As soon as I enter the Wallingford home of Bevin Kelley (aka world-class electronic musician Blevin Blectum), her white male cockatoo, Kiki, emits a horrific squawk. It sounds like Steven Tyler's voice in Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle," but deeper and more abrasive. By contrast, Kelley's other bird, a female white-crowned parrot with green feathers, also named Kiki, quietly listens to us chatter about birds from beneath the dining room table.
Both birds are adorable in their own ways, but I warily eye Kiki White as he perches on Kelley's arm during our interview. He's prone to nipping humans when excited, or when he hears noises from outside, or when someone makes a sudden move. In this agitated state, his crest rises. It's beautiful, but Kelley warns that there's serious strength in his beak, so approach with caution.
"I like being around nonhuman intelligence," Kelley says. "I need a break from humans. I was surprised that birds could be cuddly and responsive. But they're not domesticated, so they're a little crazed and we don't totally get each other. It is like living with some perpetually 4-year-old dinosaurs, which I kind of like."
Kelley had a talkative parakeet as a child, but she didn't take ownership of the two Kikis until she was 30, after working at the Medical Center for Birds in the Bay Area. Kiki White had eaten about 30 zipper teeth off a child's hoodie, resulting in lead and zinc poisoning. Kelley had to give him calcium injections and tube-feed him Metamucil. "He made a brilliant recovery after being at death's door," she recalls.
After that, Kelley took him home, and he's been with her for the last 15 years. His life expectancy is 80. Kiki Green—who's been with Kelley for 17 years—is expected to live to 30 or 40. Both avians are happier in Wallingford than they were in Kelley's previous Capitol Hill apartment, as they can make more noise and fly more freely.
Blessedly, the two Kikis mostly coexist peacefully and even roost together sometimes. "They're different species, but they're friendly," Kelley says. "Green's a very good flier, so she can fly away from him if he starts getting crazy. They don't fight each other."
White's been talking for a few minutes in a language that I can't decipher, and he sounds oddly contentious. What exactly does he have to complain about? Doesn't he realize how great he has it?
"He likes talking to people," Kelley explains. She notes that he'll bark at dogs, an art he mastered after living with a Chihuahua for a while.
There are some downsides to having birds in the house. For one, they'll eat and shred your furniture, books, and records if you're not vigilant. For two, they'll poop wherever they please. Thankfully, their waste isn't too olfactorily offensive. (I'll take Kelley's word for it.) "They're chaotic agents of entropy," Kelley says, laughing. "You can sort of contain it or work with it. Working against it doesn't turn out so well."
The Kikis like electronic music—especially their owner's. White likes rhythmic music and will "bounce and shuffle his feet," while Green has been known to produce "some nice vocal and gurgly sounds" to tracks she likes. White doesn't sing well, but he's improved after tutelage from Kelley. "I've heard other birds of his species sing kind of well, but his singing is hilarious. I have some friends who've sampled them more than I have. Kiki in six channels is kind of fearsome."