MODESTO (CBS13) — A Modesto man is turning to the community for help after a treasured family heirloom, a birdcage, took flight. The man who owns it says it’s not just a sentimental piece, it’s a piece of history.

Lin Thornton showed off pictures of his family, beaming with pride as he held the photos of his parents. The 79-year-old has fond memories of his childhood growing up in Madera. In particular, his mother’s favorite spot, her aviary.

“She just loved birds. She’d go out there every day,” he said.

She raised them in an antique yellow birdhouse which once stood at the Madera Zoo when it opened in 1912. When the zoo closed in the fifties, it changed hands.

“Judge Murray took that cage home with him. He had a parrot in there. And that Parrot went to heaven and he gave it to my mother,” said Thornton.

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The aviary was the backdrop for many family celebrations. Thornton had hoped to give it to his niece, but it was stolen before she could pick it up.

“When I made the police report they asked me to put a price on this. I said you can’t put a price on this, it’s priceless,” said Thornton.

Thornton, a Korea and Vietnam army veteran, had been storing the aviary in front of his Modesto home but said he hasn’t lived there in five years, because of health problems.

He isn’t exactly sure when it disappeared. He figures it happened in the last week of August.

“It weighs probably 250-300 pounds,” he said.

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He is surprised someone would haul it off without anyone noticing, and so are neighbors.

“I am shocked they could lift that,” said a neighbor.

The theft has people living nearby checking their surveillance cameras.

“Lots of people come by here. It’s a wonder there’s not more people breaking in there. It’s sad because he can’t care for it himself,” she added.

So far there are no leads. Thornton just filed a police report. His niece is offering a $500 reward for info leading to its recovery.