CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Exclusive: Bird of Prey escapes London Zoo and flies to park in Kilburn

The caracara, native to the Falklands, was on the loose in Camden for ten days

18 January, 2018 — By William McLennan

Louie, the fugitive caracara photographed near Kilburn Grange. Picture: Tareq Ashry

A POWERFUL bird of prey native to the Falkland Islands was captured yesterday (Wednesday) after escaping from London Zoo and spending 10 days on the loose.

There were repeated sightings of the two-foot tall raptor, called a striated caracara, in Camden this week, with one report that it was seen “ripping into a whole cooked chicken”.

Zookeepers were able to capture the bird after being tipped off that it was perched in a tree two miles away in Kilburn Grange Park.

The species are primarily scavengers, but the RSPB said they will also attack smaller birds or animals if “a weak, defenceless target arose”.

They are most commonly found on the disputed remote and windswept British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. English-speaking locals on the islands, where the species has a reputation for bold and mischievous behaviour, refer to them as “Johnny Rooks”.

A spokesman said that that male bird, called Louie, was “well equipped for surviving in the urban environment,” adding: “As a meat-eating forager he clearly found plenty of scraps to dine on during his 10-day escapade.”

Staff at the zoo were said to have been carrying out daily searches and “tracking him on his travels around north London” since escaping on January 6 during a “routine flying demonstration”. They were pictured attempting to recapture the bird in the zoo carpark that day and told passersby that the bird had been chased off by a group of crows.


Handlers in the zoo carpark on January 6. Picture: Kay Buxton

Tareq Ashry, who photographed the bird on Tuesday afternoon, said he was “surprised” to stumble across such an impressive specimen in Messina Avenue, near the junction with Kilburn High Road.

“There were several eyewitnesses stood around wondering what it was,” he said.

“I thought it was some sort of eagle or hawk. It was walking along the road and then a car came by and it flew up to the top of the church on the High Road.”

Ornithologists describe them as intelligent and adaptable birds that can dig out prey from burrows and also hunt at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour.

When botanist Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, encountered the birds on a visit to the Falklands in the 1830s, he was said to have been struck by their tameness, inquisitive behaviour and opportunistic feeding habits.

A spokesman for the RSPB said: “Rather like a crow or magpie, they are primarily scavengers, eating carrion, insects and grubs or food in bins, but they will also go for smaller birds or animals if an opportunity of a weak, defenceless target arose. There is no danger to people.”

The RSPCA was called to reports of the bird in Kilburn on Tuesday, but said it was “not in a location where it could be caught” at the time.

Before Louie was recaptured by the zoo, they warned: “If anyone spots the bird in the area, we’d urge them to not seek to handle it, but to notify us of the location.”

A spokesman for the zoo said the bird had been examined by a vet and “declared to be in fine condition,” adding: “He’s now being welcomed back by his keepers, who, along with everyone at ZSL, are very happy the popular bird is back at the zoo.”

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