Eurasian eagle owl living in Central Park

New York City’s avian celebrity, Flaco the owl seems to have made Manhatten’s famous park his home.

Eagle Owl in New York City
Photo by Jeremy Hynes on Unsplash

In February, after an act of vandalism to his enclosure at the Central Park Zoo, Flaco, the Eurasian Eagle-Owl escaped. Despite concerns that Flaco wouldn’t be able to fend for himself after 13 years in captivity, the owl is hunting and living successfully alongside native wildlife in Manhattan’s Central Park. Reports indicate that he has put on weight and is presumably faring well. Contents of his pellets include bones and fur indicate that he is feeding on Central Park’s abundant rat population.

Eurasian Eagle Owls are a large species native to Europe and Asia. One of largest species of owl, they are capable of growing to a length of 75 cm, with a wingspan of 188 cm – males will be slightly smaller. With his distinctive ear tufts, with streaked feathers and piercing orange eyes, Flaco makes for an attractive sighting.

There are petitions to stop recovery efforts and for the owl to remain free in the park. Conservationists though, argue that it is better for him to return to the zoo. His diet of rats is potentially toxic and life-threatening, and there is a high risk of colliding with vehicles or buildings. According to NYC Audubon, window collisions are one of the city’s top causes of bird mortality, annually killing 90,000 to 230,000 birds, including owls. That risk is multiplied if the bird decides to move from the park, closer into the bustling city. Flaco is not the first owl to have made Central Park it’s home. A wild Barred Owl, nicknamed Barry, was living in the park and killed in 2021 – struck by a park maintenance vehicle and was later found to have been riddled with rat poison.

There is also concern amongst ecologists, about the impact of Flaco’s freedom affecting other native birds and wildlife, as he may prey on native birds, including smaller owls like the Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl.

Despite the thrill of seeing the majestic owl living free-as-a-bird in the famed park, the conclusion is that New York is no place for a Eurasian Eagle-Owl. Attempts to recapture the owl have thus far been thwarted, as the cunning Flaco has shown little interest in the baited cages and enticing audio lures of fellow Eurasian Eagle Owls. Until they do, stay safe Flaco and if returned to captivity at Central Park’s Zoo hopefully a new enclosure will await you that is more suited to your impressive stature.