Officials at the National Aviary became moved on Monday as they detailed their exhaustive nine-day effort to recover a large Steller’s sea eagle that escaped from the bird zoo on the north side of Pittsburgh last month.
Kodiak, or Kody for short, took off through an opening in its outdoor enclosure on the morning of September 25, aviary officials said. The massive bird got stuck around the north side but ventured as far north as Pine, where it was captured on Sunday night.
Cathy Schlott, licensed falconer, animal behaviorist and director of the animal program and aviary experiences, said the entire aviary team has come together to help track the bird, one of the largest in the world. . The ordeal was probably more stressful for the workers than for the bird.
“People might see a flock of birds… in one of our habitats and be like, ‘Oh, that’s a flock of these little birds,” Schlott said. “Not for us. For us who work with these animals, we know them individually. They are all individuals for us, and we care about them.
A tearful Schlott called it “nine very long days.”
Kody, Schlott said, did well during his time on the run. His powerful flight muscles allowed him to fly and soar, and they saw evidence that he ate and hydrated while away from his habitat.
“He was calm as soon as he saw us,” she said.
The bird tracking team immediately went to Pine when they learned that Kody had been spotted by a local resident. She said one of the employees who regularly feeds Kody was able to make eye contact with him “to make sure he stays calm.”
Team members, including a skilled falconer, used a soft net to catch the bird, and it was placed in one of its normal travel brackets.
“He was very comfortable,” Schlott said. “We are able to monitor his comfort because, as animal behaviorists, animals constantly talk to us, but they speak in a different way than humans. They are able to speak to us in their body language to show us what they are thinking.
She said Kody seemed rather unfazed by the whole situation. Cheryl Tracy, executive director of the aviary, said he was resting comfortably backstage.
“He’s doing fine and seems happy to be back,” she said.
Kodiak’s sightings poured in during his nine days on the run. He was sighted Thursday near North Park, where Tracy and others camped overnight to watch the bird’s perch. He spent time traveling between North Park and Riverview Park.
“He really stayed close to the north side” after his first escape, Schlott said, but then “gradually started to go further north.”
She said Kody found some greenery along the way to rest, relax and roost.
As for how he escaped from his enclosure, which is surrounded by a braided metal netting, Schlott said the team is still investigating it. She said it was possible that something scared the bird during the night and he became overwhelmed at the time.
A new wire mesh is about to fix the hole, and teams will put a second mesh enclosure around the first as a fail-safe to prevent something like this from happening again.
It could take several weeks due to supply chain issues. As a result, Tracy said, Kody could stay out of public sight for a while.
The aviary will reopen to the public on Thursday.