Stolen bird returned to Merced County owner

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 19, 2014 

— The case of Houdini, a 39-year-old talking bird stolen in broad daylight, has come to a happy ending.

Peggy Joos was reunited with her longtime companion Thursday after someone stole the white-and-coral cockatoo from his cage Tuesday afternoon. Joos, 70, had left the bird on the front porch of her Merced home while running some errands.

With her husband inside, Joos said, the thieves used a bungee cord to tie the front door shut while they pried open the bird’s wire cage. She said she believes they forcibly yanked the bird out of its locked cage and stuffed it inside a backpack.

Neighbors reported seeing two young men fleeing the home on bicycles carrying the backpack, she said.

“The lock was still on, but the door was open,” Joos recalled. “The bird was gone.”

But on Thursday afternoon, Joos was reunited with her chatty bird of nearly 40 years after an ad ran on Craigslist offering a reward for returning the pet.

“(Someone) called me on the phone. They said, ‘We know somebody who has it and we’ll try to get it back for you,’” Joos said. “They kept calling back to be reassured they wouldn’t be in trouble for bringing it back.”

Four days shy of her 71st birthday, Joos had Houdini back – and the bird couldn’t stop talking excitedly to his owner.

Joos said birds like Houdini can fetch up to $1,000 but it may not have been profitable for the thieves because of her bird’s age. Cockatoos typically live to age 40.

“No one is going to want an old bird. He wasn’t worth anything to them, but he was worth a lot to me,” she said. “People will steal anything they can get money for.”

Houdini has pulled disappearing acts before by unlocking his own cage, Joos said, which is why she placed a padlock on the cage. She now plans to take it a step further by adding bars around her front porch to safeguard the bird while outside.

Cindy Leonard lives across the street from Joos and said she’d hear the bird squawking on the home’s front porch until it was stolen this week.

“I hear him everyday, and I couldn’t believe somebody did that,” Leonard said. “I heard her calling for him and I came out. I felt so bad for her. From what I know, that’s her baby.”

Leonard described the area as a safe neighborhood, though she said her son’s bicycle was stolen when she first moved in. Leonard said she’s shaken to hear the thieves trapped the family inside the house using a bungee cable.

“It’s almost like a reversed home invasion,” she said. “It scared the hell out of me.”

The story of the stolen cockatoo drew media attention from around the Central Valley, and Joos said family, friends and neighbors have reached out to share in her happiness.

“My kids have been calling all day,” Joos said. “He’s part of the family, and we’re just really happy to have him back.”

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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