Cotton’s rescue: Silverton neighborhood livened up with animal antics

July 2021 Posted in Community, People, Pets

By Melissa Wagoner

Nicole Serrano with Cotton

A hungry Cotton gets a much needed meal and a drink after his rescue from Elsie Brown’s horse barn.

When 22-year-old Nicole Serrano moved to Silverton with her parents and brother she never could have imagined the immediate notoriety she would receive thanks to the family’s group of miscreant pets. 

“The first day we were here all the dogs escaped,” Serrano  said – whose four dogs took advantage of the temporary lack of fencing around the Serranos’ new property. 

Fortunately, the family was able to round them up in short order. Then Chuck got loose. 

“Hi new friends!” Serrano posted to the Silverton Connections Facebook page. “FIRST day in town my pesky sulcata wandered out of the yard. Please let me know if you’ve seen her.”

Commonly known as the African spurred tortoise, Chuck is over a foot across but, with a sandy covered shell, she still blends into the undergrowth quite easily. 

“[T]hey’re surprisingly fast when they see something that motivates them, and moving from the desert to all this grass has got her so excited,” Serrano wrote. The family transitioned from the arid region of Southern California, near Joshua Tree after her mother fell in love with the Willamette Valley.

Chuck’s disappearance lasted a harrowing eight days with Serrano and her Pine Street neighbors searching high and low. Finally, Chuck wandered out of a stand of neighboring trees as though nothing at all was amiss.

“Chuckie girl came home today!” Serrano enthusiastically posted on April 21. “Thank you all so much for keeping an eye out… What a way to meet our neighborhood.”

Assuming that message would be her last, Serrano signed off – only to have to post again on May 17 when another family member – this time a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Cotton – became stuck in a tall tree growing in the Serranos’ yard. 

“Hey y’all, me again (I swear everyone knows my name now),” Serrano sheepishly wrote, “wondering if someone has an enormous ladder I could borrow?”

Hunkered down in the tree, too afraid to fly down, Cotton watched as Serrano frantically rounded up potential rescuers. 

“The fire department actually came out the second day he was in the tree but they didn’t have a ladder tall enough to get to him,” a mortified Serrano recalled. Adding, “I know the fire station got a good laugh about the bird stuck in the tree.”

Next an arborist, with an appropriately tall ladder, attempted to reach him, but that too was a failure. 

“[J]ust as [the arborist] was about to grab Cotton, a crow spooked him and he flew off and I haven’t been able to find him since,” Serrano wrote sadly in an update to her rapt Facebook audience. 

And so, Cotton’s adventure continued with Serrano posting  after she hadn’t seen Cotton in two days, “Weird request, but can you go outside and just shout out his name? If he hears his name, he will call out to you.”

Because, as with all of the family’s birds – of which are four – Cotton has some grasp of the English language. 

“They all talk,” Serrano said of the family’s menagerie of tropical birds, which includes two other cockatoos and a green wing macaw named Inca. “But Cotton mostly does auditory mimics and he says, ‘Cotton’ and ‘hello’.

Even so, it felt like a long-shot to Serrano who, with a degree in Animal Sciences from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, knew she needed to locate Cotton soon.

“I’m really desperate to find him before it’s too late,” she wrote. “I’m afraid he only has another day or two before starvation and dehydration set in.”

That’s when Elsie Brown – who trains and shows horses an estimated three miles from the Serrano’s home – received a text from a client that there was an unusual bird hiding out in the barn.

“I told her I’d head right down, but before, I opened Facebook to post on Silverton Connections, and the first post that popped up on my newsfeed was [Cotton’s] missing post from four or five days earlier,” Brown recalled.

Right away she knew the bird must be Cotton.

“Oh my gosh, he just flew into our barn!” Brown wrote on the feed.

To which Serrano replied, “OMG, I’m literally in tears. I’ll be right there.”

Although the barn was an open-sided one, with no way to pen the bird in, Cotton appeared content, calmly sitting on the back – and then head – of a patient horse named Mick, as though awaiting Serrano’s arrival. He even posed for a couple of pictures, which Brown uploaded to the group thread.

“[H]e is the sweetest horse in the barn,” Brown wrote, describing the bird as having “nibbled” on Mick’s ears. “Cotton must have known.”

Finally, Serrano arrived, finding a hungry, tired Cotton still seated on his new four-legged friend. And on Facebook, a slew of congratulatory posts ensued. Including one, from neighbor Tasha Huebner, that stated, “[Y]ou’re certainly keeping this town on its toes with the petscapades… do you have any more exotic pets that I should keep an eye out for, in case they come wandering down Pine Street?”

The answer was a resounding yes – three aquatic turtles and the aforementioned birds – the majority of which are rescues, Cotton included. 

“My dad was in a pet shop one day buying some food for our other cockatoo and was casually chatting with a woman in line. The conversation somehow led to the fact that we had a cockatoo at home…” Serrano said of that fateful day when her father, Moses, first learned of 14-year-old Cotton who had been largely abandoned by his owner upon the death of his wife.  

“Maybe in his grief he wasn’t capable of caring for the bird, or maybe for no reason at all, he left Cotton behind and asked the woman to look after him for a week until he returned,” Serrano said.

But he never returned.

“The woman had been tossing food to him, but had no idea how to care for a parrot nor did she have the resources and facilities to adopt him forever,” Serrano said. “Without hesitation, my dad followed her home and found a terrified, angry, aggressive parrot in a rusted, run down, filthy cage.”

“For the first eight months, you couldn’t go near him,” Moses said. Recalling the terrified bird he brought home.

But Cotton has come a long way, allowing the Serranos to show him affection and even caring for his own flock of eight chickens that have taken to roosting with him at night.

“Cotton met those chickens and there was no taking them away,” Serrano wrote. “He became chatty and playful, he imitated the chickens, called to them and tossed them treats, and even threw tantrums when we took the chickens back inside. One thing is for sure, Cotton loves chickens.”

He also loves the greenery and moist air of his new Silverton home, which is why Cotton’s adventure was less an escape and more a series of mishaps. 

“Cotton getting out… was entirely a stroke of bad luck,” Serrano confirmed. He got scared by a flapping tarp and tried to jump onto a perch on the other end of the aviary at the exact moment that I was opening the aviary door, blocking his perch. In his panic to find another suitable perch he went right over my head and out of the aviary.”

Lesson learned. Cotton now has a pair of “freshly trimmed wings,” which should keep him closer to home in the future. But Serrano learned something important as well about the place she now calls home.

“The way this little community rallied behind the story of a parrot and his horse touched me in such a profound way,” she wrote in a final post summarizing the incident. “Cotton and his new horse friend really took the town by storm and gave us the chance to make new friends and teach them a little something about parrots and cockatoos.”

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