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New Yorkers’ beloved owl, Flaco, escaped from his Central Park Zoo enclosure a month ago. After eluding various rescue attempts, Flaco has settled in quite nicely to his new expansive home — and he might just be there to stay.
The Eurasian eagle-owl’s enclosure was vandalized on February 2, allowing the bird, who had been in captivity since 2010, to fly out and be thrust into the chaos of New York City. Since then, he has been spotted resting among the trees of Central Park, flying overhead at night and even clutching the occasional rat between his talons.
A February 17 update from the zoo revealed that rescue attempts would be put on pause since Flaco was proving he could feed and take care of himself in the wild.
“We are going to continue monitoring Flaco and his activities and to be prepared to resume recovery efforts if he shows any sign of difficulty or distress,” the zoo’s statement said. “We will issue additional updates if there is a change in the eagle owl’s status or our plan changes.”
Since his release, the owl turned New Yorker has caught the attention of bird enthusiasts around the world and even attracts a bird-watching crowd in the evenings, with binoculars and cameras on hand, in attempts to spot the massive bird.
With a wingspan of up to 6 feet (1.8 meters), the Eurasian eagle-owl is one of the world’s largest owls. It can weigh anywhere from 3 to 9 pounds (1.4 to 4 kilograms), with females typically being larger than males.
Like most other owls, it’s nocturnal. The owl hunts at night and tends to sleep during the day. In the wild, its life span ranges from 10 to 20 years, while some live up to 60 years in captivity.
“Eurasian Eagle-Owl is a striking bird! It is an enormous owl, one of the world’s biggest in terms of size, wingspan, and mass,” said Dr. Andrew Farnsworth, a senior research associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, in an email. “All owls attract people’s attention because of their generally nocturnal habits that make them challenging to observe — seeing one, especially one on a sidewalk or on a lawn in the middle of a large metropolitan area is for sure a wow moment.”
While Flaco seems to be doing fine on his own, captive owls who have been raised in zoos typically lack the skills and experience to hunt for themselves and feed effectively in the wild, according to Farnsworth, who has been following Flaco’s story.
“Much as many people wish to see animals in zoos freed, this is a horrible idea to release these animals,” Farnsworth added. “The animal’s own welfare and the welfare of those wild animals in the community into which a captive animal is released may both suffer. Thankfully, in this case, that has not happened yet.”
Flaco’s story of resilience appears to have sparked an interest in bird-watching, especially from those trying to spot a glimpse of the feathered celebrity.
It is important to avoid stressing birds when observing them, according to the American Birding Association’s Code of Birding Ethics, and to minimize habitat disturbance by keeping at a distance and staying quiet.
The association also notes the importance of promoting knowledge of respectful bird-watching to beginner observers and to “approach instances of perceived unethical birding behavior with sensitivity and respect; try to resolve the matter in a positive manner, keeping in mind that perspectives vary.”
What’s more, being mindful while you’re sharing space with wild animals can reap rewards, as you are more likely to observe them going about their natural routines when left unbothered.
“Respect for the birds one is observing is essential,” Farnsworth said. “Generally, I also advise people to be observant and thoughtful when possible — careful and quiet observation almost always yields far more observations, period.
“I also advise people to use all senses, because birds are an incredible connection point for us to our natural world, whether it’s observing an illegally released zoo specimen, listening to a Northern Cardinal in your backyard, or watching a Red-tailed Hawk from your apartment.”