23 Trees: A story of a macaw getting loose, and what it took to get her home again

by John Kerns

“Six days on the road and I’m a gonna make it home tonight.”  Words from an old country truck driving song from long ago. 

Day one: The nightmare begins

Harley in a tree

On a warm Monday in late October around lunch time here in Northern Virginia our 20 year old female Blue and Gold Macaw named Harley accidently got outside and flew away.  We, Bobbie and I, saw the general direction she went in and started scouring the neighborhood and woods in that direction.  After several hours, we saw and heard nothing.  Finally, around 4:30 p.m. a neighbor heard her squawk and located her in a tree next to a very busy road a few hundred yards from our house.  We stayed with her until dark and with great reluctance, went home.  Fortunately, during the night she didn’t fly and we were back there at first light on Tuesday.  

Day two: Tree one

We tried to coax her to come down to us.  The tree was such that she couldn’t climb down and I doubt now that she was sufficiently hungry or thirsty enough to even try.  We also deduced that because she is a prey animal, she will not naturally fly to the ground. So we camped out near the tree where she could see us and hear us calling her name, offering her food, etc.  We even brought our other BGM (in a carrier) to see if that would be any motivation.  It wasn’t.  So she spent Tuesday in the first tree. 

Day three: Four more trees

Harley flies away from the bucket truck

On Wednesday, a friend brought a small bucket truck that was able to get close to the tree.  Unfortunately, the boom was about four feet too short.  When I reached to gently pull the branch toward me, she flew.  She flew about 100 yards to a very high tree across the busy road.  The Fire Department, via Animal Control, brought their big tower truck.  We got within about six feet and she flew off again.  From our high vantage point, we could see the direction she flew in and the area where she may have landed.  After an hour or so, we found her in a tree in a neighbor’s backyard.  For the rest of Wednesday, she flew to four more trees.  Each tree was several hundred yards away and with the help of wonderful neighbors, we were able to locate her each time.  By dark, she was in a tree across the street behind a neighbor’s house where she spent Wednesday night. 

More days, more trees

We were with her from first light to last light each day.  From Wednesday to Saturday, she flew to 23 different trees.  Each time was to the top of a high tree on the outside branches.  There was one time when she flew north.  As we were searching a likely landing zone, I saw her flying from even further north heading south toward us.  If she hadn’t flown back toward us, we would have never known where she was. 

Help from friends and neighbors

Everyone in the neighborhood, without exception, was helpful and supportive.  The NextDoor App was humming.  Our neighbor Josh said that was about as much drama as NextDoor has ever seen. Ted has Superman eyes.  He spotted her in trees that I missed.  Mike has Superman ears.  He could hear Harley clucking in a tree a hundred feet away.  The last two nights, Thursday and Friday, she flew right at dark and we had to go to be bed not knowing where she was.  Thanks to Mike and Ted, we were able to locate her the next morning after a couple of hours searching and calling. 

The weather was perfect, generally sunny with highs in the 70’s and lows in the 50’s.  One morning was a dense, cold fog that burned away by late morning.  The first couple of days when we saw Harley flying, it was a frantic, rapid flapping.  By Friday, it was a slower beat.  At first we thought she might be running out of gas.  Nope.  She was actually getting very efficient with her flying.  It was perversely beautiful to watch. 

Day six: Trees 22 and 23

By Saturday afternoon, she was working on day six with no food and water.  Tree 22 was the highest tree yet and it was on the edge of woods.  If she had continued to fly north into the woods, we likely could never have located her.  Instead she flew west.  From her wing flapping, she was clearly running out of gas.  Unable to get or maintain altitude (?), she landed in a low tree in a front yard.  When Ted spotted her, she was in the middle of the tree about 15 feet over my head.  Long story short, a neighbor brought a small ladder that I leaned against the trunk and she climbed down the small branches to my hand.  It was 2:30 p.m.  But who was counting?  It was into a pillow case and a kind neighbor drove us home. 

Finally home

Harley, home at last!

She was clearly worn out.  I estimate that she flew a total distance of around three miles, plus or minus.  When we got her home, she immediately drank a lot of water after which she ate.  She had lost about 170 grams or about 15% of her normal body weight.  By evening, her poop was all urine and urates.  The next morning, there was some feces in the poop. 

If we had not gotten her back Saturday afternoon, we aren’t sure we ever would have.  She was probably quite depleted by that time and the weather turned colder.  Saturday night and Sunday, the weather was in the 40’s with a cold rain.  But she is finally home, warm, hydrated, fed, and resting. 

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