It’s a whole new parrot-digm in pet ownership.
When heading off to work in the morning, you’ll spot plenty of people taking their dog for a morning stroll.
But how about a man out walking with an exotically-coloured macaw on an avian harness?
That’s the wild, winged sight that regularly greets locals in Londonderry, where Gerry McKeever and his pet parrot Rio take their daily walks.
The pair are often spotted dandering along the Northland Road, near the Clarendon Street area, with Gerry leading Rio – and they’re always happy to stop for a chat.
The sight of one man and his parrot has been turning heads for months – when a video of Gerry and Rio was posted on the Mark Patterson Show Facebook page last year, most of the comments were along the lines of: “Look, that’s the parrot we saw the other day!”
But, while it may be an odd sight to see a man walking a blue-and-gold macaw, Gerry is simply making sure his feathered friend is getting the stimulation she needs.
“Macaws usually come in pairs because they’re such sociable animals,” he said.
“But, we didn’t have room for two and we don’t have a large aviary or outdoor area or anything like that, so we have to get her out of the house and take her for walks.
“Rio just loves it so we take her out two or three times a day.”
He added: “She’s actually like a dog, she gets excited when she sees the harness.
“She now has her favourite sitting spots. She’ll sit there and say hello to people, watch the world go by. They’re creatures of habit too and she loves to talk – she says hello, tata, what’s the craic.”
‘She’s my sweetheart’
While Rio likes a natter, she’s not quite as talkative as the other parrot owned by Gerry and his wife Mandy – Charlie, an 11-year-old African Grey.
According to Mandy, her and Gerry have always loved birds.
“I’ve always had birds since I was a child,” she said. “We’ve had cockatoos, budgies but then we got Charlie and she’s fantastic.
“She stays in the house though, you couldn’t put a harness on her now as you have to start them off when they’re young.”
Gerry credits Mandy as the one who takes care of Rio and Charlie when he’s at work, and is also responsible for doing a lot of the research needed to keep the pair of them well-informed on parrot welfare.
“She’s my sweetheart,” says Mandy. “I do the feeding, the cleaning out. I just love them.”
And the people of Derry have been taking Rio to their hearts too.
‘Brightens up people’s day’
Martina Donaghy tweeted the BBC on Tuesday morning with a picture of Gerry and Rio with the hashtags #brightenmymornings #thkUMr.
“I see this man walking his parrot each morning & want to tell him thanks!”
Gerry admits himself that he’s now become “the man with the parrot”.
“Even when Rio’s not with me, people would say that’s who I am,” he laughs.
He adds: “I got stopped a lot but people are more used to me now. Children still love to stop and say hello.
“I’ve taken her up to the Model School (primary school) a couple of times, although I still don’t let people get too close .They can stroke her tail, but she’s still just a baby and can give a nasty bite.
“She has to get used to people first so you still have to be careful.
“But if she brightens people’s day when they see her, that’s great.”