photo illustration of Chris the cockatoo wearing a customized “Cornell” sweatshirt against a graphic background

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Alison Minton ’88 is guide and personal assistant to feathered friend (and avian celebrity) Chris the cockatoo

By Joe Wilensky

Chris Minton has performed on “Saturday Night Live” with Daniel Craig, appeared in an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and modeled in ads for Neiman Marcus, Saks Off 5th, and more.

Chris is also a bird—specifically, an umbrella cockatoo, a species named for its dramatic crest of head feathers. Alison Minton ’88 serves as manager, caretaker, and companion for 23-year-old Chris, a social media star with more than 300,000 followers.

His signature move, which seems made for TikTok: a bob-and-weave dance, during which he displays his crest while using one foot to twirl a straw, spoon, or other item—which he eventually tosses away like a delighted toddler.

1950s style: Minton and Chris on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” set
Chris and Minton, in period costume, on the set of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” (Provided)

“It looks like he’s smiling, and he throws his head back—like he’s having so much fun,” Minton says. “I think that’s one part of his appeal. Chris is a pretty happy guy.”

Minton, who majored in anthropology in Arts & Sciences, says she always loved birds—but she’d never thought of getting one, until Chris came along in 2001.

It looks like he’s smiling, and he throws his head back—like he’s having so much fun.

Then working as an event planner for the airline industry, she was coordinating a cocktail party and considered renting birds to highlight the “flight” theme. She met Chris, then three months old, at a pet store.

“He just latched on to me and wouldn’t let go,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is the greatest thing!’”

A peek inside Chris’s closet shows a colorful sartorial variety—most of them gifts
His many outfits. (Joe Wilensky / Cornell University)

The owner offered the smitten Minton a deal, and, despite her initial misgivings—“I was working 15 hours a day, and I had cats”—she took Chris home.

(For the record: he did appear at that airline party, which drew 1,000 revelers to NYC’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, sporting a tiny tuxedo.)

Minton is careful to note that at the time, she had no idea how difficult a male umbrella cockatoo would be as a pet.

The medium-sized parrot species, native to the Indonesian rainforest, requires ample attention, stimulation, and companionship.

“This is not a good first bird—but I didn’t know any better,” she says with a laugh.

One of Chris’s walls at home is bedecked with images, including a mock magazine cover and a photo of him cuddling with Minton’s mother, Barbara
A wall in Chris's room is bedecked with images, including a mock magazine cover and a photo of him cuddling with Minton’s mother, Barbara. (Joe Wilensky / Cornell University)

And as their lifespans can exceed half a century, she says, “all things being equal, he will probably outlive me.”

Chris got his start in show business in 2002, modeling in a magazine ad insert for a Vet College fundraiser (a gig he landed thanks to Minton’s Cornell connections).

He has since seen his bookings grow, including dancing in two episodes of the Bravo reality series “Million Dollar Listing New York.”

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Chris’s first modeling job was posing with then-JetBlue CEO David Neeleman in 2002 for a Town&Country fundraising insert for Cornell’s veterinary college
Chris’s first modeling job was with the then-CEO of Jet Blue in 2002. (Terry deRoy Gruber)

His turn on “Mrs. Maisel”—along with Minton in 1950s garb—is fleeting: the two play talent show contestants briefly visible on a bank of TV monitors.

(“Season 2, episode 9, starting at the 41:28 mark,” Minton notes.)

In March 2020, on the last live “SNL” broadcast before the pandemic, he appeared with 007 star Craig, Kate McKinnon, Chloe Fineman, Cecily Strong, and Kenan Thompson in a soap opera spoof, “The Sands of Modesto.”

Craig “was very playful with Chris, joking around with him and blowing on his feathers,” Minton says.

“I didn’t expect that from Daniel Craig—you expect James Bond, very austere.”

(It was actually Chris’s second “SNL” spot, but the first to air: In 2012, he appeared in a skit with McKinnon and the members of One Direction that was cut before broadcast.)

