On a bitterly cold February afternoon, Angela Baty of the Town of Tonawanda opened her front door ever so slightly to say something to her friend in the driveway.
In an instant, Eli, her 4 1/2 -year-old greenwing macaw who was perched on her arm, slipped through a 5-inch opening and was gone.
But thanks to the help of friends, relatives, volunteers and a veterinarian, Eli is home again, recuperating from an 18-hour ordeal that left him with frostbite and a broken leg.
"I'm a bird person and should have known better. I won't do that again," Baty vowed last week.
Horrified as she was at the time, Baty confessed to also being awestruck as she watched Eli soar into the air before landing in the middle of a flock of pigeons that instantly took flight in fear of the large red bird with the massive hooked beak.
Though Baty tried to keep him in her sights, Eli flew off and disappeared. Despite all the helpBaty was able to mobilize, the bird was not to be seen or heard from for another 18 hours. Overnight, temperatures dipped to 20 degrees, which is not exactly ideal for a tropical bird.
Baty mobilized a cadre of family and friends to help search for the bird, knowing that escaped parrots seldom venture more than a half mile from home. They played recorded squawks of Eli's 9-month-old brother, Dino, to coax him out of hiding. They called local radio and TV stations to try to get the word out and even recruited a group of schoolchildren to assist in the search and help hand out fliers.
"In a matter of like an hour, the word was out. People were calling me on my cell phone as I was driving and saying: 'Hi, I'm from Niagara Falls. I heard about your bird on Parrot Rescue 911 on the Internet.' I didn't know these sites existed," Baty said.
The following morning, Baty received a call from a veterinarian's office near her home where the bird had been delivered.
As it turned out, Eli had been found under the car of a woman who lived less than a half mile from Baty's home. The bird was exhausted, dehydrated and had suffered a broken leg and frostbite. He was later delivered to the Lancaster office of an avian veterinarian, Dr. Laura Wade, where special pins were surgically placed in the bird's leg to help him mend.
"He was, we think, hit by a car and had a leg fracture," said Wade.
Eli is home now. Though he is not in the same 6-by-6-foot cage he had previously shared with Dino, the pair can still see each other. Eli is still on antibiotics to help him overcome an infection in his hipbone, but the prognosis for a full recovery is good, according to Wade.
Baty said she has learned a lesson from this ordeal.
"Never let your guard down. You get comfortable with these birds, and they're smart," she said. "If they're going to go, they're going to go."