Flaco, the escaped owl from the Central Park Zoo, may stay in the wilds of New York
NEW YORK – For two weeks, the owl that escaped from the Central Park Zoo flew from treetop to treetop, evading capture and garnering legions of fans concerned about its ability to survive on its own in the big city.
Will Flaco, the majestic Eurasian eagle owl, become hungry because he did not develop the ability to hunt in captivity?
With a collective sigh of relief, the answer was a resounding no: it looks like Flaco has regained his killer instincts and is becoming a seasoned man, swooping down from his high perch to feast on rats in the park.
As a result, zoo officials have announced they are suspending recovery operations, at least for now, but will be closely monitoring the owl’s health.
“We are going to continue to monitor Flaco and his activities and be ready to resume recovery efforts if he shows any signs of hardship or distress,” zoo officials said in a statement.
The bird’s name means “skinny” in Spanish, and it seemed that in the early days of his escape, he was in danger of living up to his name because no one saw him eating. But when he started coughing up fur and bones, it caused a commotion—proof that he was hunting and eating.
Officials acknowledged that Flaco’s recovery proved difficult, especially “as he was very successful in hunting and eating abundant prey in the park.”
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Eurasian Eagle Owl is one of the largest owl species, with a wingspan of up to 79 inches. They have large claws and distinctive ear tufts.
Despite evidence that Flaco fed on rodents, the task of capturing him continued.
More recently, zoo officials have tried to lure Flaco with bait and recordings of eagle owl calls. He showed some interest, but did not fall for the ruse.
The search for Flaco was launched on February 2 when vandals were found to have cut the stainless steel mesh in the bird’s aviary.
Flaco circled Upper Manhattan, but did not deviate too far from the park. He flew to the nearby Fifth Avenue mall, where the police tried to catch him, but were unsuccessful.
He captivated the public wherever he went, including visiting the ice rink in the park. Twitter was agitated by the sightings, and the #freeflaco hashtag, as well as an online petition to keep it free, soon disappeared.
“Flaco is doing well in Central Park. And it’s amazing. He made a remarkable transition from a captive owl to life in the wild much faster than anyone could have expected,” said David Barrett, who maintains ornithologists’ Twitter accounts for Manhattan Bird. Alert, Brooklyn Bird Alert and Bronx Bird Alert.
“He catches prey on his own. It keeps flying better and better,” he said. “He seems to be enjoying himself there.”
The Eurasian eagle owl is not native to North America, so Flaco would have to fly across the ocean to find their own kind in the wild. He was less than a year old when he moved into the Central Park Zoo in 2010.
Owls are mostly solitary animals and usually only interact with another animal during the breeding season.
“Will he be lonely there? Good question,” Barrett said.
BOBBY KAINA KALVAN of the Associated Press helped produce this report.
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