Kodiak the Giant Eagle Still Loose in Pittsburgh After a Near-Capture

Kodiak the Giant Eagle Still Loose in Pittsburgh After a Near-Capture
Kody photographed on Pennsylvania Avenue in Pittsburgh earlier this week. (Image: Jared Latchaw)

Kodiak the sea eagle has been on the loose in Pittsburgh for nearly a full week, as staff from the National Aviary struggle to capture the wayward bird. The zoo told Gizmodo that Kody, as he’s nicknamed, was nearly caught this morning and appears to be in good health.

It must be a very stressful time at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The facility is home to more than 500 birds spanning some 150 species. In addition to caring for these many birds, the staff is now having to search for Kodiak, a Steller’s sea eagle that escaped from his enclosure this past Saturday, September 25.

Officials with the aviary are asking the public to report sightings but not approach or attempt to capture the bird. Steller’s sea eagles, native to coastal northeastern Asia, feed primarily on fish and sea birds. (Kody is deemed not a threat to pets nor people.) Kody has been in the care of the aviary for the past 15 years, and the staff is eager to get him back.

The aviary has received hundreds of calls over the past week, and its staff is only responding to the most promising leads, as Molly Toth, communications and content specialist at the National Aviary, explained in an email. People who spot the bird are asked to call the aviary at 412-323-7235.

“We continue to receive tips, and have had several confirmed sightings,” Toth said. “We believe Kody is spending time between North Park and Riverview Park and areas near Pittsburgh’s Northside.”

Kodiak attracting attention on a Pittsburgh street. (Photo: Jared Latchaw) Kodiak attracting attention on a Pittsburgh street. (Photo: Jared Latchaw)

Starting last Saturday, the aviary “launched a coordinated effort to find a way to bring Kody home,” Toth said. “Animal care staff, volunteers, and even administrative staff have been working in teams to search for Kody and respond to sightings reported by the community.” Other staff members are staying behind to take care of other birds and animals at the aviary, while also mapping sightings, preparing snack bags for the recovery teams, answering calls about sightings, and reaching out to the community for further help, said Toth.

Steller’s sea eagles are among the largest raptor species on Earth, featuring a 1.83 m-wide wingspan. Nothing like this has ever happened before at the National Aviary, so I asked Toth how the giant bird might be apprehended.

“There are many techniques our staff may use to bring Kody home safely,” she replied. “Our staff have animal behaviour expertise and a deep knowledge of Kody as an individual and insight into his behaviour. The techniques they use will be context-dependent, and may include food as rewards as well as professional falconry equipment such as soft netting.”

The National Aviary provided this image of a Stellar's sea eagle in flight for reference. (Image: National Aviary) The National Aviary provided this image of a Stellar’s sea eagle in flight for reference. (Image: National Aviary)

Encouragingly, or maybe frustratingly, the team came very close to capturing Kodiak earlier Friday — or not close at all, depending on your perspective.

Thanks to a sighting of Kody in the North Park area, the team was able to pinpoint the bird’s location, and they spotted him “roosting at the highest point of one of the tallest trees,” according to an emailed statement. The team, along with the aviary’s executive director, set up camp and monitored the eagle throughout the night. The team confirmed that Kody is still in “excellent health and body condition,” explained Toth. The team set out some food in hopes that Kodiak would fly toward them, but “unfortunately earlier this morning Kody did not come down, and was last sighted flying towards North Park,” according to the statement.

Oof. This could take a while.

Catching Kody will likely require a lucky set of circumstances or his own decision to return to his handlers. Or, he may continue to elude capture. Either way, we’ll keep our eye on this ongoing story.