Wayward Island parrot found in Rhode Island
No one is sure whether he winged it or hitch-hiked, but Hunter, an Indian ringneck parakeet lost in Vineyard Haven, wound up in an animal shelter in Cranston, R.I. And although Hunter actually is a member of the parrot family, he's not talking.
Thanks to two vigilant bird lovers and two diligent animal control officers, a classified ad in the September 18 Martha's Vineyard Times paid off big for Hunter, who was reunited with owner Shaun Hickey almost two months later.
Ms. Hickey lives on the Cape and works as an art consultant with the elderly. About three years ago she bought six-month-old Hunter, a beautiful bright yellow bird, at Petco in Falmouth. Like many young adults starting out, Shaun was unable to find an apartment that accepted pets and asked her parents, Bennie and John Hickey of Vineyard Haven, to keep Hunter temporarily.
PHOTO BY CHRISTY BURDICK
While at her parents' home one weekend in September, Shaun took the birdcage outside to clean it, with Hunter along for the ride on her shoulder.
Although he has flown away before, usually he doesn't go far, she said, because his wings are clipped.
This time, however, Hunter flew up to the top of the highest tree, and over the next few days, could be seen - and heard - while flying around close by, from tree to tree. Escalating efforts to catch Hunter, both literally and figuratively, Shaun's dad got out his tallest ladder and borrowed a big net from the neighbors. The freedom-loving bird just flew higher.
"My dad was even crinkling crackers, one of Hunter's favorites, and he wouldn't come down," Shaun said.
The next day her mother saw Hunter sitting in a tree a few blocks away on Lighthouse Road. She could not coax him down, either.
Bennie Hickey said she called the fire, police and animal control departments, who were unable to help her. Later that day, Hunter flew away. Hoping to provide her daughter with some consolation, Mrs. Hickey placed a classified ad with the heading "Lost Parrot" in The Martha's Vineyard Times.
After that, Hunter's fate was a matter of luck and good timing.
Several weeks after the ad appeared, animal control officer David Lovejoy answered a call in Cranston from a homeowner who reported Hunter as an "exotic bird" sitting on the front deck.
Officer Lovejoy captured the Martha's Vineyard fugitive and brought him back to the animal shelter. It took Officer Lovejoy and his colleague, Officer Christy Burdick, a few days of online research to solve the real-life challenge of "name that bird."
Once they figured it out, on November 8, Officer Burdick placed an ad about Hunter online on Petfinder, a national website.
In the meantime, Judy Luther in Lemont, Ill., spotted the Times ad about Hunter and called Shaun to ask about posting information about him on a website run by 911 Parrot Alert. Ms. Luther is a volunteer for the nonprofit organization, which maintains a database of lost and found birds of all types to help reunite them with their owners.
At the same time, Pam Waldron, one of the organization's volunteers in Massachusetts, happened to notice both the Petfinder listing and then Ms. Luther's posting on 911 Parrot Alert the next day.
Putting two and two together, Ms. Waldron called Shaun. While they talked, Ms. Waldron did an Internet search and confirmed Hunter was the bird in the Cranston Animal Shelter.
"I couldn't believe it was my bird - I just couldn't believe it," said Shaun. "I thought he was gone."
Resigned to Hunter's loss, she had already bought a lovebird to replace him.
Nonetheless, after providing proof of ownership, her parents retrieved Hunter from the Cranston Animal Shelter on November 22, on their way to pick up Shaun's sister at Brown University.
Shaun's mother admitted she had mixed feelings about the bird's miraculous reappearance, given that he is not one of her favorite creatures. As far as she was concerned, having to pay $50 in boarding fees to the animal shelter to spring Hunter - who sometimes bites - added insult to injury.
However, like any good mom, Bennie Hickey said she wants Shaun to be happy and is willing to put up with boarding Hunter and the new lovebird - temporarily.
Opinions remain divided as to whether Hunter actually flew to Cranston, about 49 miles as the parrot flies.
"I don't know how far we are from Martha's Vineyard, but that's a long flight," said Officer Burdick.
However, as Ms. Luther noted in an email, "Unlike a lost cat or dog that can be seen from the ground, lost birds can fly great distances in a short period of time without being noticed - a bird can fly over 50 miles a day and/or be transported by car and escape again." That's why it can take weeks or months to locate the owners of a lost bird, she added.
"I don't know if he flew all the way there - I'm thinking he did, though," said Shaun. "I wouldn't be surprised, because he's acting like he's a wild bird. Now he's biting me, he doesn't accept food anymore, and he's very independent."
Hunter also exhibited evidence of burning off some calories on his trip to America, Shaun said, as confirmed by a vet who checked him on his return home and said he was a little thin.
Ms. Waldron thinks it more likely that someone found Hunter, and he escaped again. She said the main lessons from his story are that owners of lost birds should list them at www.911parrotalert.com and not give up too soon.
Unfortunately, Ms. Waldron warned, unscrupulous people make a business of claiming lost birds and then selling them online. "Check Craig's List - contact every person selling your type of bird to make sure it's not yours," she advised.
Parrots, coming and going
In the meantime, while Hunter sought escape from Martha's Vineyard, another parrot apparently wants to make it home.
Last week, Ricky Duncan spotted a multi-colored green parrot with a red head sitting in a tree outside his home near the VFW on Towanticut Ave. in Oak Bluffs. When he called to it, the parrot flew down and landed on his arm, and he brought it inside the house.
Mr. Duncan and his roommate Allan Howe checked with nearby neighbors, but no one knew anything about the parrot. They made a big cage for the bird, and went online to find out what to feed it and how to care for it. "It's a happy camper," said Mr. Howe, who called to place an ad in the lost and found classifieds in last week's Times. For more information, call 508-696-7550.
When told about 911 Parrot Alert, Mr. Howe said he would contact that organization as well, to list the bird.