A stowaway bird went undetected for more than 2,800 miles as a moving van crossed the United States from Las Vegas to Maine.

The greater roadrunner – a bird native to the Southwest and made famous in animated run-ins with Wile E. Coyote – made its presence known when two men opened the doors of the van to unload it Saturday at a storage unit in Westbrook.

The bird, apparently unscathed by its long journey, is now safe at an avian rehabilitation center as arrangements are made to bring it back to Nevada.

The father and son who discovered the bird inside their rented van called Westbrook police and were put in contact with Avian Haven, a nonprofit avian rehabilitation center in Freedom. Karen Silverman, an Avian Haven volunteer who lives in the Portland area, was deployed to the storage unit and, with the help of the father and son, managed to catch the bird in a net.

“We were all completely taken by surprise,” said Diane Winn, executive director of Avian Haven, which has cared for 34,000 birds from more than 100 species.

This is the first time Avian Haven has cared for a roadrunner, but Chelsey Gundlach, the center’s rehabilitation manager, has experience working with roadrunners from her previous job in Oklahoma.

In the Southwest, greater roadrunners favor a desert scrub habitat. The sleek brown birds have long tail feathers and bright patches near their eyes. They’ll eat anything they catch, but their diets mainly consist of lizards and small snakes.

True to their name, they would rather walk or run than fly. The roadrunner can maintain a speed of 15 mph hour over long distances, according to the National Audubon Society, and can likely go even faster when it’s chasing a fast lizard. But this bird rode cross country, leaving the work to the drivers.

Silverman, who has volunteered with Avian Haven for seven years, typically responds to calls about injured or orphaned birds that are native to the area. She had never seen a roadrunner in person before and was surprised, and a bit excited, when she heard one had been found in a moving van.

Silverman was under the impression that the bird possibly had escaped the van and run through an open gate into the woods behind the storage facility.

“I was thinking that I probably couldn’t catch this bird,” she said.

But it turned out the bird was still inside the van. One of the men was able to flush it to the back, where Silverman caught it in the net. Once she’d done so she took extra care to make sure it couldn’t get away when it was transferred into a box, she said, because she “figured they are probably very good escape artists.'” With the help of one of the men, she was able to transfer the bird into the box to be safely moved to Freedom.

“It’s kind of exciting to be netting a roadrunner in Westbrook, Maine,” Silverman said. “It’s always an honor and pleasure for me to be part of an organization that helps birds out. This poor displaced bird definitely needed help and protection.”

As with most bird rescues, a caravan was set up to relay the bird up to Freedom as quickly as possible. Silverman and two other volunteers each transported the roadrunner for part of the drive to Avian Haven.

Staff at Avian Haven drained a pool in the pool house to create a warmer temporary space for the roadrunner, which will have minimal contact with humans during its stay. The bird is being fed a diet of mice and insects while it is in Maine.

“We don’t have any lizards in our freezer, unfortunately,” Winn said.

Winn said staff at the center have not been able to determine if the bird is male or female because that determination is based on weight. They are unsure if the bird had access to any food – perhaps a stowaway lizard or two – while in the van, or if it lost weight during the journey. The bird is in “remarkably good” shape, Winn said.

Winn is now working on the logistics of getting the bird back to Nevada. An importation permit is required whenever wildlife is transferred between states.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on Monday reached out to the Arizona Game and Fish Department about the bird. Arizona wildlife officials sent Maine officials an import permit, which will be filled out by Avian Haven, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine IF&W.

Though Winn has never filed importation permits with Nevada, she anticipates that process will be easy and relatively quick. The bigger challenge is making arrangements to fly the bird across country as a busy holiday travel weekend approaches. A direct flight out of Boston, Winn said, will probably be the best option. The bird likely will make its return trip in cargo.

“We’re obviously making every effort to get it back to Nevada,” she said.


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