For Nigel the parrot, a new accent on his squawking points

Nigel the African gray parrot
Nigel, an African gray parrot with a distinct British accent, has been reunited with his owner after a four-year absence -- along with a vastly expanded vocabulary. Nigel now speaks Spanish and keeps talking about Panama and a man named “Larry.”
(Sperling family)

When last seen four years ago, Nigel had a distinctively crisp British accent.

But when Nigel returned home this month, the African gray parrot was bilingual, with a slight Panamanian accent and the ability to ask “¡Qué pasó?

As perplexing, the parrot mysteriously talked about someone named “Larry.”

The bird and his British accent disappeared from Torrance about four years ago. And then, just as suddenly, Nigel recently reappeared out of nowhere.



Missing parrot: In the Oct. 14 LATExtra section, an article about the return of a gray parrot named Nigel said that a Torrance resident had first spotted the bird in her bugambilia. That is the Mexican name for bougainvillea. —
Julissa Sperling, 46, said she first spotted the parrot hanging out in her bugambilia. “Very smart bird,” she said.

She said her husband lured Nigel out of the bush with a carrot, and within an hour the bird was inside sitting on their coffee table, politely refusing a meal of lettuce.

Not knowing who his owner might be or that his name was Nigel, the family instead called the bird Sylvester and gave him proper lodging in an old birdcage.


Like that, Nigel became Sylvester and made himself at home in a house already filled with four dogs, a cat, fish in a pond and two parakeets.

In an elegant accent, he’d say “Hello!” when the phone rang and imitated the dogs when they barked. At other times, he’d say “no problema” and bob his head and dance when he saw salsa on TV.

“We think someone had this bird between the first owner and now — during the time he disappeared,” Sperling said.

Though Sperling considered keeping Sylvester, the family eventually decided to search for Nigel’s owner. After poring through online ads for missing African gray parrots, they got in touch with Teresa Micco, a Redondo Beach resident whose own bird went missing in February.

For years Micco had worked for a veterinarian technician, installing microchips in birds and other animals, and she still had a scanner. Micco inspected the device — hoping desperately it might be her missing parrot — only to later call the chip company and discover that she had microchipped this bird herself in 2006.

Micco still had the paperwork listing the bird’s leg-band number and the name of the pet shop that had sold him at the time. When she called Animal Lovers Pet Shop, the owner dug through handwritten files to find a match.

Indeed, the months-old parrot had been sold to a man named Darren for $1,200. They calculated that Nigel was now about 8, still youthful for a bird who could live decades.

Soon, Micco said she was at the owner’s door, handing Nigel over to his rightful caretaker.


Unlike Nigel, who has an expansive vocabulary and the gift of gab, the bird’s owner chose not to speak.

But Micco said that when she checked back several days after the parrot was returned, the owner told her that Nigel appeared to have dropped his interest in Spanish. And still no word on who “Larry” might be.

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

Get our Essential California newsletter