With 14K fans on Facebook, just over 9K subscribers on YouTube, and about 1800 followers on Twitter, Disco the parakeet has soared into the limelight and set hearts aflutter all around the globe.
It's not hard to understand why the parakeet who will turn three years old on Memorial Day is so popular. From 'I'm Disco and I know it', to 'nobody puts baby bird in the corner,' the green and yellow-colored parakeet's repertoire has increased from an impressive 53 phrases to almost eighty in less than a year.
Digital Journal first caught up with Disco
and his human friends, the Bolton family, in May last year after discovering the bird chattering away on YouTube. We became instant fans and have followed the exceptional avian ever since. And Disco is exceptional. Although budgies are known as some of the greatest mimics of the bird world, Disco’s superior mimicry ability is unusual.
A bird in the hand needs good healthcare
Disco receives veterinary care from Dr. Laura Wade of Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets
, in Clarence, NY (near Buffalo). Dr. Wade, a board-certified bird specialist, even saved the little bird's life last February when Disco showed symptoms of Avian Gastric Yeast, a dormant fungal infection usually transmitted to the victim as a chick by its parents.
"Dr. Wade has taken extraordinarily good care of Disco," Bolton said. Wade and the Boltons recently discussed Disco's unique ability. "We talked a lot about how and under what circumstances we train Disco," Bolton said. "She (Wade) and other avian specialists are very curious about the mimicry ability shown by some birds. Why is Disco a better mimic than other budgies – is it genetic? Or is it also nurture and not just nature?"
Wade has a toddler who practices language in her crib at night before falling asleep, and noted that Disco seems to do the same thing with his toys. "His 'toy talk' is different from his chatter with us and just generally," Bolton explained. While the correlation may be just a theory, the bird's amazing vocabulary is being celebrated worldwide.
The parakeet really came into his own after someone posted a video of the bird on Reddit. 'One Phrase Leads to Another' went viral overnight; Bolton said it received "2.5 million hits all on its own." Bolton’s channel on YouTube, with over one hundred videos of Disco on it already, had only hit one million total views the previous week.
"I was contacted by the Daily Mail UK asking permission to do a story on Disco (and to use his videos) on their website," said Bolton. "I also was contacted by the Norwegian paper, Dagbladet, ABC News (for Good Morning America), CNN, and RTL German Network for permission to write articles about Disco and/or show the videos."
Too much of a good thing leads to critics
Because Disco is extraordinary at what he does, he has attracted critics who have been quick to label the budgie a fake. As Disco would – and can - say, "Oy vey iz mir!"
Last Wednesday, the budgie and his human family were invited to appear on NBC's Today Show on Friday, which gave them a chance to prove that Disco was the real deal. Bolton said:
We told them point blank he’s not a trained seal, that he speaks when he wants, just like he plays, preens, and naps when he wants; we did not want them wasting their time and resources if he wasn’t going to give them what they wanted.
The family asked NBC to gather footage of Disco talking in advance of the show just in case he did not talk on the set. "The whole point of his being on was to prove he speaks like he is heard to do in the videos," Bolton explained.
NBC wanted to fly both the avian and family in for the show, but because the family aired concerns over the welfare of Disco, NBC opted for limo service instead. The studio also ensured that Disco's specialist vet accompanied them at the show.
"The Today Show itself was a lot of fun," Judy said. "They sent a car for us early and Dr. Wade and I spent most of the time in one of the green rooms where they placed a cameraman on Disco the whole time."
'Nobody puts baby bird in a corner!'
Disco chattered away on set during the live show, although it was hard to hear over studio staff. Fortunately NBC also captured the avian talking to his favorite disco ball. For the cool, calm, collected star, it was all in a day's play. He talked up a storm while being held by a fan who just happened to work upstairs for NBC.
"On the live show, but not in the official clip," Judy said, "you can hear Al Roker say, 'He’s still talking!' The segment was short, but it was a lot of fun," Bolton added, "and worth the trip."
So what's next for Disco? "Probably 'normal,' which is very, very nice," Judy said. "Our family likes normal just fine!" They will continue to teach Disco new things to say because "he loves learning new things, and it’s done in the context of play," Bolton said.
But the family also hopes that Disco's antics can be used to help others. Judy explained:
One thing we’d love to happen next is that healthcare providers use his videos to help those suffering from medical conditions, including mental health concerns. We hear all the time how Disco helped a child suffering from a panic attack on the way to her doctor’s office, or someone undergoing cancer treatment.
The bird even advises, "just say no to drugs!"
It is clear that Disco mania has landed, and it’s primarily because the Boltons have always ensured that the little parakeet is a bird of the people or, as Disco likes to say, 'bird to your mother.' Many of his phrases come from his network of followers. "We still take suggestions very happily from his fans," Judy said.
For Disco's fans, there is something (more than his command of the English language), that keeps them coming back. Disco's personality makes people laugh.
"Everyday someone posts on his fan page, 'I had a rotten day, but then I came home to a new Disco video and the rotten day vanished,'" says Judy. "The Today Show was a whirlwind adventure for us, but it’s this kind of reaction that feels so great every single day," she added.
"We love the interaction with his fans on social media – Facebook especially, since it allows for a more intimate experience – and when we hear these stories, it makes all of us feel good." But she couldn't deny that the television show had been such a "neat opportunity." Bolton described NBC and the staff of the Today Show as "patient, generous, flexible, and kind."
As for Disco and what he thought ... when the incredulous staff gathered about him, he didn't miss a beat. "I can haz cheeseburger?" he asked. "I am serious – and don’t call me Shirley!"
"This is the best part of Disco," the family from the Rochester, NY, area says. "How he delights people with his chatter and personality."
To visit Disco, who describes himself in one of his videos as, 'Discoliscious,' drop by his Facebook
page. You can also watch the little fella on his YouTube Channel
or of course, send him a Tweet