Couple's treasured feathered friend stolen
By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Michael Fryer's love affair with B.J. began 10 years ago when he selected a tiny egg for $1,500. Six weeks later, Fryer carried his scrawny friend home, hand-feeding him every two hours.
B.J. grew white feathers and learned to dance disco. He could spin around an index finger like an acrobat. His picture made it onto bottles of gourmet sauce.
Now, the treasured cockatoo is missing.
"I raised him from an egg," said Fryer, 59, choking back tears Monday. "It's like somebody stealing your child."
On Sunday, someone broke into Fryer's office at 3434 17th Ave. N and abducted the 1 1/2-pound bird from its cage.
Exotic birds like B.J. are a hot commodity. Thieves sell them on the black market or to pet stores. Even Fred, the cockatoo star of the 1970s hit TV show Baretta, was stolen from an animal park in California but later recovered.
Fryer and his wife, Joan Fryer, who make gourmet sauces in Pinellas Park and run Xanadu Yacht Charters in St. Petersburg, spent Monday calling pet stores and posting 100 fliers announcing a $5,000 reward for B.J.'s return.
The fliers say that B.J."squawks very loud, usually around 9 a.m. and 5 p.m."
People who hear a loud bird for the first time in their neighborhood should call Detective Tim Brown at (727) 893-4030. Brown is on the case, but he has no leads.
"I hope he's okay," said Joan Fryer, 57. "But you never know. You have no control. That's the horrible feeling."
It was Joan Fryer who noticed that B.J.'s cage was empty Sunday afternoon. The couple had been packing up their office to move to the Tyrone area. The office was empty except for the birds, which were in an enclosed porch: B.J., the cockatoo; Crackers, the African grey; and Amigo, the cockatiel.
The birds were next to be moved, but someone had broken a window, crawled in and taken only B.J. The Fryers said he was valued at $5,000. A band on B.J.'s right leg reads "MGW93#15."
"This is a professional bird handler or someone who knows B.J.," Fryer said.
Since his birth on Jan. 28., 1993, in Palm Harbor, B.J. has led an interesting life.
He lived for four years in Los Angeles, then came home to St. Petersburg. The Fryers put him on a label of the "Coconut Telegraph" gourmet glaze they manufacture for the Tampa Bay Parrot Heads in Paradise Club, where they are members.
On Monday, the club, which has 1,500 members who are drawn to the tropical music of Jimmy Buffett, sent an e-mail to members.
"Hi Parrotheads," the note said. "We are asking your help in locating a valuable parrot that was kidnapped."
B.J. was famous in bird circles for performing stunts like rolling over dead after Fryer said, "Pow." B.J. could say, "Hi, B.J." on command.
And in return for the tricks, B.J. and the Fryers' other birds were allowed to watch television and listen to Yanni.
"The only thing I didn't put on was the Animal Planet," Fryer said. "Something on there might scare them."
-- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.
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