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Parrot's theft leaves worry amid the silence

Edna Kopea raised an African Grey from chick to chatty adult. It was taken while Kopea was in the hospital.

By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
Published January 9, 2006

[Special to the Times]
This African Gray parrot was stolen Nov. 30 from Kenny Kopea's home.

DUNEDIN - Kenny Kopea came home from work to meet the cable guy. But after turning the key to his front door - which, strangely, was unlocked - he saw something that buckled his knees and launched a desperate, monthlong search.

Lumped on the glass kitchen table were two bags of bird food.

Missing was Nikki the African Grey parrot. She belonged to his 69-year-old mother, Edna, who was undergoing heart surgery in Ohio.

Kenny Kopea and his younger brother, Jimmy, were caring for the bird while their mother was in the hospital. Kenny thought he locked the front door in the morning. Now he only knew that someone entered his home, snatched the bird, the bird cage and his mom's joy.

"She lives down in Port Charlotte," Kopea said. "That's her only companion."

The chatty parrot was stolen between 7:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Nov. 30, when both brothers were out of their condo delivering seafood for Suncoast Shrimp, authorities said. Whoever grabbed Nikki also took a blue duffel bag from Jimmy's closet and coins totaling $200.

The bird is worth about $1,500 and can recite nursery rhymes.

So far, investigators have few clues.

"I know a bird was taken," said sheriff's Detective Dominick Marchesiello. "An African Grey. That's it. There doesn't appear to be any forced entry or friends who might have taken it."

Or ways to confirm that a lost parrot is Nikki, even if she flew into the Sheriff's Office on a busy afternoon.

"There's no identification, no chip, no tattoos," Marchesiello said. "I wouldn't even know how to identify a bird without those things. Me, I guess I'm a layman when it comes to that. I look at a bird and see, "Oh, bird.' I don't know. It's not like a dog where you can see certain spots. ... All the African Greys I've looked at are African Greys."

Immediately after her disappearance, the Kopea brothers posted fliers of Nikki around Dunedin. They visited pet stores, straining to hear the voice that once annoyed them by singing Old MacDonald and demanding that they "Lighten up."

Edna Kopea bought Nikki from an Inglewood bird breeder in 1993. She paid $850 for the African Grey newborn, fresh from its egg, and nursed it out of a grocery bag for a couple months until the little one started squeaking out words. After a year, it was partial sentences, and before long, the loquacious bird was crooning I'm a Little Teapot.

When the Kopea brothers headed for the cooler, Nikki would make the "ktsh" sound of a beer can popping. When they were trying to watch a football game, she would mimic a ringing telephone and answer her own calls.

"She would go, "Hello, what's up?' and start to ramble, like I'm doing right now," Edna said. "She sounded like a human, not like a parrot. She sounded like me, actually."

Now there is only silence and worry.

"Not knowing where she is, or if she is," she said. "I hope no one's torturing her, or abandoning her. I'm devastated. I don't know what direction to take."

If someone sold her on the black market, Nikki can already be well out of the area, she speculated. She thought the new year might bring her luck, but with each day that passes without the parrot, her hopes for a reunion fade.

"If you had a bird who talked as much as that, would you give it back?" she asked. "Even if you bought it under good circumstances or bad ones?"

Edna Kopea wonders and wonders. Did Nikki chat up her abductors? Is she happy?

One thing she knows: If Nikki is alive and someone bangs her cage, she will say, "Whoops."

[Last modified January 9, 2006, 11:13:02]