Zookeepers in northern Japan are racing against nature to catch a fugitive flamingo before it freezes or migrates south for the winter.

Bird experts have tried to net the escapee on the lake it has made home using captive flamingos as bait, and have even donned diving gear to sneak up on the pink-feathered bird from underwater.

But every time they get anywhere near it takes to the skies, said Akihisa Kato from Asahiyama Zoo, on the northernmost island of Hokkaido.

"We want to capture it ourselves if possible. But if we don't, it can survive the winter if it flies south to warmer places with migratory birds such as swans and geese," he told AFP by telephone.

"But if it goes to the main island of Honshu, it will be difficult to continue our hunt because of the costs involved."

The bird, a member of the greater flamingo species, usually found in northern Africa and Mediterranean Europe, is currently surviving on a diet of plankton and seaweed.

But with the mercury falling in Hokkaido, where winter temperatures regularly reach minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit), the bird's options are narrowing.

"We guess the flamingo will make some kind of move before the lake freezes," Kato said.

The hunt began in July -- an altogether more pleasant time of the year to be out and about in Hokkaido -- when the metre- (three-feet) high bird, hopped a fence at its enclosure.

After initially flying south, the creature -- which was never given a name by keepers -- made its home on a brackish-water lake by the Sea of Okhotsk, some 130 kilometres (80 miles) east of the zoo, among a flock of less colourful herons.

One attempt to recapture the bird saw the zoo's director put on a wetsuit and snorkel in a bid to approach without being seen, said Kato, adding that his boss had only managed to get within 100 metres (yards) before the entire flock took fright.

Earlier this year the escape of a penguin from a zoo in Tokyo captured worldwide attention.

Humboldt penguin No. 337 spent 82 days at large in and around Tokyo Bay after bolting his enclosure and evading aquarium staff, an army of public onlookers and even Japan's well-equipped coastguard.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]