BEAUFORT -- A dark January night and the sound of a slamming door have turned Gary Barnes' life upside down.
It's been two weeks since Barnes, 56, a support equipment mechanic at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, last saw his pet bird, Harley, an African gray parrot that hasn't left his side since he bought it for $1,000 more a year ago from a store in Brunswick, Ga.
"I got her for company, mostly, and I always wanted an African gray," he said. "She's my baby."
African gray parrots are indigenous to central and west Africa and can live more than 50 years.
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The 2-year-old bird -- named after a Harley-Davidson motorcycle -- and Barnes were inseparable, even going for rides on the motorcycle.
"I built her a perch, behind the windshield, off the handlebar," he said. "I always put a harness on her so she couldn't fly. I didn't want her trying to fly or falling off the handlebars into the road where someone might run over her.
Ann and Mark Zych, owners of FunTime Birdy in Montville, N.J., met Barnes while he was shopping for a play gym for Harley. The couple said they were taken aback by how much he appeared to care for his pet.
"It's like a boy and his dog. Well, this was a man and his bird," Ann Zych said.
On Jan. 21, Barnes' life with the parrot changed on the front steps of his home on Pleasant Farm Court.
"It was a dark night. I had her on my shoulder. I figured, 'She ain't gonna go nowhere,' " he said. "I went outside because UPS had just delivered a package, and the door slammed behind us. She just took off. She was scared. She'd never flown away before."
Barnes watched as the bird, which did not have its wings clipped, disappeared down the street.
Since Harley's disappearance, Barnes has embarked upon an exhausting -- and expensive -- mission to find his feathered friend.
Using a number of animal communicators -- people who believe they can talk to animals telepathically--Barnes has tried to find the missing bird.
The Zychs say they've communicated with the bird and believe that she isn't far from home.
"She's close," Mark Zych said. "She couldn't have flown that far. She's only 2 years old, so she wouldn't have the stamina to fly all that far. The animal communicator we've been working with in the Netherlands seems to think she's in a tree near Vaux Road," which is a street in Burton less than half a mile from Barnes' home.
Barnes said his days of using animal communicators to locate the bird may be coming to an end.
"I'll continue looking for her for a good long while, but I'll probably stop using the animal communicators because that gets pretty expensive," he said. Barnes has paid the animal communicators between
$50 and $150 per 30-minute session, he said.