More recent appearances include an online spot for Saks Off 5th and an upcoming March Madness-themed ad for Geico on Instagram and TikTok.

promotional poster image of Chris the cockatoo, actor Daniel Craig, and “Saturday Night Live” cast members for the spoof skit “The Sands of Modesto”
Fame on "SNL." (Provided)

According to Minton, Chris loves to learn new tricks, like peek-a-boo. He can also say some 15–20 words, including “hello,” “cockatoo,” and “Barbara”—the name of Minton’s mother, with whom he bonded early on.

(Barbara now suffers from dementia, so Minton and Chris spend much of their time with her in Katonah, Westchester County.)

It was during the pandemic that Chris’s online popularity really took flight, as Minton began posting more regularly on social media and launched his TikTok channel.

Minton plays with Chris at home
Playtime at home. (Joe Wilensky / Cornell University)

As of March 2024, Chris has amassed about 325,000 followers, including more than 180,000 on TikTok, 133,000 on Instagram, and 11,000 on Facebook.

Chris also attends local pet wellness events and visits nursing homes.

His fans are numerous, especially around where they live in Manhattan (“he knows every doorman in the neighborhood,” she says) and in the local shops in Katonah.

Chris meets former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2021
A two-celebrity meet-up. (Provided)

It was in Katonah that Minton and Chris ran into former President Bill Clinton (a resident of nearby Chappaqua) in late 2021 while holiday shopping.

Minton asked for a photo, and Clinton gracefully obliged.

What’s next for the feathered celebrity?

Minton is about to launch a line of “Chris” merchandise, and she’s writing a children’s book featuring him, with hopes for a series.

“It’s definitely a huge commitment,” she says of shepherding Chris’s career.

“But I like it, it’s fun, and it has taken on a life of its own. He loves meeting people, performing, being on a set, getting his picture taken. It’s almost like he was looking for somebody he could attach himself to, who would do all this with him.”

Top: Chris sports a custom Big Red sweatshirt. Illustration by Caitlin Cook / Cornell University, from a photo by Joe Wilensky / Cornell University.

Published March 6, 2024


  1. Robyn Tobler

    I am absolutely crazy about Umbrella Cockatoos! I had my girl for 23 years before she passed and she was very similar to Chris. I now have a rescue male. They are so lovable and such sweet birds. I will always have one until I can’t anymore! Love love love these little babies!! ❤️🩷💙

    • Alison Minton, Class of 1988

      I’m sorry for the loss of your girl cockatoo. It’s wonderful that you rescued another. They are such unique birds and need loving people like you who can appreciate their special needs and high energy levels. ♥️

  2. Anne Paulin, Class of 1987

    Such a great story! I love parrots and cockatoos and wish I had the time to commit to having one (I mean the years, not the day-to-day time). Alison, are you the same Alison friend I had at Cornell in Italian class? If so, HI!! and congrats on finding dear Chris and all your mutual accomplishments.

    • Alison Minton, Class of 1988

      Thank you! I did take a few semesters of Italian at Cornell, so probably!

  3. Rose Cryan, Class of 1987

    Hi Alison
    I love this story!

    • Alison Minton, Class of 1988

      Hi Rose! Thanks! I hope you’re doing well!

  4. Vicki Trabattoni Sullivan, Class of 1988

    Fun story about Chris, but he would not be the first famous bird with Cornell ties. My senior year (I’m also an ’88) I brought Charlie, my yellow cockatiel (possibly a cousin of Chris the Cockatoo?), to campus with me frequently, resting on my chest or shoulder as I walked across the Arts quad. He became a celebrity in the Cornell Daily Sun personals when my friends tried to trick me into thinking they had lost him over fall break. It started an amusing series of ads from Charlie, a raven seeking to defend the friends who supposedly lost him, and a sexy green parakeet looking to nurse his wounds, among others. He was even a candidate in the Ugly Man on Campus competition that year!

    • Alison Minton, Class of 1988

      How did I not know about this? Vicki were you in Tri Delt?

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