City Desk

Today in D.C. History: Escaped National Zoo Magpie Recaptured

On April 20, 1983, a magpie that had escaped from the National Zoo a week earlier was finally recaptured, after traveling through both Arlington and Alexandria in its attempt for freedom.

The magpie, which had lived at the zoo since being donated in 1973, escaped through wires "knocked awry by the constant walking of parakeets with whom he shared the enclosure," according to an April 21 report in The Washington Post.

Virginia residents nicknamed the bird "Ivanhoe" during his sojourn into the state, and called the zoo with questions on how to capture him.

As the Post reported at the time:

Wednesday afternoon, phone calls began coming in, recalls zoo official Joan Smith. People described him as "a two-foot-long blue bird with an orange bill that squawks a lot." The length may have been slightly exaggerated but not the voice. "He's very vocal," says Smith. "You would never mistake him for a bluejay or any of our local birds."

Ivanhoe reached Alexandria by Sunday and his size, voice and plummage was quickly noticed by residents, who called the zoo Monday to ask if anyone was missing. Zoo officials told them to feed him oranges, apples or raisins and if possible to coax him into a garage.

On Tuesday, he was still there, springing from limb to limb in fir trees, alighting on the ground to peck at the food people put out and disappearing to some unknown place at night.

Zoo officials attempted to capture him with a trap baited with fruit and baby mice—a "treat to a magpie diet." The attempt failed.

But on April 20, they tried again, placing a bird that had shared Ivanhoe's cage in a trap. When that bird, an American Pinyon jay, called to Ivanhoe, he came over to investigate. Officials grabbed him, and returned him to the zoo.

While zoo officials celebrated the success, one Alexandria resident wasn't so thrilled.

"I miss him," Sarah Gabbert told the Post. Ivanhoe was nabbed in her back yard. "I have pigeons back there now."

Photo by Flickr user Rev Dan Catt using an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license

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