Sorrow takes wing thanks to king George

Meet George Rogers, a 7-inch tall talking magpie with a remarkable vocabulary who lives with the Bankson family.

Kathy Bankson has raised George since March, when the wind knocked down a nest of three baby doves and another with three magpies.

One semi-crippled baby black bird with a yellow beak was the only survivor. It survived because Bankson got up every two hours to feed and nurture it. She named the bird George Rogers, after a ditchtender who was like a grandpa to her during her childhood on the family farm. The human Rogers had once offered 50 cents for every magpie Kathy and her siblings caught.

"When I got the magpie, I immediately thought of George," she said.

George the bird spends nights in the family home, inside a large cage on a table near the kitchen. The family lets the bird go outside each morning.

On a recent day, George greeted visitors without prompting: "Whatcha doing?"

Without thinking, the reply came, "I came to see a bird that can talk."

"Kiss, Kiss," said the bird.

As a photographer approached, something unsettled George. Bankson guessed that "it's either your camera or he senses you have a heart of darkness."

The photographer held his hand out in friendship and got pecked. The second or third peck drew blood.

"Don't shoot me," the photographer said.

"Don't shoot me," corrected the bird with the proper urgency.

How did George learn to say that? Out of sheer necessity, explained Bankson.

She has a neighbor, a farmer, who thinks magpies are a pest and a target.

"I begged him not to shoot any more magpies. He said he still would and I said, 'Please, no!' He replied, 'Then you better teach him to say, "Don't shoot me!"' It took two weeks and then I stopped the farmer's wife and had her listen to George."

George's routine follows a pattern. He visits cousins in the oak tree every morning. Out of jealousy or mistrust, they peck at the newcomer who each time asks, "Whatcha doing?"

George knows when the kids across the street get home from school. He plays with them until dusk. Sometimes the kids walk him back home in the evening.

George's love for the kids does not extend to their father, a sheriff's deputy. When he comes home, George dive-bombs him.

George has picked up one recent bad habit that Bankson would like to trace to its source. "He says the F word," she lamented. Her son Jake moved out a month ago, so he's been cleared.

She tries to correct George's bad habits but to no avail. "George doesn't listen to me. He's just like my kids."