Unusual rescue attempt inspires county-wide effort

By Terry Harris

“Watch the Birdie” turned into quite an adventure last week when Sussex County Animal Services, two Sussex County Deputies, and a Prince George Electric career Lineman - commonly known as “Swampman” - teamed up to attempt a daring rescue of an escaped Jenday Conure high atop a 100-foot-tall pine tree.

Ashley Irwin, her boyfriend Otter, their friend Kat, and their seven-year-old rescue pet bird, Birdie, had moved to Waverly from Richmond in June, and were working at the entrance to their new home when Birdie suddenly swooped through the door and flew up the nearest tree. 

“Everybody panicked!” Irwin said.  “We had just moved in, had no ladders, barely knew our neighbors, didn’t know what to do!  First, we spent over an hour trying to shine lights up in trees and could not find him. Then we kept track of him flying around the trees while we tried to figure out what to do. We were so stressed out!  Captive birds can only last about three days in the wild before getting too dehydrated to live.”

She related that the bird apparently had been traumatized at an early age and was afraid of hands, making recapturing him an even greater challenge.  Research into tricks for luring Birdie down included spraying him with water, but he was impossibly high up in the air and kept flitting from treetop to treetop.  Finally, they called Sussex Dispatch to ask if anyone in the county might be able to help them. Five minutes later, Irwin said, Lisa Moseley, Assistant Chief Deputy of Sussex Animal Services and lover of all animals, arrived and immediately started working a plan.  

“I got the call at 8 in the morning,” said Moseley. “When we got there and saw the bird, I immediately called Brian Carr – Swampman, an amazing tree-climber who has rescued cats, to ask if he’d be willing to meet me. He said he would be happy to help after work that afternoon. All day the owners watched Birdie, as he kept moving from tree to tree.  Those trees were so tall I couldn’t get from top to bottom in one photo, and everybody kept saying, ‘You’re a fool! It’s running wild! It’s a bird!’  But I don’t do well with the word, ‘No.’”

While waiting for Swampman, Moseley said, she decided she needed a Plan C since the bird was too high in the air for a water spray and climbing all the way up a pine tree over seven stories high might not work either.  So, thinking that a drone might be helpful to check more closely on Birdie and possibly figure into some sort of plan involving a net, she contacted Deputy Donell Steward, who had a drone. Steward was off duty, but he immediately rushed over, and he and Deputy Stewart Hudson joined the assembling rescue team.

Soon after the drone was up in the air, they realized that Birdie had stopped moving – apparently afraid of the noisy “predator” buzzing around his tree.  Enter Swampman.

“When I got the call,” Carr related, “I laughed and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! You know he’s gonna fly away!’”

“I’ve rescued hundreds of cats,” he added, “but this was the first time I’d been called to rescue a bird. I really didn’t expect to be able to get it.”

“By the time I was able to get there after work,” he continued, “it was getting late in the day, that bird had been up in the trees for two days, and it was HOT. I was afraid he would not last much longer. Lisa had called for a drone, and one of the Sussex County deputies had brought one out there and they were thinking maybe to drop a net over him to get him to stop moving. But once we realized that seeing and hearing that drone was keeping him still, at least for the moment, I got my gear and got ready to climb.”

There followed a feat that Mosely and Irving described as “Unbelievable” and “As natural as a monkey climbing a tree” as Swampman went to work.

“The bird was 90 feet up in the air, and when I got close to him, he was all the way out on the end of a limb,” Carr related.  “He started walking toward me like he knew I was there to help him, but when I reached my hand out toward him, he started to back away. I knew I couldn’t follow him out on that limb, and I figured it was now or never, so I went two-handed for him.  He started squawking and biting at my hand, but I finally pulled him over and got him in the bag.”

“Then, I just rappelled down with him,” Carr drawled.

Once everyone was inside the house and Birdie was released, he flew around for several minutes loudly squawking his displeasure with the whole situation and refusing to land on the upheld arm of his owner. Instead, Carr said, “The bird disregarded all of them and landed on my head.  It was almost like he knew who I was and was thanking me.” 

Afterward, Moseley said, “It was such an incredible thing how so many people came together. Brian was amazing. The officers did an outstanding job. The neighbors were immediately going, ‘Yes, you can go on our property!’ and ‘Yes, you can climb our tree.’ It was such a wonderful group effort with everyone working together.”

“We are so thankful that Lisa and the officers and Brian went through so much effort to help us,” Irwin said. “This means a lot to me when it comes to community. It was quite different than when you live in a city. We felt completely powerless for two days – hardly slept at all. You just would not expect someone to climb 90 feet up a tree and then let go with both hands to save a bird. When he finally said, ‘I got him!’ I had such an overwhelming sense of relief! And it really made me feel good knowing that the county cared that much.”

She paused for a moment, then, grinned and added, “It was like they all gave us a great big ‘Welcome to the neighborhood! Here’s your bird!’”