EAST MADISON — Oscar Cornejo is worried sick.

Paco, Cornejo’s Timneh African Grey parrot, is missing in the wilds of East Madison.

The 10-inch-tall charcoal gray bird with a burgundy tail was spooked by something late Thursday night and flew off Cornejo’s shoulder, disappearing high above the tree tops at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, where Cornejo is the summer program administrator.

Paco has been seen four times on the school grounds, but has not been recovered, Cornejo, originally of Houston, Texas, now a resident of Sunnyside, Queens, New York, said Monday.

“I was painting and got a little too confident — he was on my shoulder — got spooked and flew off my shoulder,” Cornejo said at the school Monday afternoon.

“It’s pretty tough. I have my ups and downs, because I’ve had him since he was six weeks old,” he said. “He’s 10 now. He’s a companion. He’s got some sass and attitude, but he’s got a sense of humor.”


Cornejo, 34, said Paco spent his days this summer in a large aviary Cornejo built for him on the grounds, where he could fly around and play and meet new people when the summer art school participants were there. Paco speaks some words in English and Spanish, but his vocal forte is making sounds, like the beeps of a microwave oven or a smoke detector or the warning beeps of a truck backing up. And he whistles, like a cartoon wolf seeing a pretty girl walk by.

“I think he recognizes the buildings, but once he’s above tree level everything changes. He says ‘Where am I?’ so he must be confused and scared, which made it hard the first couple days to have him actually fly down to me,” Cornejo said. “Now, if he’s still alive, hopefully, he’s going to be thirsty and hungry and looking for human activity.”

The Timneh is a subspecies of the African Grey Congo parrot, according to animal-world.com. The birds are native to the African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the westernmost parts of the Ivory Coast, though their numbers are on the decline and there’s a movement to end the trade of them as pets.

The birds are very clever and are capable of learning 200 or more words. They also are very good at imitating the sounds of their environment, as Paco exhibits, Cornejo said.

Cornejo was a participant at the school in 2014 and came back as a member of the staff in 2015. His background is in printmaking and painting, studying first at The Cooper Union in New York City and later working in Central America on a Fulbright Scholarship. He wrapped up his graduate degree at the Yale School of Art before coming to the Skowhegan school, which is actually in East Madison about five miles north of downtown Skowhegan.

Fritz Buschmann at Siesta Sanctuary, a home for about 80 displaced parrots in Harmony, said Paco could survive for some time in the woods off the shores of Wesserunsett Lake near the art school, but the biggest problem would be his source of food.


“It would have a hard time feeding itself,” Buschmann said by phone Monday afternoon. “Nothing out there would be similar to what it would eat where it comes from. It would probably be two or three weeks out there, then a hawk or something like that would probably get it.”

Buschmann said as a captive domesticated bird, Paco’s wing muscles would not be very strong, so he won’t be able to fly long distances or easily maneuver to escape a winged predator in the woods.

As for chilly nights coming in September, Buschmann said Paco could survive pretty well by ruffling his feathers as other birds do to keep warm and finding a roost that’s out of the wind, even on cold nights. But it will be the food supply that could be Paco’s undoing, he said.

“They can take the cooler temperature, but it’s going to be mostly the food and the predators. They’re going to be the hard thing,” he said. “They wouldn’t find enough food to keep themselves warm and generate the heat to keep them warm.”

Cornejo said Paco likes apples and can see a bright red apple from far away and might come to someone holding one. The bird also likes oranges, nuts, sunflower seeds and cheese.

Cornejo said he has a special contact whistle to call Paco, but there has been no contact since Saturday morning at the school’s blueberry field on the south side of the grounds.


The bird also responds to the command “step up” and it will come to someone holding out a stick for a perch or their hand for him to jump up onto. The trick, Cornejo said, will be to get Paco into a house or a car before he can fly away again by gently holding his foot down with a thumb and getting him indoors before he flies off again.

Cornejoy said that anyone with information on Paco’s location should call Bill Holmes, the school grounds and maintenance supervisor, at 399-4683.

“If you hear a microwave beep or a smoke alarm beep in the woods, that’s him,” he said. “He sounds like R2-D2 sometimes.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367



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