WASHINGTON—When they met, Kirby and Suzie differed in ways that went beyond what people usually notice first about them, their color.
He was large. She was small. He had spent most of his life in a loving home. She had been abandoned when she was young.
He was bold and a gifted talker. She was more selective with her words.
Tammy Morgan said she never would have thought of pairing the two—and yet, she saw how they gravitated toward each other, how they soon started sneaking off to be alone and how he now watches over her, ever ready to place himself between her and any perceived danger.
“They fell in love,” Morgan said.
There are love stories, and then there is the love story of Kirby and Suzie. Theirs is a rare pairing, one that both defies nature and resulted from it. The two are species of parrots that don’t normally mate: Kirby is a harlequin macaw, and Suzie is a military macaw.
In the wild, they likely wouldn’t have come together. In a Virginia aviary, they are inseparable. They are also parents. About a year ago, their firstborn hatched from an egg, leaving the aviary with a quandary: What do you call a species that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else?
Morgan, who owns TC Feathers Aviary in Fairfax County with her wife, Carey Morgan, said the two never intended to breed macaws. It is difficult work even under the best of conditions, said Tammy Morgan, who has bred cockatiels, conures and caiques.
Macaws usually want a quiet, secluded area to mate.
“Not these two,” she said.
Quiet and secluded does not describe the aviary. It also serves as a store, so it’s often a cacophony of birds squawking and customers talking, but that didn’t deter Kirby and Suzie from taking their affection to another level. Around 3:30 p.m. each day, the two would make their way from a back room, where birds perch on makeshift trees and in cages, to the front of the store, where the cash register sits.
The staff always knew where they were headed. Each day, the two picked the same unlikely place for an avian rendezvous—a cat carrier. The carrier sits against a wall near the front door and is a large open cage lined with a plush, pink bed. It gives the cats that live in the store a place to lounge.
But when Kirby and Suzie showed up, any cat that was in that carrier knew enough to leave.
“It would be one thing if they were quiet, but they’re so loud,” Morgan said. “So finally, I put them in the same cage. It was better there than in front of the store, in a cat carrier.”
Morgan started taking care of Suzie more than a decade ago after she and two other macaws were left in front of her house by a man who realized he couldn’t take care of the birds. The aviary sees that situation often enough that the staff warns people who come to purchase pets about the responsibility.
“It’s not buying a goldfish,” Morgan said. “Some of these animals are going to live 60 to 70 years.”
When Suzie first came to live at the aviary full time a few years ago, she had suffered a loss. She had paired up with another macaw that died and “she was really missing” him, Morgan said.
Kirby had been raised since he was young by Morgan’s wife and was one of several male macaws living at the aviary at the time. He was also the biggest bird in the place and had developed a reputation of being rude to other macaws in group situations. With Suzie, though, he was gentle.
They would clean each other’s feathers with their beaks, which is called preening and requires a level of comfort and trust.
When the two began sharing a cage, no one knew what to expect. What they didn’t expect, though, were fertile eggs.
Morgan said Suzie laid two separate sets of eggs at the bottom of the cage, but she didn’t know how to take care of them. Instead of sitting on them, she sat next to them, so they didn’t develop properly.
The next time she laid a set of eggs, Morgan pulled them from the cage and placed them in an incubator. Two didn’t make it.
But from the third egg came a tiny lump of a bird.
The aviary took suggestions from customers for a name and settled on “Kuzie,” a combination of Kirby and Suzie.
The aviary’s staff, along with their friends, relatives and customers, also started researching whether a military macaw and a harlequin macaw, which is a hybrid mix between a green-wing macaw and a blue-and-gold macaw, had ever produced an offspring.
They couldn’t find another. Kuzie, they realized, wasn’t just the product of an unusual love story. He might be a one-of-a-kind species.
Unsure what to call this new type of bird, the aviary again took suggestions. And they again picked one that gave a nod to both parents: “miliquin macaw.”
Morgan describes the days and weeks following Kuzie’s birth in October 2018 as both thrilling and scary. She didn’t know if he would survive. For five months, she woke up every 90 minutes in the night to make him formula and feed him. She did the same in May 2019 when another egg hatched. This time it was a girl, and she was named Millie.
Both Kuzie and Millie have lighter beaks than their parents, which they get from one side of their father’s genetics. They also seem to share his ease with words. Kuzie is fond of saying, “peekaboo.”
Occasionally, someone will ask whether the siblings are for sale, and each time the answer is the same.
“At this point, everyone is so attached, not only us, but also our customers,” Morgan said. “They’re not going anywhere.”