Editor's note: This adds the fifth through seventh paragraphs.
BALBOA ISLAND — The street was empty Tuesday as James Palmer went back to the last place where his 6-year-old daughter's pet bird was seen.
Walking down a sunny Garnet Avenue toward South Bay Front just before noon, Palmer pointed to different trees that Banana Split — a bright, ice blue-colored Pacific parrotlet — liked to frequent. During the stroll, he also signaled toward neighbors' houses the tiny bird enjoyed visiting.
"He liked the top of that palm tree," he said, pointing to a tall palm standing at the corner of Garnet and Park Avenue.
Since May 26, Palmer has seen neither hide nor blue feather of Banana Split. He suspects that someone might have made off with the feathered friend he and his daughter Ellie adore.
He has, though, heard from a mysterious caller with a private number claiming to have the bird. Two weeks after the parrotlet vanished, Palmer is convinced the bird didn’t leave on its own volition and wants the anonymous caller to return his daughter Ellie’s pet.
Palmer had received a phone call from a local number, but nothing was said. Ten minutes later, someone dialing from a private number called and a woman said she had his bird before hanging up.
Palmer believes the two calls are from the same person, and he has been calling back almost every day asking for his daughter’s bird back. He has yet to have his messages returned, reinforcing his belief that he has the right number.
"This is not a missing bird; this is a stolen bird," he said.
Palmer and Ellie would let the bird venture out off away from their two-story apartment on North Bay Front, where Banana Split was kept in a small brass cage.
Palmer said he occasionally got flak for letting Banana Split out, but he felt the risk was minimal on Balboa Island. He also felt safe knowing so many of his neighbors knew the little blue bird.
But this time, after he went looking around the neighborhood for the parrotlet after 15 minutes had elapsed — the usual checkup time — Banana Split was nowhere to be seen.
Palmer gave Ellie the parrotlet in early September for her sixth birthday. She had been asking for a bird and it took Palmer six months to get one from a dealer.
Ellie picked Banana Split out herself from a hatch of 40, Palmer said.
"She definitely loves the bird," he said.
She isn't upset yet, but remains confident, like her father, that she will get Banana Split back. The two, though, aren't the only ones missing the bird.
The parrotlet's favorite hangout was just across the street in a majestic rubber tree overlooking the water in John Scudder's yard.
The bird would perch there, flying down at passersby to land on their shoulders or heads. Neighborhood kids learned to put grass in their hair to get Banana Split to perch on their head.
The parrot, which measured 5 inches, would fly to anyone.
"He was so friendly," Scudder said. "It's very unusual to have birds that friendly."