Fountain Valley bird lover searches for lost African grey parrot with YouTube following

John Nguyen, wife Dina Vu and daughter Hailey stand by an empty aviary for their missing parrot, Smokey, in Fountain Valley.
John Nguyen, wife Dina Vu and daughter Hailey on Thursday stand by the empty aviary outside their home in Fountain Valley, once occupied by African grey parrot Smokey, who went missing Jan. 1.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

For more than a decade, Fountain Valley resident and bird lover John Nguyen has educated people on the ins and outs of caring for avian pets, posting regular videos on a YouTube channel that has garnered more than 86,500 followers.

He shares what he’s gleaned about raising, training and housing birds in videos starring Smokey, an African grey parrot he’s raised for the past 14 years and with whom he’s shared a strong bond since he bottle-fed her at 5 weeks old. Some videos have been viewed millions of times.

A beautiful grey — pigeon-sized with mottled gray feathers, ruby red tail feathers and a white fask that encircles eyes of pale yellow — Smokey’s good looks and ability to maintain tidbits of conversation, meow like a cat and utter phrases like “tickle, tickle” and “Are you a birdie?” amassed a lot of interest in the YouTube world and on social media.

Now Nguyen is hoping that interest will help him find his beloved bird, who flew out of a backyard aviary three weeks ago and hasn’t been seen since.

African grey parrot Smokey, pictured in 2017, has been missing from her Fountain Valley home since Jan. 1.
(Courtesy of John Nguyen)

The high school teacher has been pounding the pavement and searching the skies for his friend, while on walks with wife Dina Vu and 1-year-old daughter Hailey but, aside from an occasional lead that goes nowhere or, in one case, a prank call, there’s been no word of his pet.

In his most recent video, posted to the YouTube channel “wingsNpaws,” Nguyen, 35, relates the sad story, urging anyone in Orange County who may have seen his beloved parrot, or possibly taken her in, to contact him.

“Hi guys,” he says, somberly addressing the camera. “Smokey is missing.”

A flier created by Fountain Valley resident John Nguyen, who's been missing his African grey parrot Smokey since Jan. 1.
(Courtesy of John Nguyen)

He explains the last time he saw her, at around 5 p.m. on New Year’s Day, he was replacing a falling perch in her aviary when she suddenly startled, flapping and flying out of panic through an unlatched door. The parrot circled once and then gained altitude, reaching a height unfamiliar to her.

Although Nguyen searched for her in the gathering dark, calling out her name, he could not find her. He’s since posted fliers, contacted nearby veterinary offices and animal shelters and tried to spread the word on social media.

Hundreds of followers of Nguyen’s YouTube channel, and others on Instagram, have offered words of encouragement from all over the world in response to the teacher’s last video post. Some share tales of their own missing birds or an occasional reunion. Still, despite more than 5,700 views, Smokey’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Unlike missing cats or dogs, who may be able to subsist outdoors on scraps and their own hunting instinct, domesticated birds may have a harder time locating food in the wild. Nguyen says his only hope is that Smokey, perhaps exhausted from flying, may have flown to a stranger who could be keeping her safe.

Fountain Valley's John Nguyen with wife Dina Vu and daughter Hailey have been looking for their African grey parrot, Smokey.
Fountain Valley’s John Nguyen with wife Dina Vu and daughter Hailey have been desperately searching for their African grey parrot, Smokey, who got spooked and flew off on Jan. 1. Nguyen and Smokey have appeared in several YouTube videos on the channel “wingsNpaws.”
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I suspect, at this point, it’s very unlikely that she’s still in the wild,” Nguyen said. “I’m clinging to the hope every day that she’s with a family right now and they just don’t know we’re looking for her.”

Meanwhile, his Fountain Valley home is a lot quieter these days. Smokey’s indoor perches are a sad reminder of happier times, while the outdoor aviary seems vast and empty without its tenant. Hailey, who’d become accustomed to feeding Smokey each morning, still asks after her.

Hailey Nguyen, 1, hangs out with parrot Smokey and dog Snuggles on Dec. 27, days before Smokey went missing.
(Courtesy of John Nguyen)

“I was able to get my daughter to the point where she could scratch Smokey’s head — I think she misses her bird,” he said. “We really want her back.”

Undaunted, Nguyen continues to search and reach out to locals who may have seen or heard signs of unusual sounds or activities near their homes, such as Smokey’s uncanny impression of crows or the beeping of a truck backing up.

Though he tries to remain positive, hope is dwindling as each day passes. He’s asking anyone in Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana, Westminster and Garden Grove — or even as far away as Costa Mesa or Anaheim — to keep an eye and an ear out for Smokey and call (714) 725-8355 with any possible leads.

“It’s very defeating, at the end of the day, knowing another day has gone by, which means the chances of finding her are getting so much harder,” Nguyen said of the search. “I feel like I’m fighting against time.”

In the ultimate sign of trust, parrot Smokey reclines in the hands of John Nguyen, who bottle fed her as a chick.
In the ultimate sign of trust, parrot Smokey reclines in the hands of John Nguyen, who bottle-fed her as a chick and raised her for 14 years.
(Courtesy of John Nguyen)

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