About 15 years ago, Ken Sprouse was at a suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bird store to shop for his large parrot when he crossed paths with John Lege.
They hit it off right away, Sprouse recalls, and they shared many common interests, among them an affinity for parrots.
In fact, parrots were kind of Lege’s thing. He was known as That Guy with the Birds! and needed help with his exotic parrot programs, so he asked Sprouse if he was interested in being his right-hand man.
Sprouse accepted the offer and filled that role until Lege’s death in March 2016 following a battle with bladder cancer. Since then, Sprouse has respected Lege’s legacy while also carving out his own identity as That Guy with the Birds!
The transition from “backstage guy who ran the music and set up props,” as Sprouse puts it, to becoming the guy running the show was a gradual process.
“John worked with a majority of the birds,” Sprouse said of their time together. “There were a few that I could handle, and he would show me tips and tricks on how to get a bird to step up.”
In January 2016, with Lege’s health in decline, he and Sprouse had a heart-to-heart talk about the parrot flock.
“He had always said, ‘If anything ever happens to me, I want my birds to go to a sanctuary,’ ” said Sprouse. “We had done some research whether there were any sanctuaries that could take his birds, and they were all full.
“So then we started talking, and he said, ‘Do you think you can do this?’ I said, ‘I’ve heard your show a million times; I can do it in my sleep.’ ” They subsequently discussed bird reactions and the appropriate ways to respond.
Sprouse now has about 100 birds. Lege’s program is the core of Sprouse’s presentation, “but I’ve put my own personal touch into it,” he says. One addition to the program has been D’jango, an umbrella cockatoo who “loves to dance to the ‘Chicken Dance’ song. That’s usually how I open the show.”
While the shows are entertaining, there is a substantial educational component to them as well, says Sprouse, who speaks frankly about the birds.
“Parrots are wonderful companions; they can make great pets,” he said. “But you have to do your homework before you get into something like this.”
He describes parrots as “very intelligent creatures” that are also “loud, messy and destructive.”
“You have to look at [parrots] as wild animals,” he added. “Naturally and instinctively, a bird picks their own mate in the wild. And for anyone to walk into a pet store or a shelter and say, ‘I want that bird. It’s an African grey [parrot]. I know those birds can talk’ — that doesn’t mean that bird wants you.”
Sprouse’s territory for shows mainly consists of the Pittsburgh area, and he’s also been to Illinois, Virginia and West Virginia. His travels have taken him to schools and churches; he’s presented his birds at a wedding, a funeral and a bar mitzvah, among other events. During a typical program, Sprouse will talk about various parrots for roughly an hour, and for the finale, a green wing macaw named Louie performs various tricks, such as playing basketball and placing coins into a piggybank. After that, Sprouse allows members of the audience to handle select birds.
During the summer, his peak season, Sprouse presents 15-20 shows per month. His next public appearance will be January 10-12 at the Greater Philadelphia Pet Expo in Oaks, Pennsylvania. Click here for information on how to schedule a That Guy with the Birds! program.