Eyewitness Account: The Great Parrot Rescue of West 87th Street

The parrot was simply too colorful to blend in. See him? Photographs by Andrew Veith.

By Andrew Veith

With falling rent prices, parrots are making the move to NYC’s Upper West Side, bringing vibrancy and color to the neighborhood.

Residents and tourists alike strolling around 87th Street and Columbus bore witness to an epic saga Monday evening. Against the fading neon pinks and blues of twilight, a beautiful but very stubborn parrot captivated a small slice of NYC. A crowd quickly formed as delivery men stopped to take a peek, children smiled and pointed, and friends debated the best way to rescue the bird.

It’s a bird.

The parrot got free while being delivered to the Center for Avian and Exotic Wildlife by its owner, and flew to a window ledge. The owner climbed a ladder and was able to make contact with the bird, but as he went to make the grab, the cheering from the crowd scared the parrot, causing it to take flight.

Clearly not a fan of center stage like those midtown birds, the parrot took off across Columbus Avenue to perch in the branches of a tall tree overhanging 87th Street. This bird was not playing ball and so they called in backup. A fire engine soon arrived and parked beneath the bird. At this point a group of about 50 people had gathered to watch the drama unfold.


After a lot of pointing, nodding, mustache-twitching, and hand-gesturing, the first fire engine and its firefighters pulled out of the way, making room for the next crew, Ladder 25. This led to immediate action in the form of more pointing, nodding, mustache-twitching, and hand-gesturing. There’s no parrot playbook in the concrete jungle. These guys were forging their own rescue operation on the fly.

Don’t clap!

After much deliberation they maneuvered the fire engine into position and made ready the ladder. A woman with vibrant pink and orange crested hair not dissimilar from the bird itself — an Animal General employee and passionate parrot protector — circulated through the crowd urging people not to clap this time and endanger the operation. Calm and focused on the control sticks, the operator extended the ladder upward, maneuvering with grace and precision to within inches of the persnickety parrot.

Slowly, then all at once.

The stage set, it was time for action. With a large net over his shoulder, the firefighter mounted the ladder, like a batter stepping up to the plate. All eyes on him, this was the make-or-break high-stakes scenario these guys are made for. One of his crew mates also supplied him with a large fabric cage in case he was able to make the grab.

As he scales the ladder cautiously, the crowd grows silent, the tension building. The parrot eyes him down, the jig is up! The firefighter makes the final creeping steps to the end of the ladder and a hushed gasp rolls through the crowd as the parrot squawks perturbed.

A battle of wills.

A battle of wills progresses as the firefighter first tries to no avail to convince the parrot to jump into the cage, no surprise there. Indecision almost mires the operation in failure as the firefighter takes a halfhearted swing of the net, only serving to provoke the parrot into parrying away. An awkward several minutes of tug of war ensues as the firefighter breaks and bends branches to try and get the bird within reach, all the while spectators and other firemen alike make useful and not-so-useful comments.

Get him!

Two more firefighters join their comrade on the ladder. Sensing the need for bold action, one makes a daring grab for the bird and snatches him up in his arms. This parrot was not going down without a fight, squawking and biting all the way. Tensed in a human-parrot bear hug the brave young man was able to make the transfer to the cage and zip up the parrot.


A muffled appreciation floated up from the elated crowd, newcomers and patient longtimers alike. Excited whispers passed among the spectators and firemen shared smiles for a job well done.

Andrew Veith is a writer, producer, and tiki-party enthusiast living on the UWS. www.andrewveith.com

Correction: we previously mistraced the bird’s initial flight pattern. The article has been updated.

ABSURDITY, NEWS | 8 comments | permalink
    1. Lauren says:

      Hilarious!! It’s like I was right there!

    2. Sue says:

      Thanks for the entertaining play by play. Glad it ended well. Looking forward to reading future stories.

    3. Blair says:

      So wild! Love this story and the UWS! Thanks for the colorful recap.

    4. Rosemary MacMillan says:

      Love those firefighters.

    5. P. Veith says:

      Great story. Felt like I was there in the crowd watching events unfold. Where can I read more of your work?

    6. Amy says:

      Well told, Andrew!

    7. Nik says:

      First rule of journalism, check the facts! While this, not totally factual account is made to sound amusing it was not. The rescue was nerve racking and sad. A macaw has no business being in someones NYC apartment. Most likely the 1st time that bird sat on a branch in a tree. Where he should be but sadly he’s a prisoner. The whole scenario was not amusing.

    8. Joyce says:

      That was a great article! It was as vivid as the parrots’s colors!