My Column: Flaco the Celebrity Eagle Owl
March 30, 2023
My latest column for The Record is all about Flaco, the Eurasian Eagle Owl who escaped from the zoo after his cage was vandalized. You can read it here. (A big thank you to zoologist Fred Virrazzi for his photograph of the eagle owl.)
Fred notes: "If the bird is not impacting the local native ecology and wildlife it's technically not an invasive. At this point, Flaco is not posing a threat to any park component. Escaped, invasive Mandarin Ducks have caused serious open-space problems.
"As far as Flaco enjoying his freedom, that is what Americans rightfully value for themselves. We observed Flaco seemingly stressed by crows a few times. The literature is unclear on emotions in birds; Flaco is unlikely recognizing the esoteric idea of being free flying vs being in a cage, although his former enclosure was too small. It's our habit to project our values onto animals but it's often a stretch."
You can read the column here:
By Jim Wright
Special to The Record
I visited Manhattan’s Central Park earlier this month to participate in a phenomenon I call celebrity bird-watching. You don't watch birds alongside famous people. Instead, you try to see a bird so rare, so unusual or so photogenic that it has developed its own huge fan club.
In this case, the bird is Flaco the Eurasian Eagle Owl. He is one of the world’s largest owls, with spectacular camouflage plumage in every shade of tan and brown.
Make no mistake. Flaco is a star. He has his own Wikipedia page and a Twitter handle, @flaco_theowl, which posts updates on his whereabouts. Photos of the owl regularly appear on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. Someone already made a mural of him.
The owl escaped from the Central Park Zoo in early February after someone vandalized his cage, allowing him to escape. The owl, an import from the other side of the world, hung out near the zoo shortly thereafter. Officials took a wait-and-see approach, lest they injure the owl trying to capture it, and Flaco eventually fled uptown.
My quest to find the owl didn't take long. After checking Flaco’s latest Twitter feed for his uptown location, I toted my binoculars up the park’s West Drive. In less than a minute, a walker approached and asked, “Looking for Flaco? Because he’s on Great Hill up there on your left.”
I spotted a small cluster of people looking up at a tree, and bingo! There sat Flaco, perched in plain view on a high branch, oblivious to what turned out to be a steady stream of sightseers.
Flaco seemed unfazed by the attention. After all, he spent his whole life being gawked at by zoo-goers. Nor did he spook easily. When a murder of crows dropped by to scream at him, he ignored them until they tired and flew away.
Flaco’s future seems, appropriately, up in the air. At the time of this writing, the zoo plans to keep an eye on him but has no plans to try to catch him. The biggest concern is that he eats a rat that has ingested rat poison – sort of like secondhand smoke, but far more lethal.
Central Park has a long history of quirky bird sightings that tickle the public’s fancy. Five years ago, for example, I wrote about a celebrity mandarin duck in Central Park after it appeared in a pond near the Plaza Hotel and began posing for photos. The duck was in no way rare – several resided in the nearby zoo with Flaco – but he was photogenic and cooperative, and folks seem to love these quirky “good news” bird stories.
I wish Flaco well, so long as he doesn’t start eating the other local raptors. And ideally, he’ll become a vegetarian before he eats the wrong rat.
The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Jim’s next book, "The Screech Owl Companion," will be published by Timber Press. Email Jim at [email protected].