Flaco, the Eurasian-Eagle Owl, Mesmerized New Yorkers

He was far from his native land, but when Flaco, the Eurasian-Eagle owl, escaped from the Central Park Zoo on February 2, 2023, he quickly began to adapt to life in New York City. He learned to fly and hunt, feasting on the plentiful rat and pigeon population. And he branched out from Central Park, traveling to the East Village, the Upper East Side, until finally settling on the Upper West Side. He seemed to be attracted to people, perhaps from all the years he spent in the zoo having visitors stare at him. In a short time, Flaco became a celebrity, everyone’s pet, with several sites set up to monitor his activities. 

He would often land on balconies and fire escapes, peering into windows, surprising and delighting those inside. Eurasian-Eagle Owls are large with a wing span that can reach six feet. Then there are those penetrating yellow eyes! One woman reported his visit on a local website. Fearful that Flaco would become entangled in the strings of lights on her balcony, she called the police. When the officers arrived, they shone a light on Flaco and he flew away unharmed.

New Yorkers love a story of survival and by all accounts, Flaco was a survivor. But his freedom lasted little more than a year. On Friday night, February 23, the owl apparently flew into a building on West 89th Street, and fell to the ground. Residents called the Wild Bird Fund, a rescue organization, who arrived quickly. Unfortunately, Flaco could not be saved. A necropsy will be performed at the Bronx Zoo to find a cause of death. 

The person who freed Flaco from his zoo enclosure has never been caught. No one knows the intruder’s motive. Was it a mere act of vandalism? Someone determined to free Flaco from his enclosure? Animal rights groups had complained that Flaco’s zoo home was depressing and small. Yet freeing an owl not accustomed to live in an urban area presented many risks. Zoo officials worried about Flaco eating rats that may have ingested poison. An avian bird flu has already claimed some birds in New York. And birds and owls often die after becoming disoriented and flying into buildings. What happened to Flaco may be a combination of circumstances.

Eurasian-eagle owls in the wild have a life expectancy of 20 years, but in captivity can live as long as 60 years. Flaco, who would have turned 14 next month, lived for 12 years in the Central Park Zoo. If he had remained there, sheltered from the many dangers that exist in an urban area, he might have lived much longer. Perhaps Flaco’s year of freedom was worth it to him. We’ll never know.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (690 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.