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Maryland Community Rallies To Find Escaped Emu

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

He stands nearly 5 feet tall. He's covered in feathers and could knock you down with his three-toed claws. No, it's not B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music. Our colleague Stu Rushfield has the tale of an elusive bird.

STU RUSHFIELD, BYLINE: My wife was scrolling through Facebook last week when she saw that a friend needed help finding her lost emu.

CASSANDRA REDDING: This is the sound of what he has figured out how to do.

RUSHFIELD: Cassandra Redding (ph) says her emu learned to open the gate with his beak. And you might be wondering how someone even has an emu to lose. Redding says it's simple.

REDDING: We live in Boonsboro, Md., right near the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail.

RUSHFIELD: Plenty of room for the small farm she and her family share with goats and pet chickens.

REDDING: Through the magic of Facebook, there was a chicken group that I was a part of that a person in Boonsboro posted that they were looking to rehome an emu. And I responded and met the emu and fell in love with his little, cute face - he's got a little crooked beak and came back home and was like, I need an emu.

RUSHFIELD: Redding went home and started researching.

REDDING: Emus are birds. They would be distantly related to ostriches. They are, in fact, the second largest birds in the world and - ostriches, of course, being the first one. And probably just as much as chickens are, they're distantly related to the velociraptors (laughter).

RUSHFIELD: After learning about how to care for an emu, she decided it would make a great addition to the family. And they named him...

REDDING: Winston Charles Featherbill (ph).

RUSHFIELD: Everything was going well with Winston until one day last week, when Redding went to bring him an afternoon salad. His enclosure gate was open, and Winston was gone.

REDDING: What I suspect happened is that he got spooked by something. And emus - when they get scared, they puff up their feathers on their neck, and they run. And it looks a little bit like a cartoon kind of thing going on. And they can run up to 31 miles an hour.

RUSHFIELD: So the family searched in vain and began to wonder if Winston had become a victim of fowl play.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD SQUAWKING)

RUSHFIELD: So Cassandra Redding put together a search party. Helpers went out on foot and in cars, scanning the hilly landscape - no luck. Redding received several calls about emu sightings. And one emu was even caught in Paterson, N.J. That was not Winston. Four days after Winston disappeared, Redding got a call from a man about a half mile away who breeds chickens and peacocks. He told her...

REDDING: We have your emu. Really? OK. And because he had seen my posts, knew that Winston had a weak spot for kale (laughter) and through kale, got him until he went right into the chicken coop, locked it up and called me up. And sure enough, it was definitely Winston. It was not an imposter. It was not somebody else's lost emu. It was mine.

RUSHFIELD: Based on sightings around the area, Redding thinks Winston travelled at least five miles during his adventure. Now he's back home with his family with extra safety measures.

REDDING: He is a smart bird and, much like the velociraptors in "Jurassic Park," has figured out how to open up gates.

RUSHFIELD: But hopefully this time, Winston is home for good. For NPR News, I'm Stu Rushfield.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOLLYWOOD BOWL ORCHESTRA, MAUCERI'S "JURASSIC PARK: MAIN TITLE")

RUSHFIELD: Winston, can you say this is NPR News?

(SOUNDBITE OF EMU VOCALIZING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.