Taking a bird outdoors without a carrier or harness is risky business. They can be lost in a flash, and recovering them can be an enormous challenge. Kathleen Cooke tells us of the trials and errors of losing, searching for and then recovering Nellie, a cherished Congo African grey that she adopted through Phoenix Landing. Thanks for all your enduring efforts to get her back safely, Kathleen!
Day One: On June 21st, 2013, I made a mistake that almost cost my African grey parrot her life. I walked out onto my deck with Nellie after burning something on the stove. It was the first time I had taken her outside without her harness, but she had been out on the deck many times so I thought she would be okay. She was outside with me for less than three minutes when she startled and flew into the woods. Nellie flew faster, higher, and farther than I ever thought she could, and I was helpless running after her. She whistled for me within minutes but she was high in a tree and I had no way to get to her. A friend tried to reach her with a ladder but she was so scared that she tried to bite him. Then she stepped onto a perch, but startled as she was lowered and flew higher into the tree. We extended the ladder and tried again, but she flew higher still and into another tree. At this point Nellie was about thirty feet high so there was nothing more to do but wait. We set out her travel carrier and some of her favorite foods, and then set up camp. She didn’t move for the rest of the evening or night.
Day Two: Nellie started to talk on day two, and even tried to climb down once, but lost her footing and climbed back up. We tried everything imaginable to coax her down but she was just too frightened. As dusk was approaching we tried to prompt her to come down with a long stick, but this only startled her and she flew even deeper into the woods. We searched for her through the night.
Day Three: Day three was the worst day of all because we didn’t know where she was, but it rained in the morning so I was thankful she had water to drink. We covered every square inch of the woods surrounding my house, distributed flyers and drove to neighboring areas to ask if anyone had seen Nellie. My sister suggested we walk with my dog Mel because Nellie liked to whistle for him. We walked down a road checking the very spots we had checked earlier, but this time Nellie whistled for Mel, the first sign of her in almost twenty-four hours! She even tried to fly to us but couldn’t stay on course and headed for a patch of woods. It was getting dark so it would be another night before we could get to her. Luckily this patch of woods was beside a road so I stayed in my car for the night, getting out every couple of hours to reassure Nellie that she wasn’t alone.
Day Four: I was relieved to hear Nellie whistling and talking, but she was completely exposed atop one of the tallest trees, and relief quickly turned to panic when she was suddenly attacked by a hawk. She fought for her life for a good five seconds and then tumbled down. With some coaxing with food and water, she flew to the lower part of another tree and was only about twelve inches from our reach! However, she was so traumatized that she struggled to come down the branch. For four days I had stood helpless, thirty feet below her, but now she was almost within arms-reach, extending her neck towards the food bowl and slowly inching down in shaky, cautious steps. She went limp when she finally made it into my arms. Nellie recovered quickly with only minor injuries, and was whistling and calling for Mel again later that afternoon. Mel passed away suddenly almost one month after saving Nellie’s life. He was her hero that day, and now he is her angel.
A Little Advice: I wish I had waited for Nellie to come down on her own. I still would have used a ladder to get closer to her, but I wouldn’t have pushed her to come to me. She was on sensory overload and just needed a little time. Birds fly higher out of instinct, but Nellie didn’t know there was danger up higher. She was whistling and fanning her red tail feathers when the hawk attacked her. I read online that it may take three days for your bird to come to you and I would encourage you to wait, provided your bird is not too high or exposed and in a relatively safe spot. If you are still looking for your bird, just be patient and keep calling. Parrots are the most vocal at dawn and dusk so talk to them a lot during those times. You may not hear your bird, but your bird hears you, and just when you think it’s hopeless you may hear your bird’s sweet voice like I did. Listen to everyone’s ideas (you never know what may work), but follow YOUR instincts. I couldn’t have done this without the emotional support and manpower of my family and friends, so assemble your team as soon as possible. The best advice though is to not make the same horrible mistake. I spent four days in the woods without sleep in over 90 degree heat, lost 10 lbs, and was covered in poison ivy and mosquito bites, but that was nothing compared to the nightmare that Nellie suffered. I would give anything to take that day back.
Here are a couple of helpful documents in case your bird is lost outside. Please take care to avoid emergencies like this. Make sure your bird can’t fly unexpectedly out the door or push out a screen, and always take them outside safely in a carrier!