Owl who escaped from zoo is NYC’s latest avian celebrity
An owl that escaped from the Central Park Zoo after someone damaged its cage has become New York’s latest bird celebrity
NEW YORK — An owl that escaped from the Central Park Zoo after someone damaged its cage has become New York City’s latest avian celebrity, drawing onlookers as it overlooks the park from the odd tall tree , but fuels fears that she cannot hunt and will starve.
The owl, a Eurasian eagle-owl named Flaco, escaped on February 2, zoo spokesman Max Pulsinelli said in a news release the following day. “The exhibit was vandalized and the stainless steel grille was cut,” Pulsinelli said. “Upon notification, a team has been mobilized to search for the bird.”
Flaco flew from the zoo to the nearby Fifth Avenue shopping district, where cops tried to catch him but failed.
He returned to Central Park the next morning and has since been sighted at various locations in the southeastern part of the park. Flaco has spent some of his time on the grounds of the zoo he escaped from, but he has not returned to captivity alone.
Zoo officials said last week they were trying to recapture Flaco, but they haven’t released any updates on their efforts since.
No one saw Flaco eat during his six days on the run, said David Barrett, who runs birdwatching Twitter accounts including Manhattan Bird Alert, Brooklyn Bird Alert and Bronx Bird Alert.
On Wednesday, Flaco caught a glimpse of Wollman Rink’s skaters from an oak tree in the park’s Hallett Nature Sanctuary. A small crowd watched from a respectful distance.
“I just want to see how he’s doing for myself,” said Gig Palileo, a retired healthcare worker, as she examined the owl through her camera lens. “I’m a nurse, so I’m always like, ‘Are the eyes still? Alarm?'”
Palileo said she was sad “that someone let this guy go without even thinking about the consequences. … He probably doesn’t know how to hunt.”
Kenny Cwiok, a retired correctional officer in the state prison system, was more confident about the owl’s survival in the wild. “I think he can survive,” Kwiok said. “Once he’s learned to fly, he can probably learn to hunt.”
Kwiok called Flaco “a celebrity,” like the colorfully feathered mandarin duck that dazzled park-goers a few years ago. “He was a star,” Kwiok said. “He was a Brad Pitt for Central Park.”
The Eurasian eagle-owl is one of the larger owl species, with a wingspan of up to 2 meters, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. They have large claws and distinctive ear tufts.
Like the mandarin duck, the Eurasian eagle-owl isn’t native to North America, but native owl species, including great horned owls and barred owls, are common in Central Park, where they feed on rats, mice, and smaller birds.
Dustin Partridge, director of conservation and science at NYC Audubon, said he hopes Flaco’s plight raises awareness of the fugitive bird’s wild cousins. “There are a lot of owls in town,” Partridge said. “If you have never seen an owl, they are majestic creatures.”