Bird makes presence felt on mat
With 32 athletes and four coaches, the MSU wrestling team has made room on its roster for one additional purple, blue and yellow member of the team.
Indigo — head coach Tom Minkel’s colorful hyacinth macaw — attends wrestling practice most days of the week and has become a valuable member of the MSU wrestling family. Turning 14 years old in July, She has been around the wrestling room since she was 6 months old, and she finds ways of contributing to practices, Minkel said.
“She yells all the time, and sometimes she’ll get on you if you’re not doing something right,” junior 197-pounder Tyler Dickenson said. “She’s a part of the team, and it’s interesting.”
Native to Brazil, Indigo’s species is one of the largest among parrots, and it was once on the verge of being on the endangered species list, Minkel said. Once people learned how to breed hyacinth macaws successfully about 25 years ago, the population started to come back.
Beginning with a parakeet, Minkel said he always has been interested in birds, which ultimately led him to Indigo’s addition to his family and team.
“I lived in Latin America when I was a kid for three years, and parrots are all over restaurants and parks,” Minkel said. “They have a much bigger presence than they do here, and so I’ve always been fascinated by birds.”
As Indigo is an exceptionally rare bird whose gender adds to her value, Minkel said he and his wife, Jackie, decided against putting their savings into a new car and ended up paying almost $10,000 for the bird from a breeder in Fenton, Mich. Since the purchase, her vocabulary has grown to about 15 words and her tricks include lying on her back and upside down and hanging from her beak.
She also can tie and untie things with her dexterity with her mouth and tongue.
Although her name reflects her colors, Indigo is a true Spartan at heart because when she showers she turns to different shades of green, Minkel said.
Additionally, Minkel jokingly said her understanding of wrestling has grown, and she sometimes is an active team member.
“She’s here four days a week all year round, so she knows a lot of wrestling,” he said. “Once in a while, she gets down on the mat and chases the guys around.”
True to her species, Indigo’s main diet consists of macadamia nuts, which contributes to her weighing in at about four or five pounds, Minkel said. However, she has developed an unusual personality — she loves pizza crusts and often behaves similarly to people.
“She says, ‘Hi, Indigo,’ and ‘I love you,’ and she whistles and sings and dances and laughs,” Minkel said. “She’s got a great laugh.”
Joining the Spartans (9-4 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) on a perch extending from a pull-up bar in the wrestling room at IM Sports-West, Minkel said Indigo usually is not a distraction during practice. However, when she is vocal, it’s welcomed by the team.
“That bird is the spirit of this team,” junior 174-pounder Curran Jacobs said. “(She) hangs out in the corner when we all warm up and when we all wrestle.
“She roots us on, (and) I think she’s a great addition to the team.”
Although Indigo is considered by many to be a member of the wrestling team, she also is a longtime companion of Minkel’s and a member of his family. She’s smart and affectionate with a great sense of humor, and she appreciates the Spartans as much as they enjoy her cheering them on from the sidelines, Minkel said.
“A bird like this is a flock animal in the wild, so if you’re going to have a bird like this, you’re going to be willing to make it a part of your day-to-day life,” he said.
“They’re social creatures, and so we are her flock, and so she has to be able to be around the flock.”