OH NO someone has stolen my parrots! SunDance, Pepper and 19 other parrots: missing!

close up blue and gold macaw parrot
Read in 17 minutes

My first medium sized parrot was a loving sun conure who spent all the years of her life with me. She chose me one day when I was in a pet shop when she was just weaned, about 8 weeks old.

Today I know I got her for the wrong reasons. I was fast learning a lot about my budgie Sydney and twice-found cockatiel Cocoa. After two cold winters in Denver, my husband and I were at last returning to Cape Canaveral for his job on the Space Shuttle. Before leaving Denver I said I wanted a bike for riding the beach and a parrot to ride with me. When SunDance picked me, little did I know she would have an absolute horror of bicycles. No matter how I worked with her, she never overcame this fear.

This is Oscar, the Double Yellow Head Amazonm happily riding with his human. 

wanted a mate. I decided to let her pick one and she chose a pretty male who was tame but supposedly not totally human imprinted and also supposedly knew how to eat all kinds of foods. We named him Pepper.

Well, he turned out to be totally human imprinted and only knew how to eat seed. SunDance fixed the food issue by showing him what was good, but no matter how she tried, she could not get him to become bonded enough to attempt mating, even though he had accepted a nest box after they began grooming and feeding each other. She would corner him, pressuring him to get on her back and he would simply step over her.

When she was about 15 years old, she had often made it very clear she

Conure Chick Hatching — what I had hoped for SunDance and Pepper

I was living in a condo 4 blocks from the Atlantic Ocean with my mother, who at this time was still in good health.  Across the street a man owned and preserved a natural Florida sand dune, only keeping the jungle away along the walking paths and aviaries where he kept many parrots including some conures. Many of his parrots were rescues and rehomes, ranging from conures to macaws, cockatoos, emus and geese.

One day while chatting along the street, I said to my neighbor jokingly, “I need a birdie porn video so Pepper can learn his part in the process. He just steps over her back and doesn’t get what he’s supposed to do.” My friend suggested I let him keep my conures in one of his outdoor aviaries beside his breeding conures for a few days since his birds were busily taking the proper actions to procreate. Pepper would see nature taking its course and hopefully get the right idea. I agreed as long as I could come feed them daily to be sure they had all their usual fresh foods. I also supplied my friend some extra fresh foods because it was quite expensive feeding a flock the size of his.

Parent Conures with tiny baby chick in lower left corner. 

SunDance and Pepper seemed to be enjoying their adventure in the outdoor aviary so I was willing to leave them for a week or two. The trees around the aviaries created natural rainforest-like canopies and each aviary had a roof over a portion of the top so the birds could bathe in the rain only if they wanted and have shade any time they wanted.

Memorial Day weekend was coming and I had told my boss at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in that Wednesday’s staff meeting that I would not take extra time off as many people do around a long holiday weekend. I had been off on medical leave for surgery earlier in the year. Also, I was working a project via phone, email and fax with a coworker who was temporarily working from California and our project was keeping him from his family; we wanted to finish it as soon as possible. My boss was one of those taking extra time so he designated an acting manager until his return after the holiday.

I came home from work that day and saw two police cars parked in the street, the officers talking to my neighbor — nothing unusual since he was well known in our community. I walked into the house and Mom said, “Get out there and talk to the cops; the birds have been stolen!” Needless to say, I raced outside to learn what was happening.

My neighbor’s fence had been cut, prickly Florida cactus cut down and 21 birds were missing including my two FIDs (feathered kids), several cockatoos, a large and several smaller macaws and other conures. I felt hopeless because I knew the chance of successfully locating our birds was slim.

I ran inside and called my ex-husband who had helped raise SunDance. He agreed to take the mainland pet shops since he lived in that area while I would work the barrier islands of Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral / Cocoa Beach.

Since it was not yet dark, I hit the streets on my bicycle immediately. I had always sung  a little song to SunDance based on “You Are My Sunshine” but changed to “you are my sunbird”. I sing very poorly and off-key but SunDance always snuggled up to me or danced when I sang to her.  I sang at the very top of my lungs, knowing that if SunDance could hear me, she would respond with her loudest shriek. No success.

I stopped and talked to everyone I encountered, many of whom were owners or former owners of birds of one sort or another. No clues except one lady said a kid had come by her house upon noticing a spare bird cage on her patio and asked if it was for sale. She didn’t know the kid, but thought him to be about 14-16 years old with brown hair. I report this progress to the police and they added it to their report. I also notified my neighbor. At least we had reason to believe the birds were in Cape Canaveral, a small town of about 10,000 residents and according to Wikipedia it is about 2.3 square miles in area.

cape canaveral 300x206 OH NO someone has stolen my parrots! SunDance, Pepper and 19 other parrots: missing!

