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Escaped SPCA birds come home to roost

Nobody knows why Pip the chicken crossed the road -- and kept on going -- during a strong windstorm April 15.

But when morning dawned the next day, Pip, a Dutch bantam hen, and Silver, a one-eyed American kestrel, were both gone from their outdoor enclosures at the SPCA Serving Erie County in the Town of Tonawanda.

Silver was rescued two days later from a mob of crows and returned to the SPCA by an unknown good Samaritan. But Pip was missing for two months and two days, until she walked up to a woman on a Riverside street corner last week. After trying to locate the hen's owner for a few days, the woman brought her to the SPCA, to the amazement and joy of staff and volunteers alike.

The return of the birds to the SPCA by people who didn't even realize they were missing from the facility proves to Gina Browning, director of public relations, that "Buffalo is different from any other city in the nation." Browning says, "If I am speaking at a conference somewhere else in a couple of months, I know that people are going to be shocked when I tell these stories of what people in Buffalo and Erie County do to help animals, because they always are shocked. It always reminds me of how exceptional Buffalo is."

The avian drama began the morning of April 16, when the birds were discovered missing from their separate secure enclosures. A tiny opening was later found in Silver's pen, but staffers still aren't sure exactly how Pip escaped.

Immediately, the search for both birds began in the area surrounding the shelter. "We kept looking and calling," says Sheila Foss, manager of the SPCA's farm. "We even put out some food outside of the cage" to lure Pip back in. Her absence from the area was a mystery, says Foss. "Generally, they are so tight with their flock that even if she had gotten out, she would be on the outside of the fence, trying to get back in."

After a couple of days, the SPCA posted notices on its Facebook and Web pages, complete with photos of the two birds that had flown the coop. Dozens of people promised to watch for the feathered runaways.

Two days later, a man spotted a group of crows picking on a bird on the ground on Military Road, not far from the shelter. "He stopped his car, ran over, broke it up, scooped up Silver, and brought her to the SPCA," says Browning. "He didn't realize Silver was missing. He didn't say, 'This is the bird they are looking for.' He just knew that the bird needed help, and the SPCA was around the corner."

The staff was delighted at the return of Silver, who has been used in education by the SPCA's wildlife department since she was struck by a car in 2003 and lost an eye. During the celebration, nobody got the rescuer's name. "We'd love to know who he was, to thank him," says Browning.

Their joy at Silver's safe return was tempered by the fear that they might never see Pip again. As the days passed, Foss says, hope began to fade.

In the barn, Foss and her assistant Patti Burg took down Pip's photo from the display that helps visitors identify breeds of the eight other hens and rooster. But Burg and Foss kept Pip's photo in the office as a keepsake, hoping they would need it again.

On June 14, a woman was standing near the former Riverside Men's Shop building at Tonawanda and Ontario streets when a small black-and-white speckled chicken walked up to her. "So she picked her up, to keep her safe," says Browning.

After a day or two of looking for the tame hen's owner, the woman stopped in to talk to the staff at the SPCA.

"She didn't know if we'd even take chickens here, which of course we do," says Foss. When the staff heard the description of the hen, they wondered if it could possibly be their peripatetic Pip.

Foss says, "Patti showed her the picture of Pip, and she said, 'I think that could be her!' " At 8 a.m. last Thursday, the woman brought the hen to the SPCA. The office staff paged Foss, who hurried in, took one look at the little chicken, and said, "It's Pip!"

"Everyone was shocked," says Browning.

Foss brought Pip back to the flock, where her reappearance ruffled a few feathers. "She has a bit of a Napoleon complex, so she was going to take the whole flock on," Foss says. So, for a few days, Pip was penned separately with her friend Fluff, a silkie bantam. By Monday, Pip was mixing with her old friends again.

"Her weight was good, but she had a broken toe," a minor injury in a chicken, Foss says, adding, "Her beak and toenails were a little overgrown, and I think if she had been outdoors she would have naturally worn them down, scratching for food." So somebody might have kept Pip indoors. "We wish there was a hen-cam so we'd know where she'd been," says Foss.

While people in most places might pick up a lost dog or a cat, Browning says, "People around here aren't going to stop there. They are going to pick up chickens and kestrels!"

e-mail: aneville@buffnews.com

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