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Found bird claimed twice is finally in right hands

Published March 20, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - To Frank Gamelli, it seemed like one of those heartwarming tales where someone miraculously finds the beloved lost pet they had frantically searched for.

But that was before the plot thickened.

The mystery began about 5 p.m. Thursday, when Gamelli, 69, a retiree and winter St. Petersburg resident, arrived with his wife June at the Outback Steakhouse on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. Before they could go inside for dinner, "this screaming parrot came flying from out of the sky and landed right in front of us on the ground. And it looked kind of befuddled."

The bird may have been confused, but the humans took charge. Someone called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which knew a Largo woman had called just that day to report a missing parrot. The SPCA gave out her phone number, as it normally does in cases like this.

Within an hour, Gamelli says, the woman arrived at Outback, overjoyed to see the bird she called Mason. "She was all excited and even crying," said Gamelli, who waited for about an hour with the bird perched on his arm.

The woman from Largo was so grateful she offered the Gamellis a reward before taking the bird home, but, "We didn't accept it. Just the thing to do, I thought. This bird, I'm sure, is worth a thousand bucks," Gamelli said.

What no one realized just then, was that someone else in Pinellas County was missing a parrot, too.

Someone right across the street.

That mystery began shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, at the Sunken Gardens attraction on the east side of Fourth Street. As they do every night, workers were putting the birds back inside for the evening, including a blue and gold macaw named Joey.

One of the other macaws, Jazz, let out an ear-piercing squawk - the kind "that can penetrate the rain forest," park specialist Cathy Arnold said. The noise startled Joey and he flew off.

Arnold said the workers looked all around and couldn't find Joey.

Gamelli said his wife had tried to ask Sunken Gardens staff Thursday evening if they were missing a parrot, but the attraction was closed by then. Someone left a message on Sunken Gardens' answering machine, but no one retrieved it until Friday morning, Arnold said.

On Friday afternoon, after piecing together clues about the two birds, Sunken Gardens staff contacted the Largo woman. Among those clues: The Largo bird had an identifying band on its leg, but the newly discovered bird did not. After the staff explained the situation, the woman gave the bird back to Sunken Gardens "no question and no argument," said Kim Skrovanek, information specialist for the city.

"He's back home safely," Skrovanek said of Joey.

[Last modified March 20, 2004, 01:20:34]

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