In some places Cape Canaveral is only five blocks wide with the Atlantic on the east and the Banana River on the west.

The next morning I made a dawn pass around town calling SunDance. I soon had to return home to call in to work.

In my office, I had no photos of Mom or me. I had amateur and professional photos of SunDance. Everyone knew about my love for birds and many people had purchased cockatiels or received parakeets from me when I had bred these species. The assigned acting manager wasn’t familiar with my passion for parrots, but when he asked when I expected to be in I told him my parrots had been stolen and I would not be in until either I located them or there was no hope of finding them.  

Soon after, my coworker temporarily on the West Coast to work our project called to find out why I wasn’t answering my phone. He knew all about my parrot passion so when he heard that my birds had been stolen, he said he’d jump on the next plane home until I returned because “she’s not coming in until she finds those birds or she knows they are dead”.

My neighbor tracked his Moluccan cockatoo down at the pet shop on the mainland. The shop owner told him that two teens had brought the bird into the store stuffed in a box and the bird was clearly about to expire from stress. Having already been notified of the stolen parrots, he gave the kids $200 to get them to leave the bird there but they wouldn’t give their names. He only bought the bird because he didn’t want it to die and immediately called my neighbor and the police.  Now we had a little more information, but not much.

My neighbor recalled allowing several older teens to tour his aviary a few weeks back. You really can’t see any parrots or the house from the street because of the natural jungle most people constantly fight in order to have nicely trimmed green lawns. He remembered a few first names but had no last names and no idea where the boys lived.

I continued my biking, calling and talking to everyone I saw. I ran into a few other people who had heard about some birds up for sale and we were able to determine a general area of four blocks where we believed the birds were located. Beachside housing is dense, so that still left a lot of homes, any of which might contain the birds.

The police had messed up one chance to catch the kids with birds when they made an appointment to show two birds to a beach pet shop. Law enforcement sent a marked car so the kids and birds never showed up! Of course, law enforcement really doesn’t place stolen pets very high on their list when there are violent crimes, missing children and major crimes to investigate. They told us getting a search warrant would be difficult even if we found our parrots and knew exactly where they were being kept.

My ex-husband and I had a long talk. Because I had a security clearance and government facility badge, I could not afford to be arrested. Policy was to take credentials immediately and ask questions later. However, I had enough money to hire an excellent attorney if needed. My ex had no clearance since he worked for himself in website design and computer repair. We decided that if we found the exact house and knew for certain the parrots were there, if we couldn’t obtain a search warrant, he would kick in the door, get the birds out to me or whoever was available and then be detained in county jail until I arranged bail. I’d pay for his attorney and we felt no jury would convict in such a situation. I’m glad we didn’t have to use this plan but it was comforting to know that he was willing to do whatever it took to get the parrots back.

SunDance absolutely loved my friend Susan. We decided that since I had been so high profile, she would canvas the neighborhood where we believed the parrots were, telling people she was visiting her cousin for the Memorial Day weekend and her kitten had gotten out of her cousin’s house. She actually stopped and bought a picture frame with a kitten picture in it as “evidence” since she had birds, not cats.

I quickly printed up flyers in huge letters that said only “Lost: Two Parrots, Large Reward” and my phone number. While Susan canvased the area, I posted fliers on every wooden post I could find along this 4 block area.

By the time Susan and I pulled back into my driveway, Mom was outside holding the cordless phone (yes, cell phones were a year or so away) telling me someone knew where the birds could be found.

A young man told me he knew exactly where the birds were and they were being kept in a dark closet with no food or water. It was already Day Two and birds can’t last long without water and food. We had to get our parrots out right away because as soon as the next day, they would begin to die.

The young man agreed to take Susan to the house and tell the kids she wanted to buy some birds. I gathered all the cash I could grab quickly which was a good amount between my emergency cash hidden at home and my ATM card. I asked her to at least get SunDance back, SunDance and Pepper if possible and as many of my neighbor’s birds as possible.

wp macaw money beak OH NO someone has stolen my parrots! SunDance, Pepper and 19 other parrots: missing!

