BLAIRSTOWN — When Theresa Bartell peered out the window of her township home a few weeks ago, she noticed something that didn’t belong in the forested depths of northwestern New Jersey.
Along with a flock of black crows — not unusual — she saw a neon green bird perched on a branch, its blue head peeking out from the tree.
Bartell, who works at Sy’s Piece of Heaven Sanctuary, a non-profit bird sanctuary in Blairstown, recognized the bird as a blue-crowned conure, a medium-sized member of the parakeet family — and a subtropical species not meant for the outdoors of New Jersey.
The sighting of the roughly 14-inch bird was one of many from township residents over the past several weeks — the latest being on Saturday — and perhaps the most unusual detail of all is that the bird could be the pet of south Jersey couple Michael and Jeannie Lupinacci.
But can exotic pet birds, often housed in the confines of a temperature-controlled home with food and water at their disposal, survive a 100-mile venture from Moorestown, located in Burlington County, to Blairstown?
The 18-year-old bird, named Paulie, took flight on July 24 as Jeannie Lupinacci was taking him for a stroll at a park in Moorestown, near Philadelphia, according to Michael Lupinacci.
Paulie was in a cage on a wagon. The cage door was jarred open when the wagon ran over a bump.
Heartbroken over their loss, the couple immediately began tracking Paulie around their neighborhood — sometimes for eight to 10 hours at a time — and followed him around from tree to tree.
Paulie, whose wings are not clipped, was able to take flight, but the Lupinaccis found that their pet — which they have had for about a year — was too afraid to come down.
They tracked him for a few days but eventually lost sight of him.
They pursued all avenues by making fliers, calling local rescues in Burlington County and taking to Facebook to post multiple photos and information about Paulie. While they never gave up hope, they became despondent as the weeks went by that they would ever find Paulie.
An unusual call from an unknown phone number on Sunday restored Michael Lupinacci’s hope. The woman on the other end introduced herself as a Blairstown resident who believed she had seen Paulie.
“She saw our Facebook post and said she recognized the bird and that multiple people had spotted him over the past several weeks in Blairstown,” Michael Lupinacci said, adding that he had never heard of the township before.
At dawn Monday, Michael and Jeannie Lupinacci were in their car and headed to Blairstown, a trip that took them about two hours and 15 minutes, they said.
Residents in Blairstown directed the Lupinaccis to Bartell, who brought the family inside her sanctuary and gave them some advice in tracking down the bird.
In a phone call with the New Jersey Herald Monday, Bartell said her “heart was breaking” for the Lupinaccis and she had deployed her own team to search for the bird.
Regardless of whether the bird is or isn’t Paulie, Bartell said the family is adament about catching the bird.
The hope is that the sound of the Lupinaccis’ voices or a voice recording of their other birds — they have three other conures — will bring the bird down from the trees.
But as of Monday afternoon, the Lupinaccis had yet to even spot their tiny pet, even after walking up and down the streets of Blairstown all day.
Michael Lupinacci, who said he intends on coming back to Blairstown Wednesday, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about finding Paulie and bringing him home.
“Having hope is making things a lot easier,” Michael Lupinacci said. “We are staying active so you don’t really let it absorb that he’s not with us.”
If the bird is Paulie, Bartell said there are a few possibilities that could have led him so far north.
“A free-flighted bird can fly anywhere, and if they are caught with the wind, they may just end up this way, or they may have joined a flock,” she said.
The latter is certainly possible since the green-and-blue bird Bartell saw was surrounded by crows — birds that she said won’t hurt him but rather will help him find resources, such as food on bird feeders and water.
The largest concern now lies with the changing of the seasons since tropical birds cannot survive a New Jersey winter.
“The goal is bring him home quickly before the cold weather sets in, since it’s not possible for him to survive frostbite,” Bartell said.
Although the bird has traveled 100 miles, he has found a temporary home in Blairstown, where he has been spotted multiple times in the past several weeks.
Now, the Lupinaccis are hoping their “sweet natured” bird, as they called him, will find his way back home.
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.