Sandra Lee: Having a Cockatoo Is Like Having a Dog

09/26/2012 at 09:00 AM EDT

Sandra Lee: Having a Cockatoo Is Like Having a Dog
Sandra Lee with Phoenix
Ed Ouellette
Sandra Lee's baby boy is growing up, but he hasn't flown away from the nest.

The star of the Food Network's Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee – and girlfriend of New York governor Andrew Cuomo – first introduced us to her pet umbrella cockatoo in January, and has an update on her 11-month-old bird.

"Having a cockatoo is almost like having a dog," Lee tells PEOPLE. "He follows me around on foot. He sits on my lap as we watch TV and he cuddles constantly."

Phoenix spent part of the summer at bird camp, where he spent time socializing with other birds and got to learn tricks. A gift from "Andrew and the girls," he also went outside on his own for the first time in August.

"God bless, puberty won't be here for another four years, because their personalities are supposed to change and I always want him to stay my sweet baby boy," Lee continues. "Some people think it's odd to have such a connection with a bird. But then, talk to my girlfriend, Carolyn, because she has that connection with her Komodo dragon, which just tells me that all pets are people, too."

Phoenix has come a long way from his diaper-sporting days and is now "perpetually in motion."

"He enjoys life, anywhere and everywhere, other than his cage," Lee says. "He does, however, want to be in his cage when it's time to go 'night night.' He rubs his beak on everything, stands on his perch, puts one foot up and shuts his eyes."

His zest for life hasn't been lost on Lee, who takes pleasure in watching Phoenix interact with his surroundings.

"I am a true animal person, and I'm stunned by how engaged, alert and connected he is to his world," she says. "He's an absolute joy and a pleasure and he has become a real focus in my life."

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