A pair of five-foot-tall emus are safe back at home after they flew—or rather, ran from—their coop on a five-day escapade to points unknown across North Potomac.
The flightless birds got loose on Thursday after their pen was weakened by last week's storms, said their owner Steven Strasburg, who rents a six-acre plot on Turkeyfoot Drive backing onto Muddy Branch Park.
Strasburg took to Craigslist. His neighbors posted on Facebook. Then the calls started coming in from all around the community, but the sightings were always fleeting. (Emus can hit sprinting speeds of up to 40 mph, according to FactZoo.com.)
“It was a bit of a debacle,” Strasburg said. “It was kind of like Bigfoot sightings, running all over to weird places.”
Strasburg, a 29-year-old satellite engineer, bought Bertha and Ernie earlier this year to protect the two dozen chickens on the property, which he keeps as a "getaway" because zoning rules bar domestic livestock where he lives with his wife in Arlington County, VA.
He got the chickens to chow down on the stinkbugs that swarm his apple tree. But foxes were preying on the chickens, so he got the emus, natural enemies of the wily fox.
With Strasburg and his wife out of town to celebrate their second anniversary, it seems that Bertha and Ernie may have been on a romantic getaway of their own, this being the peak of emu mating season.
A fugitive emu amused Vermonters for more than a month in January and February, reported Huffington Post. And in New Jersey, police, animal control and firefighters had to be called in for a more short-lived emu excursion in April, reported NJ.com.
Maryland is no stranger to emus on the lam, most recently seeing two separate sprees at the end of summer 2011. The first ended with a state trooper's firearm in North East, reported TBD.com, and the other with a sheriff's lasso in Walkersville, reported the Frederick News-Post.
Bertha and Ernie met a much more benign fate, re-appearing on Monday evening as suddenly as they had left.
"They just kind of popped up in the back pasture," Strasburg said. "They came back and ended up in the horse pasture, where it took three hours to wrangle them back into their pen."