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Flaco the Owl is New York’s Favorite Fugitive

Eurasian Eagle-owl

Way back in February of 2023, I reported on the escape of Flaco; a Eurasian Eagle-owl who flew the coop from his enclosure at the Central Park Zoo. At the time, Flaco’s escape was recent news and efforts to capture the feathered fugitive were in full swing.

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You may remember early 2023 as a time when zoo escapes were all over the news. Strangely, a seemingly unconnected series of crimes and accidents led to the escape or theft of several animals from zoos across the country within a span of just a few months. Most notably, the Dallas Zoo experienced a string of crimes including the killing of an endangered Lappet-faced Vulture, the vandalism of a Clouded Leopard enclosure leading to the animal’s escape, and the theft of two Emperor Tamarin monkeys. This turned out to have been the work of a single perpetrator and the missing animals were located and returned with the exception of the deceased vulture.

Zoos in Houston and Louisiana also experienced vandalism and animal thefts during the early months of 2023, but neither incident captured public attention like the escape of Flaco the owl. Flaco escaped on the 2nd of February, 2023, after the steel mesh of his enclosure was cut by unknown vandals.

The person or persons behind the crime have not been caught and, incredibly, neither has Flaco. In the ensuing eleven months since his escape, Flaco the Eurasian Eagle-owl has become something of a celebrity in New York and has been spotted all over Manhattan. In the early days after his escape, most of his sightings were concentrated in Central Park, but he has since branched out and has popped up in a number of unexpected locations.

In December of 2023, reports began coming in of Flaco sightings outside several apartment windows. Residents of Manhattan’s Lower East Side reported Flaco visiting window sills and resting on air conditioning units before moving on. News reports refer to him as a “peeping Tom” thanks to photographs taken during these sightings which show him staring into apartment windows.

I, like many others who birdwatch often and follow bird news closely, know that it is a matter of extraordinary good luck that Flaco has made it this far. Urban living is a difficult task for a bird of prey. Rodents laced with deadly pesticides, collisions with cars, and a shortage of truly safe wild spaces pose enormous threats to the wild native owls that normally live in the Big Apple. Add to this the fact that Flaco is neither wild nor native and his surviving this long is an impressive accomplishment.

Still, some Flaco fans take inspiration in Flaco’s apparent ability to tackle the challenges of wild life. After 13 years in captivity, Flaco seems to have adapted to the life of a wild owl with relative ease. He is the only Eurasian Eagle-Owl in New York and his attempts to attract a mate late last year were obviously doomed to failure, however many feel that freedom for Flaco might be worth the risks to his safety. In either case, he has become a symbol for both New York and the bird-lovers that live there and have cherished the unique experience of watching him explore their city. It is my sincere hope that Flaco’s future is long and prosperous, wherever he ends up.

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2 thoughts on “Flaco the Owl is New York’s Favorite Fugitive”

  1. I love your update on Flaco. I keep trying to find out how he is doing & haven’t been very successful until I came across your story. He is amazing & I am so happy to hear he is still free! I worry about him with the bad weather & getting safe food.

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