 

Cash to buy back my birds if necessary

My ex-husband had the house staked out and saw some kids leave with a large cooler, the kind you take soft drinks and beer to the beach in. Thinking they’d gotten into their parents’ beer and were stashing it at the beach for later that night, he didn’t think much of it. The last thing he thought was that the small cooler was stuffed with large and medium parrots. The teens and one guy over 21 realized that we were close to locating them so they wanted to get rid of the parrots quickly.

Susan and the young man arrived at the house just about 11:30 pm. They were allowed in but the kids told them that they’d let all the birds go on the beach just a short time earlier. If she wanted birds, she could have all she could catch.

Because we are near a port where many fish are caught and remains left in the trash cans, processing plants that drop seafood on the floor and have to dispose of it and many kind-hearted people, our population of feral cats was very larg and most of them roamed the beach at night. Susan was aware of this predator problem, knowing the cats would love to eat a few birds.

Susan ran as fast as she could to the beach. My ex joined her. Both called to SunDance who immediately ran to Susan and up to her shoulder. Pepper followed. Seeing safety from the beachside feral cats, the other unflighted birds joined in, climbing onto Susan until she was covered with parrots! The remaining parrots climbed onto my ex.

Four of the parrots were flighted and were never seen again. But of 21 stolen parrots, 17 returned to their homes safely. SunDance and Pepper climbed into their house and began to guzzle water. Once they were refreshed with water, they went to the food and ate and ate. They got treats and lots of love.

From that day forward, SunDance would not go near my neighbor’s jungle and would flap to the ground and begin walking toward home if I went too near the property. She and Pepper had been kept in a wooden box about the size of a small parakeet nest box with no light, food or water for nearly three days and clearly she remembered this horrible experience, associating it with the aviary from which she and Pepper had been removed and boxed up.

Later one of the deputies who had been involved in the case told me it was one of the best citizen investigations he’d ever encountered. Our safe parrots proved we’d done a lot of things right.

The young men were arrested, taken to court but since all but one  were juveniles, they were sentenced to  writing letters of apology to my neighbor and me and performing quite a few hours of community service while on probation for a year. Considering the total value of the parrots they had stolen, they got very light sentences. Hopefully they learned not to steal ever again.

Tips If Your Parrot is Stolen:

  1. Have a plan in advance so you don’t panic and waste time.
  2. Don’t expect the police to provide a great deal of help. Begin your own search.  Post on your local section of lost and found parrot websites. Someone may realize that a person with a new bird didn’t actually buy it.
  3. The main reason parrots are stolen is because people think they can easily sell them. Few people will buy birds from people who don’t know a lot about birds and have them in good housing situations. Alert all pet shops in your area and tell them you will reimburse if they have to pay to retrieve your bird. Often the parrots are offered at either unusually low or unusually high prices and pet shop will recognize this discrepancy.
  4. Provide pictures of your parrot to pet shops, the police and any well-known parrot owners in the area.
  5. Ask everyone you see and can talk to about anyone having mentioned a parrot or parrots for sale. Ask them to spread the word to others.
  6. Don’t post fliers that say the birds are stolen, people may fear reporting facts if you do. Instead, remain vague with something like my fliers and be sure to stress a large reward but don’t post an amount. Include a photo if you wish, just as if the bird were truly just lost.
  7. Use any and all tips to narrow the area of your search.
  8. Use any excuse to knock on doors in the search area or have a friend the bird loves and will call to help canvas so and hope to hear a response from the parrot on hearing your voice or your friend’s voice.
  9. Don’t give up. It took us nearly three days of coordinated team work but we retrieved all but the flighted parrots safely.
  10. Mentally prepare yourself for the possibility that you may never find the parrot if it is taken out of the area. It is sad but true that some stolen birds are never located. As soon as technology provides us with GPS microchips to locate our parrots, have one implanted so you can easily locate your stolen bird. Even with non-GPS chips, have one implanted so you can prove ownership of the bird if recovered.

Of course, this happened because the birds were in outdoor aviaries. I’d had an outdoor aviary before and never had a problem. My neighbor had kept parrots for over 35 years on his property without a theft, even though he allowed many people to tour his property and talked to them about conserving Florida’s natural lands as well as his love of parrots.

I know people who have had their homes broken into to steal a large parrot. So any parrot is at risk because neighbors will know you own a bird from the sounds. In good weather I also like to have my parrots outdoors at least 20 minutes per day because this allows them to produce natural Vitamin D. I have special window locks on the windows of my apartment so no one can easily open a window and grab my birds, electronics or other things that matter to me. 

written by nora caterino
approved by mitch rezman