The Celebrity of Flaco, The Eurasian Eagle Owl

Flaco, Eurasian Eagle Owl; Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
Flaco, an enormous Eurasian Eagle-owl is New York City’s latest celebrity. In February, vandals cut open Flaco’s cage at the Central Park Zoo. He escaped, but having never lived in the wild, there was concern that he wouldn’t know how to hunt and feed himself since he had been fed by humans his entire life. Despite his hunting naivete, and his clear lack of flight skills, after several days and an initial abrupt landing on a 5th Avenue sidewalk, Flaco began to get the hang of it. He has summoned up his ancient predatory skills, and now appears to be surviving on rats and rodents in the park. He also has a growing fan club. Everyone knows which tree he is in (I was given directions without even asking a couple of times), and at any given time there can be a fairly large flock of humans standing below him – the informed telling new arrivals all about Flaco, how he got here and about his Eurasian Eagle Owl-ness. The depth of knowledge about this celebrity owl is remarkable, and his fans have been instrumental in the zoo’s decision to stop trying to capture him. Instead, they will continue to monitor his well-being but leave the stress of capture as a possibility if there are issues.

Flaco is far away from his natural home – his wild cousins live in Europe and across Russia and Asia. They are a remote wilderness species considered to be the heaviest owl in the world and larger than our Great Horned Owl. He seems to be managing to take care of himself, but there are knock-on effects to having a huge invasive owl who is starting to settle into a territory that native owls could inhabit. And while Flaco is becoming more adept at hunting, his choice of food sources in Central Park is mostly rats and rodents – risking the possibility he may have health problems from the build-up of ingested rat poison. Plus, if he leaves Central Park he runs the risk of being unable to safely navigate the city. All these are possible challenges for Flaco. But for now, he seems to be enjoying his perch in a favorite tree and is giving joy and a lesson in nature to a lot of people who might not have thought much about birds before he showed up out of his cage in Central Park.

There have been a series of vandalizations of cages in zoos in the US recently, and Flaco’s escape is one of the latest. Here’s an update from ABC News. This article from NPR – with further information on the challenges facing Flaco in the wild from author and owl expert Scott Weidensaul, -gives more details on this ongoing story.