You could say he had flown the coop. Or you might just call it a flight of fancy.
Whatever it was, it came to an end late Wednesday as Chico, a 1-year-old greenwing macaw, was returned to owner Gene Cope, a little more than three months after the bird fled its cage in Cope's Northwest D.C. apartment.
"Now he's home where he belongs, after a very circuitous route," Cope said yesterday. "I'm happy, and I hope he is."
The winged odyssey started in early September, when Chico somehow escaped from his cage on Cope's back porch. Cope was out of the country at the time.
"I found out when [my neighbors] called me in Puerto Rico . . . 'Great news; your parrot is gone.' I was beside myself," Cope recalled.
The bird's freedom ended at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant in Cheverly, when a driver found an unexpected passenger on his truck. Several Pepsi-Cola employes caught the bird, and marketing secretary Michelle De Milo phoned her husband to come pick it up.
"We're not allowed to have animals on the Pepsi lot," explained De Milo, who owns a parrot. "They let me take it home because I know about birds."
Meanwhile, the proprietor of a liquor store near the plant recalled a television broadcast about the lost macaw and managed to track down the owner.
For three months, Cope had searched for the bird. He alerted the National Zoo, local animal welfare leagues, the D.C. police. He placed newspaper ads, then fielded phone calls from people all over the region who thought they had seen Chico.
"I kept getting calls from people who would spot it, they would hear it and they would see it, and I would go out there and walk around and it wouldn't be there," Cope said.
"I had one lady call from Leesburg. She said she had a white bird with black spots, green this and red that. . . . I said, 'It's not my bird, but I'd sure like to see it.' "
On Nov. 17, an Arlington man noticed a three-foot-long, bright red, blue and green bird perched in the upper branches of his hickory tree on North Upland Street. A local bird aficionado checked with area animal welfare leagues, which led her to Cope. Cope recognized his bird, and he, neighbors and several other bird owners tried vainly for three weeks to coax Chico down.
"We had people climbing trees. We had nets, we had traps," Cope said. "In the meantime, the bird is sitting up in this 100-foot hickory-nut tree, just eating himself silly on hickory nuts, while we're running around."
Perhaps the hickory nuts ran out, or the next destination beckoned. Chico vanished from the hickory tree last Sunday, Cope said, and left no trace until he turned up at the Pepsi plant.
The rare tropical creatures, known for their brilliant coloring, can talk, Cope said. "But this one doesn't -- not unless he's picked up something in his travels . . . . I just wish he could tell me where the hell he's been."