Toucan wrangler in Lafayette helps capture wandering bright-billed bird

Two wandering toucans have been flying about the skies over the East Bay, but one pastor-turned-toucan-wrangler helped capture one of the bright-billed birds.

"I just really love animals," Lauren Michelle Stevens, a pastor at Lafayette United Methodist Church, said Thursday. "I guess that's how I got into this mess."

As Stevens tells the story, residents began posting photos and tales of lost toucans in late September on NextDoor, which made it to her neighborhood Facebook page, Lamorinda Families.

Since Stevens has had some luck catching stray dogs, and a rescue-attempt at a cockatiel or two, she thought she'd do some research and help out.

She worried that the toucans flying about in the cold winter would not fare well; they are tropical birds that need hot weather and certain foods: Fresh blueberries and papaya in particular. 

They also don't really do well in captivity; their constitutions are fragile and often die of an iron storage disease. If kept healthy, however, they can often live for up to 20 years. 

"The cold would kill it," Stevens said.

After making several phone calls, San Francisco Zoo officials dropped off a remote-control cage to a home on Happy Valley Road in Lafayette, where the first toucan was sighted in late September. 

Michelle Lauren Stevens helped catch this toucan on Nov. 14, 2022 in Lafayette. 

Stevens and other neighbors developed a pattern of leaving out the fresh fruit for the toucan for more than a month. Stevens even made a TikTok video asking a popular toucan owner to give some advice.

Finally, on Nov. 14, the toucan flew into the cage. 

And Stevens said one of the volunteer rescuers, Pedro Gonzalez, took it home. 

"The plan had been that the bird would then be contacted for animal Control and then be transferred to them and then the zoo, and it would get medical attention. But, the volunteer that day decided to take the toucan.

Gonzalez, of Vallejo, is listed on Facebook and website BirdBreeder as "Vadaxin's Aviary," offering birds for $1,300.

Gonzalez nor Vadaxin appears to have a Vallejo business license.

Gonzalez declined KTVU's request for comment, but did confirm that he has the bird.

"I do hope that in the end, if this bird does have an owner out there, that it's able to be reunited with that owner," said Stevens.

The second sighted toucan – flying about Honey Hill Road on the border of Lafayette and Orinda - has not been captured, Stevens said, making her and her friends worried about the bird's health as temperatures dip into the 40s at night.  

One neighbor regularly posts that this toucan knocks on their glass window.

As for what's going on with the toucans in the East Bay?

"Animal control doesn't know what's going on," Stevens said. "Toucans are very expensive. They don't get dumped. They usually get sold." 

KTVU's Tom Vacar contributed to this report.