Employees and customers at the Black Bird Shopping Center will no longer hear the whistles, squawks and mimicked words of beloved team member Billy the myna bird. The living mascot of the shopping center died suddenly Wednesday night at age 17.
“He went to the doctor about a month ago and she gave him a clean bill of health,” said Joy Erickson, a 30-year employee and manager.
But Billy was beginning to lose feathers and “wasn’t looking his best,” she said. His lifespan fell somewhere in the middle of the expected range for his species.
The sight and sounds of the little bird, whose cage stood just near the cash registers to the right of the main entrance, were hallmarks of the Black Bird experience. In a store where you can find anything from a barbed-wire license plate frame to guns and fishing gear to flannel shirts below any number of stuffed animal heads, Billy was a draw for customers of all ages.
His vocabulary included “hello,” “good morning,” and “seriously.” He could also mimic sounds, from a phone ringing to an employee’s cough.
Megan Gorman, an employee of nearly a year at Black Bird, said she had assured multiple female customers that the wolf whistle they heard nearby was just Billy making his favorite sound.
“All of us would hang out with him,” Gorman said. “He definitely made the day better.”
Billy arrived at the store when he was a baby, Erickson said. Although some people protested at his spending much of his life in his cage, he got to leave the cage three to four times a week, hanging out with staff in the office, occasionally stealing a sip of coffee.
Erickson was raised in Medford and grew up coming to the Black Bird, which opened in 1965. Her whole childhood, the store had a bird, she said.
“We’re hearing that we’re going to start looking into another bird,” she said.
For now, Billy’s cage has been quietly put away, the place where he once whistled at and responded to passersby now occupied by a display case. Customers are steadily noticing his absence.
“He was just different and unique for people to come see,” Erickson said.
Reach reporter Kaylee Tornay at firstname.lastname@example.org.