KEARNEY — If you see a man riding on a Harley along with a green-winged macaw and two white cockatoos, it’s probably Jeff Morgan.
And if, not long ago, you saw a man shimmying up a tree near College Curves to rescue a cockatoo, that was Morgan, too.
The 56-year-old Morgan has gone swing dancing with a parrot on his shoulder. He has taken his birds to the Nebraska State Fair. He has hidden a cockatoo in a shoebox to get it into a hospital.
“My birds talk when they ride in my pickup. They say hi and hello. People laugh and take their pictures,” Morgan said. “In the evening, my birds fly up on my roof to watch the sunset.”
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In warm weather, he lets his birds outside. “Every now and then they fly out of the backyard, but not often. If I call their names, they fly back to me,” he said.
His first parrot
Morgan, a single parent and owner of Morgan & Associates financial planning, bought his first bird to stave off loneliness after his son Zach, now 26, left for college.
On Facebook, he saw that a Columbus family was selling a parrot named Bella for $800. When he went to see Bella, she stepped right into his extended hand.
“They couldn’t believe she did that because she was stand-offish with most people, but not me,” he said. “They were selling her partly because she hated their vacuum cleaner. She would let herself out of her cage and chew the plug off it.”
Morgan brought Bella home and into his life. She rode on the handlebars of his bike. The two went jet-skiing. She sat on top of his kayak unless it was very hot; then, she hung out below, where it was cooler.
Morgan was so delighted with Bella that he soon bought Izzy, a “quiet” greater sulphur-crested cockatoo, from a bird breeder in Lincoln. In early 2016, he acquired Kiki, a six-month-old macaw from that same breeder. This spring, he purchased Gabriel, a medium sulphur-crested cockatoo who was 9 or 10 years old.
“Cockatoos are very engaging, affectionate birds, but they can be demanding. If you don’t give them enough time, they will scream for it,” he said. “Mine are quiet birds. If they were noisy, I’d want to kill ’em. You have no idea what loud is until you’ve been around a screaming parrot.”
Less than a week after getting Gabriel, Morgan took him for his first ride in the pickup. Distracted by construction noise at College Curves on Highway 30, Gabriel flew out of the pickup and disappeared. Two days later, Morgan and a friend were driving at College Curves when his friend happened to look up. She spotted Gabriel in a tree 4 feet from the top.
Morgan parked, climbed the tree and retrieved the bird. “I’m 56, but I’m still a monkey,” he said. “Still, I didn’t want to have to explain why a man my age was 50 feet up in a tree.”
The second time Gabriel flew out of the pickup, Morgan trimmed his wings.
Morgan calls himself an “animal whisperer” who is drawn to animals, both wild and tame.
Growing up in Elwood, he carried snakes in his pockets so often that his stepmother made him empty his pockets before he came inside.
His great-uncle, who lived to be 103, was the first pioneering vet in Nebraska. He boarded animals and gave shots until he was 97. He saved the Morgan family hunting dog after a rattlesnake bit it on the nose. He saved another dog after a rattlesnake bite caused its face to swell and threatened to cut off its air supply.
“He had a sign in his yard: ‘Don’t call a man a dog.’ That’s an insult to the dog,” Morgan said.
As a teenager, Morgan worked as a cowpuncher, herding cows on horseback. Nearly 20 years ago, Morgan raised a wolf. A few years later, he purchased a reticulated python from a Texas pet shop.
Morgan was jet-skiing with a friend near Cozad when, barefoot, he came within five inches of stepping on a prairie rattler. “It wasn’t aggressive. I had a beach towel, so I lifted up the snake and tossed it away. It didn’t rattle until I flipped it,” he said.
He considered becoming a vet, but he would have had to leave the state to go to vet school, so he became a financial planner instead.
Home sweet home
Morgan’s birds live in their own cages in an aviary he created in his lower-level bathroom. “They pretty much get along,” he said.
While they eat traditional bird food, he treats them to pasta and more. “They’re not supposed to be carnivores, but one time I had Bella’s cage up here, and we had ribs and chicken. She looked over my shoulder as if wanting to share, so I gave her some ribs. She ate every bit of that, but when I gave her a chicken leg, she smelled it and threw it on the floor,” he said.
He has perches for his birds both inside and outside. “They don’t fly free. I don’t let ‘em fly around to do whatever they want,” he said.
When Morgan takes them for rides in the pickup, they prefer to sit atop their cages in the back so they can watch the world. “When I put them back there without their cages, Izzy liked to wind-surf on the side of the pickup, but she’d often fly off the back end,” he said.
“One day I was driving in Yanney Park when I saw in the rearview mirror that she’d fallen off the pickup. I stopped and went back and got her,” he said.
Loyal feathered friends
Morgan’s birds give him a lot of joy. He has shown them at the Peterson Senior Center.
Only rarely does he sell a bird. He went into a bird show in Omaha with his birds sitting on his shoulders “and within 15 minutes, two people were interested in buying Zoey,” he said. Zoey, a goffen cockatoo, was a bit smaller than his other cockatoos. “I wouldn’t sell her to just anybody, but the other cockatoos bullied her a bit, and I decided someone else could give her a better home. I found a beautiful family for her.”
As for Bella, his first parrot, she died in his arms in 2018 after a heart attack. Morgan envisions having parrots — cockatoos and macaws both are breeds of parrots — for many, many years.
“Birds are very loving and intelligent. They have the mentality of a 5-year-old child. They’re very engaging, and the fact that I include them in my activities makes them seem rather extraordinary,” he said.