Picasso and Bear paint the town
Loud squawking can be heard a few blocks away as a large, beautifully colored bird flaps its outstretched wings while standing on a man's shoulder. The man, who wears a leather jacket and a veteran's baseball cap, seems to be talking to the bird when they pause at the stoplight in downtown Cloquet.
Cars slow down and walkers take a second look when they pass James Hellar, aka Bear, a Vietnam veteran who often takes his vocal parrot, Picasso, for a walk when temperatures start to climb. When he is not walking, Hellar can be seen out and about driving a large three-wheeled tricycle with Picasso along for the ride.
According to Hellar, Picasso — named after artist Pablo Picasso — is 35 years old and Hellar has owned him 24 of those years. Picasso is a Catalina hybrid, which is a cross between a Scarlet Macaw and a Blue and Gold. They are only bred in captivity.
The birds weigh about two to three pounds and measure about 35 inches from beak to the tip of the tail. Hellar said Picasso's breed often lives to be 90-plus years old.
While Picasso does have a bird cage in Hellar's apartment, Hellar took the door off so Picasso can come and go as he pleases. Picasso's favorite foods are seeds, bananas and he loves Brazil nuts, according to his owner.
Picasso says a few words: "hello" when he comes in and "goodbye" when he leaves a room, according to Hellar. He also asks, "What do you want?"
"He has a brain; he's pretty smart," said Hellar.
The Macaw is estimated to have a bite force of about 500 to 700 pounds per square inch (psi), or about the same as a large dog, according to birdchannel.com.
While Picasso can be very loud, he does sleep through the night until about 9 a.m.
"He's the best roommate you could have," said Hellar.
Picasso enjoys a shower once a week, then he is toweled off.
In the cold months Hellar plays games in the apartment to keep the bird from getting too bored, like hitting a balloon back and forth across the room.
Picasso also likes music, especially country. At times Hellar will play the guitar and sing to Picasso, inserting his name into the song.
"He's a dancing fool," Hellar said with a laugh.
Last summer Hellar brought Picasso to a music event at Veteran's Park and a crowd gathered around to see the parrot.
Hellar and Picasso usually walk five or so miles when they go out. Hellar picks up the bright feathers when Picasso sheds them and hands them out to excited kids.
"That bird keeps him going," said VFW bartender LeAnn Baxter. "Some people have a service dog — Bear has a service bird."
Baxter met Hellar while on a walk about two years ago and invited him to stop in at the VFW. According to Hellar, Baxter is one of Picasso's favorite people. Picasso stops his loud squawking when Baxter shushes him and sometimes sits on her shoulder while still keeping a protective eye on Hellar.
Picasso spent 10 years riding with Hellar in his semi truck when he drove one. He also rode on his Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide motorcycle until Hellar sold it.
Picasso even has a little custom made bandana and a little leather hat. When Hellar drove the bike he would zip Picasso up in his jacket to keep him safe and warm. If he was going very slow, Picasso would stand up on the gas tank.
"He's a badass," Hellar chuckled a bit proudly.