A storm-toppled tree freed him. Now Oliver, a rare vulture, is on the lam at Oakland Zoo

Netting is seen crushed under the limbs of a large tree.
Amid high winds, a eucalyptus tree fell on a recently completed aviary holding dozens of birds at the Oakland Zoo.
(Oakland Zoo)

On Tuesday, amid high winds and stormy conditions, a eucalyptus tree toppled over at the Oakland Zoo and landed on a recently completed aviary that held dozens of birds and small mammals.

No animals were harmed, but six birds escaped the enclosure through mesh torn open by the fallen tree.

By Thursday, three of the birds had been returned to captivity, as they had not strayed far from their damaged home.


But three others, including two pied crows and an endangered African black hooded vulture named Oliver, remained outstanding.

“We’re keeping eyes on [Oliver] and the other birds that are still out,” said Erin Dogan, an Oakland Zoo spokesperson.

The region averages one to two tornadoes a year, but the twister that hit Montebello this week was the Los Angeles area’s strongest since 1983.

March 23, 2023

“We’re confident still at this point we’re going to get all the birds back because they’re returning to the aviary,” Dogan said. “It seems that’s where they feel safe.”

The birds were all hatched in captivity and have been fed and cared for by zoo staff.

“So they’re sticking around, which is great,” Dogan said adding that Oliver had not yet left zoo grounds.

A vulture perches on the limb of a tree.
Oliver is seen in a tree at the zoo.
(Oakland Zoo)

As of Thursday evening, the vulture had not eaten since he first flew the coop. However, he had been slowly approaching bait — a thawed rat — that staff had left out to entice him.


Oliver’s mate, Iniko, also was placed in a crate in the area in hopes that he would approach.

A local raptor rescue has provided the zoo with special trapping carriers for Oliver, as the zoo had never required such equipment in the past.

A proposed California law would ban the sale of foods, including Skittles and other snacks, that contain certain ‘dangerous chemicals.’

March 23, 2023

“Now we’ve ordered our own so that if this ever happens again — hopefully it won’t — we’ll have the right equipment on hand right away,” Dogan said.

If Oliver were to spread his wings and take a spin around the Bay Area, he would not pose a threat to small pets or other birds.

Neither he nor the escaped crows are birds of prey, Dogan said. “They don’t pose a threat to native wildlife, people, other zoo animals.”

The birds that escaped have endured harassment from local ravens and crows, Dogan noted.

“If they don’t come back and we’re not able to recover them, they’re not used to surviving in the wild. They’ve been taken care of and fed,” she said. “We worry about what would happen to them as far as survival.”


But Dogan remained optimistic that Oliver and the other escapees would return home by Friday.