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Mystery Surrounds Exotic Bird Rescued Near Columbia University

By Leslie Albrecht | January 25, 2011 7:57pm | Updated on January 26, 2011 6:17am
An exotic bird rescued Saturday near Columbia University appears to be peach-faced lovebird, shown here, which are native to Africa.
An exotic bird rescued Saturday near Columbia University appears to be peach-faced lovebird, shown here, which are native to Africa.
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By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — An exotic bird rescued from the frigid streets of Morningside Heights this weekend has left a multi-colored mystery in its wake.

The jade, tangerine, scarlet and azure bird, which looks from a photo as if it belongs in a steamy jungle, was discovered Saturday by Jon Chapman, a 27-year-old management consultant, on West 114th Street about 5 p.m. as the temperature dipped into the 20s.

Chapman, who lives in New Jersey, handed the bird off to a Good Samaritan student at Columbia University, who promised to take the animal to a reputable veterinarian.

News of the wildlife encounter was first reported by the Oxford University Press blog, then by Gothamist, prompting a small flurry of concerned comments and guesses as to the bird's species.

It's now believed that the bird is a peach-faced lovebird, which are native to southwest Africa, but it's not known where the bird came from or what happened to it after its rescue.

Chapman didn't get the name of the animal-friendly student who took the bird, but said in an e-mail Tuesday he wished he had so he could find out if there was a happy ending for his newfound feathered friend.

"I had assumed this was a semi-frequent occurrence in the city, but I am comforted by the fact that so many people have shown interest in the plight of this stray bird," Chapman wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

It was the bird's insistent, nervous-sounding chirping that first attracted Chapman's attention. The series of short, high-pitched chirps seemed to be a call for help, Chapman said in the e-mail.

"When I looked down to see the bright colors, coupled with the fact that he was alone rather than with a small group like most small birds in the city typically are, it became clear that he was lost," Chapman said.

Lovebirds are known for their affectionate personality and thirst for companionship, which is why they're often kept in pairs, according to Animal-world.com.

Chapman said the bird didn't resemble the Quaker parrots who mysteriously disappeared from Washington Heights last year.

Chapman said he leaned down and stuck out a finger for the bird to hop on, but instead the bird flew up and perched on Chapman's friend's shoulder.

Chapman scooped the bird into his warm hands and went to look for help. As the cold minutes ticked by, the feathered creature seemed to grow weaker and chirped less frequently, Chapman said in the e-mail.

Chapman met the student who offered to care for the bird on the southwest corner of the Columbia campus.

It's a good thing the bird was taken to safety when it was, said Karen Heidgerd, practice administrator at Animal General vet hospital on Columbus Avenue and West 87th Street.

Heidgerd, who didn't treat the rescued bird, said it sounded as if the bird was a pet who escaped from a nearby home. Stray exotic birds usually don't fare well on the street, Heidgerd said.

They may find a lamp post or other nook to warm themselves, but because they've been fed by humans their entire lives, they lack the food-gathering skills to survive, Heidgerd said.

"They're not native to this country, so usually they live in cages in houses," Heidgerd said. "They don't do well in the cold, they can't forage, and most of them don’t know how to feed themselves."

A bird like the one rescued Saturday would last "a couple of days max" exposed to the elements, Heidgerd said.

A search of Craiglist lost and found bird postings didn't turn up any possible matches.

Though not a bird owner himself, Chapman said his brush with the bird made him consider getting one as a pet. "After the encounter, the thought of owning one has crossed my mind; he was a charming little guy," Chapman said.