Parrots and their pirates will be making landfall in Eastport for the Pirate Festival, but one Eastport‑based parrot's adventures in the wilds have him forgoing the swashbuckling lifestyle.
Chichi the green Amazon parrot made a run for it, but after tasting the wilds for 24 hours he was ready to return to civilization. A rescue operation involving Chichi's vacation caretakers, Jim and Leanne Blankman, and Police Officer Rodney Merritt and his wife Lisa, utilized ladders, a pillow case, a pair of pajama bottoms of colorful pattern and an iPad. All ended well, but not before Chichi and his rescuers had an experience of a lifetime.
The 3‑year‑old parrot was staying with the Blankmans at their home in Eastport, as he has many times before when his owners go on vacation. Leanne says, "We have an open cage policy because he has clipped wings, and a couple of times he's tried to fly but just flutters." At this point, Chichi, safe and sound, is standing on Leanne's hand, weaving his head to soft music and burbling a little tune. All is well with Chichi's world, but Leanne still tears up when she thinks about what might have been.
As they left Chichi with the Blankmans, the owners reassured them that the parrot's wings had just been clipped. "Well," Leanne relates, "we were outside. He flew. He flew to the top of an ash tree." And thus began Chichi's 24‑hour odyssey.
It was getting dark. The Blankmans stayed out until they knew it was useless. "We couldn't see," says Jim. They went back home. "We were heartsick. We couldn't sleep," adds Leanne.
They awoke to daybreak and the sound of crows "tearing into something," says Jim. They knew the crows were either chasing a fox or had found Chichi. They searched and called all day. Meanwhile, Merritt spent the day doing his rounds and at 4:30 p.m. stopped by. "He asked us what were we doing? He'd seen us wandering around all day," laughs Leanne.
Merritt has over 30 years of police experience. A lost parrot was a first. He thought fast and went and retrieved his iPad from his home base. Quick research told them the worst. Green Amazon parrots like trees, really tall trees. Happily, Merritt found a soundtrack of the parrot's call and started to play it on the machine. After playing the call for a bit, they heard a "Hey" back. It was Chichi. It was hard to find his green plumage amongst the trees, but finally Merritt spotted him.
There he was at the very top of the tallest spruce in a stand growing on a steep incline. Jim ran for the tallest ladder he had. At 20' it barely made a dent. Up he began to climb until he was within a foot of the bird, but he couldn't reach that final foot. "He was done being wild; he was tired, thirsty and hungry," says Jim, but Chichi wouldn't move. Finally Jim was able to tap the parrot on the head with an overhead branch, and the parrot moved closer as he tried to get away from the annoyance. And then, Chichi stepped on Jim's hand and Jim hung on.
Jim managed to work his shirt off with his free hand and slide the sleeve still on his arm over the parrot. Meanwhile, Merritt was realizing with dismay that his uniform was not going to make for very good climbing up the tree. "Do you have any sweatpants?" he asked Leanne. She came back holding a pair of her pajama bottoms. Off went the uniform, on went the pajamas. And up the tree Merritt began to climb, clutching a pillow case.
Jim, ensconced at the top of the spruce, had a wonderful view but couldn't see what was going on below until he caught a glimpse of his wife in her pj's climbing the tree. Suddenly he realized it was Merritt. Jim says, "I asked him, 'Aren't those my wife's pajamas?'" All four laugh. Merritt says, "And I told him, 'We'll talk about it later.'"
It took an unusual form of round robin to get Chichi down safely from the tree, with each man descending a few feet below the other, relaying the pillow‑case ensconced parrot, until they reached ground and handed him off to Leanne.
Back in the house, Chichi ate and drank more than he ever had before, proof of the energy spent on his 24‑hour adventure. Leanne put on his favorite tunes, and he danced and displayed, sure signs of contentment. "They live to about 100 years. So now he knows that wasn't so great," says Leanne. "I think that audio file made all the difference," she adds. Merritt nods, "It was unbelievable." He adds that in his work he's had some unusual moments, "but this is one of the best stories -- so satisfying." He pauses and laughs with the others, "Only in Eastport, Maine."