Big Bird

Palaeontologists have discovered the fossilised remains of a giant parrot, which they have named Heracles inexpectatus, preserved in layers of sand and grey-blue clay in New Zealand. It would have weighed about fifteen pounds and stood roughly three feet tall. “That’s tall enough to be able to pick the belly button lint out of your belly button,” says Michael Archer, a palaeontologist at the University of South Wales who is part of the team, in a report by National Geographic.

So thanks to them and of course to Michael Palin, John Cleese and Graham Chapman ….


“I wish to register a complaint.”

The owner of Pete’s Pets looked up from his newspaper. Behind him canaries chirped, parakeets prattled, budgies burbled. Before him stood a customer carrying a large cardboard box. The box had gashes all over it, was bucking and buckling, and from inside came the sound of muttered, incessant swearing.

“Caught a leprechaun, have you?” asked Pete.

“Never mind that, my lad,” snapped the customer. “I wish to complain about the parrot what I purchased not half-an-hour ago from this very boutique.”

“It’s not dead, is it?” asked Pete, suddenly worried.

“Of course it’s not dead,” said the customer, nodding at the convulsing box. “Why would you think that?”

Pete shook his head, as if trying to clear some far-away memory. “I’ve no idea,” he said. “Anyway, what’s wrong with it?”

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it,” said the customer. “Better still, I’ll show you.”

He put the box on the floor. A sharp point burst through the side of it and dragged down to the bottom, as if someone inside was using a box-cutter. The box fell apart.

All of the pets fell silent.

“That’s what’s wrong with it,” said the customer.

Standing in the box wreckage was a huge parrot. It was three feet tall and weighed about fifteen pounds. Its beak was the size of a horse’s hoof, and so sharp that it glinted. Its eyes were the size of fried eggs, and turned balefully toward Pete.

“Oo’s a pretty boy, then?” it growled. It didn’t have the scratchy squawk of a normal parrot, it had the low menacing tone usually associated with the phrase “what are you lookin’ at?” in a dark laneway just after closing time. Pete stared at it in astonishment.

“What are you lookin’ at?” said the parrot. Pete hurriedly looked away, and turned to the customer.

“What on earth have you been feeding him?” he asked.

I haven’t been feeding him anything,” said the customer. “He has been helping himself – so far to seventeen potatoes, three heads of lettuce,  two pavlova bases, six rice cakes, a potted cactus and an economy-sized tub of crunchy peanut butter.”

The parrot let rip a gigantic fart.

“Oh, and a tin of baked beans,” said the customer.

“I don’t understand,” said Pete. “We don’t sell anything like that. Let me check my records. What did you think you were buying?”

“The Norwegian Blue,” said the customer.

“Excellent choice,” said Pete,tapping at his computer. “Beautiful plumage.” He stared at his screen, scrolling as he did so. “Ah-ha,” he said. ” I see the problem – the wholesalers sent the wrong bird in the wrong box.”

“So what do I have?” asked the customer.

“Something called Heracles inexpectatus,” said Pete. “It’s from New Zealand, and they call it ‘squawkzilla’.”

“Well, I don’t want it,” said the customer. “I want to return it.”

The pets grew even more silent, though Pete would not have thought that possible, as each one held its breath. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tortoise retreat into its shell at a speed at which no tortoise had ever moved before.

“I can’t take it back,” said Pete. “We don’t do refunds.”

All of the pets let out their breath again. The effect was rather like being inside a gently slumbering harmonica.

“But what will I do with it?” said the customer. “How will I control it? What will I feed it?”

“You could get a cat,” said Pete.

“I could,” said the customer, “but that doesn’t answer how I’ll control it.”

“You could try making use of it,”  said Pete. “It could open tins for you.”

“I have a tin-opener.”

“It could scare away burglars.”

“I have a burglar alarm.”

“It could pick the belly button lint out of your belly button.”

“Are you mental?” said the customer. “Would you let something with a beak like that anywhere near the lower half of your body?”

“I see your point,” said Pete. “Well, you could drive it out to the woods and leave it there.”

“Good, idea,” said the customer thoughtfully. “It would become the stuff of legend. People would claim to have seen it, and no-one would believe them.”

“They’d produce photos, and people would say they were fakes.”

“They’d find footprints, and people would say they were made by the devil.”

“It’d become known as the abominable parrot.”

The parrot reared itself to its full height. “Polly wants a cracker,” it announced.

“It’s hungry again,” said the customer. There was a scurrying from behind Pete as the pets all tried to make themselves invisible.

“I’ll be back,” growled the parrot. It muscled up to the front door, head-butted it open, then voom.

The two men rushed out the door after it. The parrot marched purposefully out in to the street, just as an open-backed lorry coming from the local quarry was approaching.

The truck-driver blared his horn. The parrot turned slowly to face him, then raised both wings, lifted one leg, then the other.

“What the-” said the customer.

“It’s doing the haka,” said Pete in awe.

The truck-driver slammed on his brakes. The truck screeched to a halt just a yard in front of the parrot.

It’s load, however, did not. It vomited itself over the cab of the truck, and Heracles inexpectatus was buried under two tons of sand and grey-blue clay.

“Now that’s what I call a dead parrot,” said the customer.




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