Update: NC Zoo still trying to lure two 4-foot birds home after escape

The NC Zoo is searching for two secretary birds that look similar to the one pictured here.
The NC Zoo is searching for two secretary birds that look similar to the one pictured here. AFP/Getty Images

Two African “secretary birds” escaped from the North Carolina Zoo last week, and staff members still are trying to lure them home.

The birds left their behind-the-scenes habitat at the zoo Friday morning through an exit that was not tightly secured and had been blown open by gusty winds that topped 30 mph, according to zoo spokesman Gary Buchanan.

The zoo asked for the public’s help in finding the two birds and set up a hotline to call with sightings: 336-879-7610.

The hotline had been successful enough that zoo staff has tracked the birds.

Both appear to be “in excellent health,” Buchanan said, and have been “seen hunting and adapting to the environment and surroundings. They’ve been seen feeding on different kinds of snakes.”

The goal is to keep the birds calm, so zoo staff is maintaining a safe perimeter and trying to entice them into enclosures with food. The staff is trying to recapture the birds in a way that is least likely to risk injuring them.

“Because of the visual contact we’ve had with the birds, and the sightings that are being reported on the hotline, we still remain optimistic the two birds will safely be returned to their habitat,” Buchanan said Tuesday.

Zoo officials stressed that the large birds are not a danger to the public, pets or farm animals. Secretary birds will avoid people and feed on snakes and frogs, Buchanan said.

If the birds are spotted, zoo officials ask the public not to approach the birds, but to call the hotline to report any details.

Secretary birds are largely terrestrial birds of prey found in sub-Saharan Africa. The long-legged birds can grow to be more than four feet tall and have eagle-like bodies and crane-like legs.

Secretary birds usually have bright orange markings around their eyes; gray and white feathers on their head, neck, chest and upper wings, and black feathers on the tips of their wings and legs. Secretary birds also have a series of black quill-like feathers in a crest on the back of their heads that fan out when they encounter prey.

While they spend most of their time on the ground, hunting on foot, Secretary birds can fly. They hunt for snakes, rodents, amphibians and large insects on foot. Secretary birds are considered a vulnerable species.

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett