Some mornings Hani Hallal lets a monkey clean his teeth.
Not an actual monkey, a Senegal parrot whose nimble beak deftly cleans his owner's gums between snapping sticks and gobbling up sunflower seeds. Those are just a few of the tricks Hallal, who uses the handle Parrot Whisperer online, has taught the little grey-headed bird with green wings and a splash of orange along its legs.
Then there are the tricks he hasn't been taught, including Monkey's tendency to start the day by breaking out of his cage and releasing the up to seven other birds that live in the sprawling play gym complete with colourful ropes and roosts that occupies a corner of their owner's basement.
"Parrots have the mind of a five-year-old child … in the sense they are needy, they need attention and they mimic," Hallal explained. "They want to be part of your flock basically."
The 20-year-old created his company, Bird Tameness Inc. five years ago. In that time his enthusiastic and earnest videos starring his feathered friends have helped gather a community of more than 75,000 subscribers.
Hallal now takes questions from bird lovers around the world through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
"We saw a lot of birds that were being mistreated, neglected, abandoned and abused," he explained. "We decided to start Bird Tameness to raise awareness for animals and educate bird owners."
His interests weren't always aimed at the skies. As a child, Hallal wanted a pet dog or cat, but his parents didn't share his desire. So he turned to birds and discovered an even more interesting relationship.
"Birds are not like dogs," he deadpanned. "They do have issues with biting, feather picking, where they pull all of their feathers out if they're stressed."
But it's not all negatives. Hallal quickly discovered birds were capable of all sorts of incredible tricks, as long as their owner had one crucial characteristic.
"Patience. People don't have the patience," he said. "They want to put their bird on their shoulder and pretend they're pirates, but you can't really do that. Birds take time, they need patience."
Some parrots are shy
Hallal's love for birds is obvious in his videos where he shares his passion and allows them to show off their talents.
The eight brightly feathered creatures living in his basement right now have a range of special skill sets. Louie the two-year-old cockatoo sings duets with Hallal, Monkey is a whiz with his beak and trusts his handler enough to lie quietly on his back for a rub.
Then there's Chili, a 12-year-old red-lored amazon who Hallal swears can talk, but has a tendency to get camera-shy.
Talking parrots are another reason many people rush to buy a bird, but Hallal cautions it's not always "Polly want a cracker."
"Some birds are shy and take their time to talk. Some never talk."
Buying freedom for Chili
Chili's journey to join the Parrot Whisperer's flock started in the kitchen of a Winsdor-Essex restaurant earlier this month.
A member of Hallal's following contacted him with concerns about the bird's condition, so he visited the restaurant and said he found the big bird suffering from "noxious fumes."
Hallal reached out to his audience and asked for help covering the cost to buy the bird from its owner — in just three days they raised $1,000, enough to get Chili his freedom.
"My heart is filled with so much happiness right now that words could never describe," Hallal wrote the Parrot Whisperer Facebook page that night.
It's stories like Chili's that keep Hallal motivated on his mission to raise awareness for birds.