John and Karen Blonn’s famous macaw, Blue, travels across the West Orange community educating and thrilling people of all ages.
Anyone strolling through the Winter Garden Farmers Market on a Saturday morning is bound to recognize the beautiful blue and gold wings of the community’s favorite bird, perched upon the arm of John or Karen Blonn.
The 15-year-old macaw, known as Blue, has become a staple in the West Orange community.
Her talents are extensive, ranging from playing basketball, waving hello and goodbye, and giving her owners kisses, to stacking rings on a children’s toy, playing fetch, and more. In addition, she can speak about half-dozen words, laugh and dance, something the couple calls her Stevie Wonder impression, as she moves back and forth so hard her whole perch will shake.
The Blonns, Horizon West residents, describe their relationship with Blue as a partnership.
“I don’t think of it as me being her master or her owner; I’m her friend,” John said. “When people say, ‘Make her talk,’ or, ‘Make her dance,’ I say, ‘I can’t make her talk or make her dance. I can ask her if she would, and then it’s up to her to do it.’”
Blue is extremely food motivated and loves sunflower seeds and fruits like blueberries and grapes.
Although she is not overly cuddly, John said if he sits on the armchair and puts his feet up, she will sit on his toes and watch TV with him. One of her favorite places is her outdoor playground.
Blue’s persona is exceptional and undeniably close to that of a human being, and the Blonns truly treat her just as they would any other member of the family.
Blue isn’t your typical macaw.
Her favorite thing is to be around people.
On the weekends, she enjoys traveling to events around the community. She even loves strolling with John through the local hardware stores and sitting outside restaurants with her family as they enjoy a meal.
Although the social aspect is enjoyable for Blue, John said it is also a necessity.
Macaws of Blue’s size can live anywhere between 80 and 100 years in captivity and need to be constantly engaged. John said when a macaw stays locked in a cage, it will begin to rip all of its feathers out.
In addition, the outings keep Blue friendly and help her to stay comfortable around people.
However, Blue isn’t the only one who benefits from the outings.
John said she also helps him come out of his shell.
“I tell people I’m shy,” he said. “She gets me opened up and talking to people. She understands that this is kind of what we do together.”
Blue’s relationship with people did not always come so easily, although Karen said the macaw’s gentleness is just part of her personality.
“Just like people, they have their own personalities, but part of it is also the fact that we try to be gentle with her,” she said. “We try not to be aggressive with her or do things that would make her uncomfortable. It’s like raising a child.”
John explained the trust grew from a lot of handling in the beginning of the relationship.
The couple played with Blue often, rolling around the floor and tussling with her.
“If you’re not willing to touch the bird, handle the bird, it will never trust you,” John said.
Macaws will grow to the maturity of about a 3-year-old child and stay there for the rest of their lives. The couple said if Blue is going to live 100 years, they want her to be happy for every single one of them.
Although Blue does not like to be pet — hands cover her wings and makes her feel vulnerable — John said she is unbelievably gentle, especially with younger and older individuals.
“Personality-wise, she’s just a very gentle bird and she has a remarkable understanding and empathy towards seniors and towards little kids,” John said.
In their hometown of Chicago, John said he would take Blue to preschools, nursing homes, hospitals and more. However, they have not been able to do the same in Florida because Blue is considered an exotic animal.
The couple is looking into getting Blue a pet therapy license so she can go to hospitals in the area.
“People bring therapy dogs all the time, but birds are something special,” John said. “People are fascinated. Some people are scared of dogs, and they see the bird, and she’s just so different. You can see the joy in their faces, and I just think that’s awesome.”
Blue is comfortable perching on anyone, as long as John is the one to guide her. For little ones, the macaw’s claws can be a bit overwhelming, so John makes sure to use his hand as a barrier.
Although Blue cannot fly — her flight feathers have been cut down — she loves to spread her wings foro a photo upon request, even occasionally doing the movement without prompt when she sees a camera.
John tries to make the interactions with the community as educational as possible, sharing facts about the bird’s species, features, likes and dislikes.
The Blonn’s have owned birds together since they were first married 48 years ago. The two even grew up with birds in their households.
The first macaw John and Karen ever owned was an Amazon parrot they got together as a 25th anniversary gift. The bird immediately took to John, and Karen knew she wanted one of her own.
“My wife is not overly into big fancy jewelry, diamond rings and other stuff like that, although she does have some,” John said jokingly. “But it’s not what she really wants. She wanted a gift that we could both enjoy.”
The couple conducted research and decided to look for a rescue bird, although they could never find a good fit. They even rescued a cockatoo for a year, but it turned out not to be a good match.
The Blonns decided they had interest in a scarlet macaw and explored the option of a breeder in Chicago. However, the larger and intimidating beak of the scarlet worried Karen. The breeder suggested Karen try holding Blue, even though they were not looking for a blue-and-gold macaw.
Within a matter of seconds, the few-months-old Blue curled up in the crook of Karen’s arm and fell asleep.
“How could we ever say no?” John asked, chuckling.
Karen said a responsible bird breeder will not allow individuals to take a baby bird home until it is completely able to eat on its own. If a bird is fed improperly, it can burn out their trachea and kill them. The couple was able to get Blue a little earlier, July 2007, because of their experience feeding baby birds, having raised cockatoos earlier.
The couple moved to Windermere in 2009 after retiring, and because the Amazon parrot they had for 20 years was jealous of Blue, the couple decided to re-home the original parrot a few years later to a single retired veteran in Windermere.
When Karen’s father moved in with the couple, the pair decided it was time for a new home and moved out to the Horizon West area.
The Blonns currently are working on potty training the macaw, as well as getting her more used to being touched and handled by others. They have expressed interest in taking her to local grade schools and children’s hospitals.
John said one of their grandsons, who has just turned 8, also helps train Blue. He asked if he can take care of her when John is gone. In the end, John said there is nothing more that would give him peace than knowing Blue is happy, healthy and with family.
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