Edinburgh Zoo’s escaped eagle attacked by rivals

The escaped African eagle. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The escaped African eagle. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A FLIGHT for freedom by a majestic eagle from Edinburgh Zoo has turned into a standoff with an angry mob of rival birds.

Kousteau, a bateleur eagle native to Africa’s savannah, flew away from the confines of the zoo bound for nearby Corstorphine streets while taking part in a birds of prey show on Saturday afternoon.

By yesterday, a daring 48-hour escapade had turned into a showdown with a flock of seagulls and crows near the grounds of Forrester High School.

Local birds in the midst of mating season had resorted to dive bombing and chasing the distressed eagle in efforts to evict the intruder from their territory.

Zoo staff have been taking shifts from as early as 5.30am to keep an eye on the wayward eagle, which had taken up residence at the top of a lamppost by yesterday afternoon.

Efforts to entice the bird down using dead mice, chickens and rats all failed to convince the eight-year-old animal to leave its lofty vantage point.

And even fake snake on a piece of string – used during the show to simulate the eagle’s prey in the wild – has been unsuccessfully in luring Kousteau to safety.

Senior animal presenter Erika Oulton said: “She was getting flown in the show and she did a circuit round. She went and did another one and the seagulls came up and she went a bit too low and got carried away over the city.

“Now we’re waiting for her to get a wee bit hungry and hopefully she’ll come down.

“When it gets dark she’ll basically sit in a tree and sleep and there’s nothing that you can really do.

“She’s in a good spot and there’s a great place where we can put food out for her. We don’t want to just put food out all the time. We’re doing it for a bit and then we’ll take it away again and then back out for a bit so she’ll see it back again and down she comes.”

Ms Oulton said of the marauding birds: “It’s just their natural response. They want rid of anything dangerous to them. Instead of just flying away, they’ll all clump together and they’ll all work together to mob it [the eagle] and drive it out of their 
territory.

“They’re just a bit of a pest to her.”

Kousteau was born in captivity and has been a resident in the zoo for about six years. She had never strayed beyond the zoo’s boundaries on her own until now.

Thin leather straps known as jesses that are traditionally used to tether a bird of prey in falconry remained tied to her legs.

Ms Oulton said: “She’s a good girl and she flies well. This is the furthest she’s ever been. She’s a free flying bird. We have a telemetry system on her tail so we can track her to wherever she goes and find her. This doesn’t happen a lot, which is good.”

Broomhall resident Jane Malcolm, 60, got a shock when she first spotted the eagle on Sunday.

She said: “I work in the school. Somebody said ‘we’ve never seen a crow with grey on it’.

“They never gave it a thought that it was a bird from the zoo. The seagulls have been hovering around all day. It’s a lovely beast. I hope they can catch it.”

Specialist trainers were prepared to “wait it out” late yesterday until the bird came down, but were still weighing up alternative tactics.

“We might hide out of the way so that she thinks we’re gone and then she might almost come looking for us,” Ms Oulton said.

Scavenger out of Africa

THE bateleur eagle is a common resident species of Africa’s open savannah country and is also found in south-west Arabia.

The bird nests in trees and lays a single egg at a time.

Bateleurs pair for life and will use the same nest for a number of years.

The adult is usually 55-70cm long with a 175cm wingspan and a weight of up to 2.9kg. The male has black plumage except for its chestnut mantle and tail, grey shoulders and red facial skin, bill and legs.

Up to 100,000 of the eagles are estimated to live in the wild.

Edinburgh Zoo senior animal presenter Erika Oulton said: “In terms of hunting, it’s a different bird compared to other eagles because she won’t go and take rabbits. They’ll often go down to animals that are already dead, as well as snakes.”