagram account, @OakParkConservatory.
George was cremated upon his death and will be laid to rest in a private ceremony. Staley is currently working out the details with George’s longtime caretaker, Chris Denne, to decide the best spot for George’s remains. Denne, who spends six days a week attending to the conservatory’s birds, was unavailable to be interviewed, but he passed on a message through Staley.
“Chris said, ‘Just make sure people know George was the star of the show and he never let the kids down.’”