Big bird on the lam in Beaver County

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An unusual creature is roaming Beaver County.

It's been spotted in the center of the road and in the middle of the woods in North Sewickley, said Sgt. Jeff Becze, the township's acting police chief. He hasn't seen it himself, but according to some reports, it stands upwards of 6 feet tall. It's an elusive creature, usually running off into hiding before police can arrive.

The Bigfoot of Beaver County, it turns out, is a bird.

"It looks like an ostrich," Sgt. Becze said a man told him a week ago, when the first call came in for a sighting of an odd creature standing in the middle of Route 588.

It may look like an ostrich, but the bird that's been rambling through North Sewickley is a rhea, another flightless bird.

The rhea is not native to Beaver County. It usually is found in South American countries including Argentina, Brazil and Peru, said Robin Weber, spokeswoman for the National Aviary on the North Side.

It eats seeds, grass, grains and bugs, she said, and people raise it as livestock, using the birds for their meat, feathers and eggs. They are hardy birds who can withstand a Western Pennsylvania winter, she said.

Reports of the size of the Beaver County bird may be exaggerated. The birds range from 3 to 5 feet in height, but can grow as tall as 5.5 feet. They usually weigh 50 pounds, but can reach 85 pounds.

They are not dangerous birds, but can react by kicking if they feel cornered or threatened, she said.

"If you see it, you should leave it alone," she said.

Sgt. Becze hasn't seen the rhea in question, but he's seen some of its friends. He learned earlier this week that a North Sewickley couple, who he declined to name, operate a rhea farm. He drove over there, and he spotted about 10 of the rheas outdoors in a fenced-in area.

When he spotted the large birds, he said, he was a little concerned about getting out of his car, but once he did, the owners told him they believe one of their female birds, trying to escape the male birds who are in heat, jumped over the fence and escaped. They weren't sure how to get her back.

Based on repeated calls reporting sightings, Sgt. Becze believes there's a wooded area in North Sewickley where the rhea, which has no name that he is aware of, has made her home.

"It's kind of made itself comfortable back there," he said.

For now, Sgt. Becze is calling local agencies to formulate a plan for capturing the bird and return it without harm.

"At this point, even if I capture it, I can't put it in my police car," he said. "It's very big."

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