LYNN NORLEY HAD ALWAYS HAD an extraordinary bond with Rupert, the 12-year-old African gray parrot she raised since he was just a pipsquawk. She once smuggled him in and out of Greece under her shirt, and she sometimes let him sleep on her pillow. At the Malvern, Penn., farm where Norley breeds, sells and boards horses, Rupert was known to order her Doberman around by shrilling, “Panther, get over here!” or to mimic the whine of Alex, the Jack Russell terrier. “I don’t know if Rupert thinks I’m his mother or his lover,” says Norley, 53, “but he’s been bonded to me from the beginning.”

Last month, Norley found out just how strong that tie was. At 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 16, she awoke to the ferocious squawking of Rupert, caged two rooms away in her rented 250-year-old farmhouse. “I opened my door and was hit with a wall of smoke,” she says. First thinking it was a problem with the furnace, she went to retrieve Rupert, who was fluttering and gasping. But an instant later, she heard a sound “like a bomb. I could hear the crackling [of fire].” With Rupert in one hand and her two dogs at her side, she dialed 911 to report the blaze, but the phone was dead. Panicked, she then saw that Rupert’s head was hanging limply to one side. Presuming the worst, she wrapped him in her bathrobe, left him in the shower stall and decided to make a run for it.

With flames directly outside the second-story bedroom, she lowered Alex out the bathroom window, then jumped after him onto a patch of pachysandra. She then returned for Panther. Climbing a ladder to the bathroom, she heaved the 85-pound dog out the window. “When I got outside and looked at the house, the new vinyl siding was blistering and bubbling,” she says. “I knew the house was going.”

At daybreak, a distraught Norley, who had driven to a neighbor’s house a quarter-mile away for help, returned with friends to her gutted home (firefighters determined that a faulty electrical junction box had started the blaze). “I didn’t care about anything but the bird,” she says. “I really wanted to bury Rupert.” But instead of finding Rupert’s remains, a friend ran up to Norley and announced, “He’s alive, he’s alive—and the bastard bit me!” Indeed, though black, wet and stinking of smoke, Rupert had made it through the catastrophe.

At the local vet’s, he was given fluids and discharged. But after his reunion with Norley at her mother’s house in Bryn Mawr, Penn., Rupert began having trouble breathing. Norley took him to Michael Weiss, a Se-wall, N.J., vet and parrot owner who had offered free care. He diagnosed aspergillosis, a respiratory infection that required the bird to be placed in a heated oxygen chamber and to receive antifungal medication. Three weeks later, on March 13, Weiss’s staff bid their fully recovered patient goodbye with balloons and a peanut-shaped cake.

Only one thing prevents Rupert from being declared a hero: During endoscopic surgery, Weiss discovered that the hero parrot is, in fact, a heroine (parrots have no external sex organs). Though the divorced Norley says she’s “having the hardest time” thinking of Rupert as a girl, a local newspaper is now running a rename-that-bird contest. “Phoenix”—the mythical bird that rose renewed from its own ashes—is the front-runner.



Related Articles