EAST LANSING - Waddling around the wrestling room at IM Sports West is MSU wrestling head coach Tom Minkel’s “child”. However, Indigo is no ordinary child – she is Minkel’s 17-year-old female hyacinth macaw.
“She’s smart, she’s fun, but she’s like having a permanent three-year-old child forever. They don’t grow up, they don’t mature,” Minkel said.
Indigo is about 3-feet tall from beak to tip of her tail, with a vibrant dark blue color and bright yellow patches around her eyes. Minkel spent several years of his life in Central and South America while his father, a geographer with a focus on Latin America, traveled the world.
Minkel developed an appreciation for birds in his early years, and believes it was fate that he ended up with Indigo, he remembers the story as if it happened recently.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, it was a Sunday morning and I was laying on the couch and I don’t know why I was looking in the pet section but there was an ad for a hyacinth macaw,” Minkel said. “This bird was eight days old and a little worm, you’ve never seen an uglier creature.”
At the time, Minkel, and his wife Jackie, had been saving for a car, but kept tabs on the bird and eventually decided to purchase Indigo instead. Minkel said his wife jokingly suggests they should have purchased the car. He is quick to note that because Indigo is going on 18-years-old, that she is in much better shape than the car would have been today.
Hyacinth macaws are flock animals, so having one as a pet is a big responsibility. The bird must be incorporated into everyday life, as they demand a great deal of time and attention.
“You can’t just put it into a cage and leave it, she would go crazy,” Minkel said. “She has a rope here in my office, she has a rope in the wrestling room, she sits on the stationary bike and watches practice. The guys on the team all know her and a lot of them play with her.”
Indigo is not quick to trust everyone and her sharp beak is intimidating to those not used to her presence. Minkel said Indigo can sense when people fear her. She messed with those that are not confident around her, and some are noticeably nervous around the bird.
“It’s hard to not act afraid when you are afraid, and we’ve had some great laughs with guys that are getting used to that,” Minkel said.
Curran Jacobs, who wrestled for MSU from 2007-12, learned how to be confident around Indigo.
“She’s a great bird, I was intimidated by Indigo when I first met her, but I learned if she can sense your fear and feels that she can dominate you she will. She will nip at you,” Jacobs said. “If you walk up to Indigo and you are friendly, and get used to her and make her comfortable around you she’s a pal.”
Jacobs was quick to identify the macaw as a part of the MSU wrestling family, to the point where she is a part of the team.
“I don’t know what happened in the corner of the room, but the guys were wrestling hard and we were going live and really getting after it and we just heard this huge squawk and Indigo leaves her rope,” Jacobs said. “She just glides down the center of the wrestling room and the guys that are afraid of her screamed and dove face-first into the mat, some guys were running away and Coach Minkel just gracefully walks across the mat holds up his and goes ‘It’s O.K., it’s O.K.’ and she waddles up his arm.
Indigo is very protective of Minkel. When the coach was recently wrestling, she began chasing his opponent for fear he would hurt her owner. Indigo is like another wrestler, and her presence in the MSU wrestling facilities is something that will not change anytime soon.
“We just put her on the rope and she just sits there and watches practice, very seldom does she say anything,” Minkel said. “Her favorite place is on the stationary bike handles because it’s a little closer to the action.”