The Central Park Zoo was the scene of an extraordinary rescue effort late Friday as workers and park rangers worked tirelessly to bring a missing Eurasian eagle-owl back to safety. Flaco, the orange-and-black-striped bird of prey, had gone missing after vandals cut the stainless steel mesh around his enclosure the night before. As the sun set, Flaco remained out of reach, prompting a flurry of activity from the zoo and the small crowd of bird watchers who had gathered to see the spectacle.
Flaco, who arrived at the Central Park Zoo in 2010, is one of the largest species of owl, with a wingspan of up to 79 inches. Nocturnal birds with distinctive orange eyes, they are found in much of Europe and Asia and parts of northern Africa, where they live in a variety of wooded habitats. Common in areas with rocky outcrops and cliffs, they also live in open habitats that have some trees. In the wild, the Eurasian eagle-owl hunts at twilight, targeting rodents, rabbits and large game birds.
Passers-by and police officers spotted the owl on Fifth Avenue, but he soon flew off. He was later seen in a tree near 59th Street, where he spent the night as zoo workers kept an eye on him from the ground below. By sunrise, the zoo said, Flaco had flown back into Central Park, where workers maintained “visual contact” with him throughout Friday. As dusk came, he remained out of reach.
The small crowd of bird watchers, who had gathered to get a look at the owl, were worried about his ability to survive on his own after all his years in the zoo, and as temperatures dropped toward the single digits with strong winds. David Barrett, who runs the popular Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert, speculated that zoo workers would try to lure the owl with his favorite foods offered by his regular handler. However, he added that although the eagle-owl can be found in parts of Eurasia that can get quite cold, Flaco may have lost his ability to hunt for food after being in captivity for so long.
The Central Park Zoo is at least the second urban zoo to experience an act of vandalism recently, as a clouded leopard escaped through a hole in its enclosure at the Dallas Zoo last month. An investigation into who vandalized Flaco’s enclosure is continuing.
Flaco’s escape has been compared to the Mandarin duck that garnered worldwide attention and became known as the “hot duck” after appearing in Central Park in 2018. While Flaco did come from the zoo, he, like the Mandarin duck, was not native to the area, making him an equally unusual sight for people who were able to catch a glimpse.
As the sun sets on Friday night, the fate of Flaco remains uncertain. Will he find his way back to safety, or is he doomed to a life of solitude in the wild? Only time will tell.