At the conclusion of our interview, when asked to liken Steely, a blue and gold macaw, to a well-known musical celebrity, Ed Torres thought for a moment and replied “I’m an old school kind of guy, I think it would have to be Steven Tyler,” and to clarify, Steely has nothing to do with Steely Dan.
A long time resident of Olympic Valley, and the owner of Tahoe Audio Visions, Ed is a musical enthusiast and has been father to 100-or-so of the coolest birds on the planet.
Hatched on New Year’s day of 1990, Steely is 28-years-old, the same age as me. This idea took a minute to sink in as I rarely meet animals who have been alive that long, let alone ones that have managed to live in Tahoe the entire time.
Not dissimilar to Aerosmith’s lead singer, Steely has distinctive black mascara (black feathers over white facial skin), a vibrant flowing aura, loves to dance, and has a voice that can easily damage ear drums given the proper acoustics. Macaws can hit more than 105 decibels, while a rock concert can be anywhere from 110 to 120 decibels — this explains why your ears are usually bleeding after a Metallica show. It’s for these reasons that Ed only occasionally brings Steely into crowds, and only when the weather is warmer than 50 degrees fahrenheit. Although tropical in nature, macaws adapt well to new environments like Tahoe, but according to Torres, “Macaws will definitely increase your heating bill in the winter.”
Two minutes into our conversation, a family approached Steely and Torres asking for photos, and whether or not it was okay for the kids to “touch the parrot.” Ed is very accommodating to these requests, but after about the fourth time we had to focus on the interview.
“What people don’t realize is that Steely is not a bird you can hold on your finger, she’s heavy, and sometimes kids can be skitzy and she’ll defend herself,” a laughing Ed explains. Steely is in fact a male macaw, but for reasons of endearment, Ed practically always refers to him as a she.
Of the most common questions the public’s favorite is “What words can the parrot say?” Yes, cracker is among them, but usually only when Steely is begging for whatever Ed is cooking.
“I like to say Steely is a perpetual three year old child, sometimes she’ll just say CRACK CRACK CRACK, and I respond, “No Steely you can’t have crack.”
As Ed tells me more and more about the relationship he’s had with Steely, one that is 9 months shy of the entire 28 years, I can see the lifetime of familiarity in their interactions, and can relate with how I talk to my own dog. “One of the bigger misconceptions about macaws is not that they just repeat words they hear, it’s that when repeating these words, the birds actually use proper emotional conveyance,” says Ed.
“I remember one year I was driving too fast on the top of Donner Summit in a snowstorm, lost control of my 4Runner, and, mad at myself for endangering both of our lives, I screamed FUCK!!! This was one of the only instances in which Steely learned a word on the spot, and will sometimes still use it in a similar, tense situation.”
Ed was not Steely’s first owner, and 9 months into their relationship, Ed noticed he would make a noise eerily similar to a male orgasm, “That’s when I knew I had to be careful what I say around this animal,” he says, as I’m cracking up.
The truth is, Ed considers Steely to be his child and one of his best friends. What is unique about their relationship is that Steely has a life expectancy of 60 years, and while Ed hopes to be around that long, he has to have options should Steely ever need a new caretaker. “I have nephews lining up between the ages of 15 and 30 who all express interest in owning her, but I have to be certain she’ll be with someone who can accommodate all of her unique qualities,” Ed says. He even considered lining up a wildlife reserve which would allow Steely to live among other birds in his gene pool, in an environment that doesn’t require additional heat sources six months a year.
But until that time, the dynamic duo might be seen skiing, bike riding, or just out walking the paths of Olympic Valley. When asked what he loves the most about Steely, Ed replies, “It’s that time at the end of the day, I’ve made a fire, I’m having my dinner, and she’ll come hop onto my shoulder and watch TV with me.
When something exciting is on, like the Olympics, she’ll literally go ‘WHOA!’ She loves to be massaged like most pets, and you can see it in her eyes that she’s thinking ‘Oh this feels good.’ She’s more than a pet — she’s a legitimate buddy of mine. If anyone is considering getting a bird, start small with one that has a shorter lifespan and work your way up.”