Flaco the Owl Becomes Celebrity After Flying Coop at Central Park Zoo, Eludes Keepers

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle owl, has been on the lam since Feb. 2 after vandals cut his mesh cage, but birdwatchers are relieved he seems to have figured out how to hunt in the wild.

| 12 Feb 2023 | 08:03

Flaco, a rare Eurasian eagle owl, has emerged as the city’s newest celebrity as the long time inhabitant of the Central Park Zoo--who was discovered missing Feb. 2 around 8:30 am after vandals cut through his mesh cage--appears to have figured out how to survive and hunt in the wild. Or at least the wilds of Central Park.

“We are relieved and overjoyed that Flaco the Eurasian Eagle-Owl, who had spent his entire roughly 13-year life in captivity, has learned to obtain prey and feed himself after a week in the wild of Central Park,” tweeted the Manhattan Bird Alert run by David Barrett on Feb. 10.

On Feb. 9, zoo keepers had set a trap for the elusive owl but he managed to untangle himself from netting and escape before zookeepers arrived to try to capture him.

The Central Park Zoo originally worried that he’d be unable to fend for himself since he was used to being fed in the zoo since he arrived there in 2010. But at least one twitter user tweeted a picture of Flaco feasting on a rat late last week.

But that has raised concerns anew that the some of the rats may have eaten rate poison which could also kill the owl if he ingests it.

Some twitter users theorized that even though he was fed by keepers at the zoo, he had probably been hunting mice all along so his stay outdoors might not be as perilous as expected for the bird with a 79 inch wingspan.

“Our focus and effort at this time is on the safe recovery of the owl. We will issue updates as needed,” the Wildlife Conservation Society which runs the Central Park Zoo said in a statement.

Dustin Partridge, the director of conservation and science at NYC chapter of the Audubon Society told the New York Times that owls have survived in New York City in the past, they also face challenges since feeding on the abundant rodent population poses a danger that the owl could ingest rat poisons or fly into windows during his nocturnal flights.

“These threats are very real,” Dr. Partridge told the NY Times.

That prompted Lenore Skenazy @freerangekids to tweet, “Perhaps even more amazing than Flaco-the-Owl’s escape from Central Park Zoo (now living in some local trees) is the fact that the name of the director of conservation and science at NYC Audubon is--for real-- Dustin Partridge.”

Meanwhile, as he seems to regulasrly return to a tree near the Central Park Zoo, he has attracted crowds of birdwatchers hoping to catch a glimpse of him perched in the tree. Although some worry that the birdwatchers may be thwarting zoo keepers efforts to capture the orange and black striped bird.

“I deleted my previous tweet bc I don’t want to give his feed views,” tweeted one birder, Dr. Emma Guest-Consales @emma TK. “If you follow David Barrett’s twitter for updates about Flaco, please DO NOT GO TO LOOK FOR THIS BIRD. He needs to be left alone as much as possible so the @central park zoo can try to catch him #flacotheowl.”