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Birds Fly Coop When Aviary Collapses; One Found Later On Zoo Grounds

February 6, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bronx Zoo officials today found one of 33 rare birds that flew away from the only home most of them had ever known when their historic aviary collapsed in a snowstorm.

``It was a gray gull, on the south end of the park,″ said zoo spokesman Patrick Milliman. ``He was sort of strolling along one of the walkways, looking a little confused.″ The bird was captured with a net, he said.

The birds got loose Saturday morning when winds gusting to 50 mph blew down the snow-covered 19th century aviary, home to a colony of some 100 South American sea birds. No birds were killed and only one was known to have been injured. The birds that did not escape have been relocated to other bird habitats in the zoo.

Officials had expressed fears that the birds that escaped _ eight gray gulls, 12 Inca terns, 12 Andean gulls and one band tail gull _ may have flown as far away as 100 miles from their habitat at the Harry De Jur Aviary, built in 1899. They are used to the cold, but not to finding food on their own and competing with wild birds.

``Most of them were hatched and raised in the aviary and have no experience outside,″ said Donald Bruning, the zoo’s curator of birds.

Milliman called the recovery a good omen.

``It’s a more than 200-acre park and heavily wooded, so there are many places these animals can be,″ he said. ``You can be on the lookout and you won’t see them, but since we got one this morning in full view, maybe that means they’re coming out from hunger.″

None of ones that escaped were among the endangered species, but the gray gulls were considered uncommon in their native South America, Bruning said.

To lure them back, workers placed fish around the ruined aviary, which measured 150 feet long, 90 feet wide and 80 feet high.

Saturday’s snow was wet and heavy, and when it ended at midmorning the foot of snow that accumulated over the wire-meshed arch may have weighed many tons, Bruning said. But it was not the weight that brought the aviary down, he said.

``Apparently there was a strong gust of wind that caught the whole structure like a sail,″ he said in today’s New York Times. ``The entire cage collapsed on the interior. ... There were cables that went across (the arch) for support and they came down too.

``It was a mass of twisted and torn mesh and there were gaps in it _ very large holes where some of the birds escaped.″

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