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Bird & Man: Animal Companions

By Erin Pesut

            Look for the man strolling down Hay Street, dining al fresco, or meandering through Festival Park with a blue and gold macaw perched atop his shoulder: Robert Lints is a celebrity.  The bird isn’t tethered or leashed and could fly away whenever it wanted to, but it doesn’t. They stay together because they are a pair, companions for a lifetime.

            “This will be my 25th year with Macy,” Robert told me as he leaned against a jewelry case at Walter Guy Jewelers where he works downtown. “He will be 26 on July 6th.”

            In the wild, a bird like Macy, a South American macaw, may only live to be 20 to 30 years old. Out in the jungle, there’s predators and disease, but here in Fayetteville, under Robert’s care, Macy may live to be 60 or even 80 years old. Oftentimes, a bird like Macy may have seven to 10 owners in its lifetime, but Robert doesn’t plan on parting with Macy anytime soon. He understands the serious commitment of owning a bird. It’s not typical. It’s not an ordinary “pet” by any means, but he feels that bond makes responsibility a delight. 

            These two kindred spirits met 25 years ago while Robert worked as a jeweler at the mall. On his lunch break, he’d frequent the pet store admiring Macy and one day, the pet store owner admitted to Robert, Macy wasn’t bonding with anyone else. If anyone else handled him, Macy would bite or scream. With Robert, he’d kiss the salt above his lip, leftover from his perspiration. Robert realized what he had to do.

            Macaws, the largest birds of the parrot family, are flock animals. They mate for life. They develop deep and trusting relationships. Natives in South America, migrating up the coast from Paraguay to Panama, if they were to find a macaw chick in the forest, it would be like finding a child. The macaw would fly above them as they travelled during the day. At night, they would all rest together, like a family. Robert and Macy had developed that same kind of bond. And so, Robert brought the bird home.

            Considering the average lifespan of a dog is 10 to 12 years, and a cat, a smidgen more at 15, Macy has already been around longer than a domesticated canine or feline. And the way you can train a dog to spend time in a crate or let the cat sleep in the window all day, it’s not like that with Macy.

            “He’s never in a cage,” Robert tells me. “And he has a whole room in my house, full of bird toys and things to chew on.” A whole room! Robert also has two dogs, a Beagle-mix named Baxter and a Dachshund named Dexter and they all go for walks together.

            “He can fly,” Robert added, meaning he could fly, but he doesn’t. His wingspan of 33 inches would be impressive. And Robert doesn’t clip his wings either. Instead, he saves Macy’s molted feathers and donates them to the Native Americans at the International Folk Festival who use the bright aqua, bold green and luminous golden feathers for crafting their ceremonial fans and woven paintings.

            Since North Carolina law prohibits animals, other than service dogs, from going inside, you will often find these two dining alfresco.

            “He’s eaten at every restaurant on Hay Street,” Robert tells me. Macy especially loves the chicken wings from Huske, spaghetti from Pierro’s Italian Bistro and for dessert, some vanilla or strawberry frozen yogurt. He can’t eat chocolate or avocado and Robert even avoids Teflon pans in his home because they produce a harmful gas that is deadly to his bird. These two are often stopped as they go. Whether it’s curious children asking questions (What kind of bird is that? How old is it going to get? Does it talk? Is it a boy or a girl?) or curious passersby wanting to pose for a picture with Macy on their shoulder, Robert is generous in sharing and educating the public about his friendly bird.

            “I always refuse money,” he explained in regards to people’s inclination to pay, “…but if they want to buy him a burger or some French fries…” He offered a cheerful smile, a warm twinkle in his eye.

            Because of their close bond, these two don’t spend much time apart. While it may be easier for Robert to leave (birds often don’t go on vacation), he decides not to travel much. It’s not like he could take his bird to the kennel. They mostly stay together in Cumberland County. He limits his vacation due to his companion.

            “I worry as much about his psychological health as I do his physical health and since he has the intelligence of a two to four-year old, it’s like a child. Macaws are truly like Peter Pan. They never grow up.”