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Trained Parakeet Putts, Dunks Way to Online Video Fame

A "Tonight" show darling from the end of the Johnny Carson era, a putting parakeet named A.J., is staging a comeback thanks to Web sites such as YouTube.com and MySpace.com .

David Cota spent months training the parakeet to use a tiny putter to sink putts on a miniature green, making the 5-inch-tall bird an Internet video star.

But Cota, 38, owes his extended 15 minutes of fame to a dead parakeet.

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"Axl," named for the lead singer of Guns N' Roses, was accidentally crushed only hours before he was scheduled to perform on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" in May 1990.

Cota's college roommate fell asleep and rolled on top of the bird. The death made national news.

• Click here to see A.J. dunk a basketball.

Carson turned the mishap into a comedy bit. Wearing a black armband, he hosted an on-air memorial service for Axl, complete with "Taps" performed by Doc Severinsen.

Carson gave Cota a new parakeet, A.J. He told Cota to come back when he had trained the new bird.

Cota and A.J. performed for Carson. They have also been on with Jay Leno and on David Letterman's "Stupid Pet Tricks."

Now the pair are finding new life in new media. The 16-year-old parakeet recently won an "outrageous bird" viral video contest sponsored by MagRack, an on-demand television network.

A.J.'s skills impressed a 13-member celebrity panel that included actor Carroll Spinney, Sesame Street's "Big Bird" since 1969, and Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "The Birds."

"I've never seen a little parakeet that was that athletic," said Hedren.

Cota, who works for sports apparel distributor, stumbled into the world of bird training by accident.

In college, he and his friends were impressed by Axl's skills at the college drinking game "quarters."

The goal is to bounce quarters into a glass, or drink if you miss. Axl would run down runaway quarters and dunk them.

A.J. now knows far more tricks than Axl did. Cota and his friends have built elaborate sets, including a basketball court and a putting green.

Next up: Water skiing.

"I don't think there is any limit to what I can show him," Cota said.

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