In Search of Ponies: Raven not much for conversation

Sharna Johnson

Poor Poe verbally shook and twisted his 1800’s version of a Magic 8-Ball, only getting one word in return, regardless of the question.

Not this raven.

With Joe, it’s anyone’s guess what will spring from his unpredictable beak.

You see, there’s a battle of the words being waged and Joe’s in the middle, soaking it all up like a sponge.

While the public expands his vocabulary teaching him everything from Japanese to Spanish and several curse words in-between, Joe’s keeper teaches him bible scripture, John 3:16 being but one of the pious recitations in his verbal ensemble.

He barks like a dog, laughs, recites movie lines, mocks other birds and does a perfect imitation of his favorite lady’s voice.

And yes, he even knows a little Poe, having been taught to say “Nevermore” just like the infamous raven who toyed with an already tortured soul.

A Chihuahuan raven, Joe was caught and tamed in Roswell, then released and recaptured because he had no fear of humans, making another release unsafe.

Unofficial zoo bird lady Laura Shepler inadvertently taught Joe his first words, “I love you Joe,” years ago when he was living in the back of the zoo away from the public.

Since being put on display, Laura said people spend hours in front of his cage trying to teach him things.

Depending on his mood of course, he thrives on the attention. And as long as his verbosity doesn’t offend too greatly, he will be allowed to continue amusing, mimicking and yes, even frustrating people.

Visitors are surprised when the display talks back, but Laura said it’s not uncommon for Joe’s kind. In fact, often their tongues are surgically split to perfect enunciation, a procedure blabbing Joe never needed.

I had to see for myself.

Before I went to meet him, Laura warned me unless he likes someone he won’t talk and he controls the conversation.

Clearing my head of preconceptions, I walked up the chilly path, wondering what, if anything he would say to me.

Getting closer, I heard the call of a peacock, only much louder and sharper than typical and felt a twinge of excitement —he was feeling talkative. Perhaps the interview would go well after all.

“Hello Joe,” his words, not mine as I got out my note pad and pen.

“Good morning Joe,” I said back.

I smiled at him, he smiled at me, kind of, then he flapped from point to point in his cage chanting, “Hello Joe”.

I tried to coax him into a more in-depth conversation.

“What’s in your treat thing here? Are those peanuts?”

“Hello Joe…”

“How’s your branch? It looks sturdy, is it treating you OK?”

“Hello Joe…”

All of a sudden he spoke in a language I couldn’t identify, switching to a deep raspy growling speech that sounded like it was straight from the pits of Hell. His feathers standing on end he grew to more than twice his normal size and his eyes flickered briefly behind white lenses while he started to growl, hopping back and forth on his branch.

“Spooky,” I laughed, and he collapsed his feathers, again sleek and shiny, innocently cocking his head from side to side — “Hello Joe”.

I asked a few more questions and he mimicked the doves next door, said a few more “Hello Joe’s” hopped around, then he chuckled.

“Okay, good-bye Joe,” I said, his laughter contagious.

“Hello Joe… Hahahahaha,” I heard him belly laughing, intermittent with peacock calls as I walked away.

“Much I marveled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore.”

Okay, so maybe Poe had it right after all.

Sharna Johnson is a staff writer for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at sjohnson@cnjonline.com