NEW YORK (AP) — For two weeks, an escaped New York City Central Park Zoo owl flitted from tree to tree, evading capture, and amassing a legion of admirers worried about its ability to survive alone in a big city.
Would Flaco, the majestic Eurasian eagle owl, go hungry because his ability to hunt in captivity was so underdeveloped?
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, but the answer was a resounding no. Flaco seems to have regained his killer instincts and has become accustomed to swooping down from great heights to feed on the park’s prey, the rats.
As a result, zoo officials have announced that they are suspending recovery efforts, at least for now, but will closely monitor the owl’s health.
“We will continue to monitor Flaco and his activities and be prepared to resume recovery work if we see any signs of difficulty or distress,” a zoo official said.
This bird’s name means “thin” in Spanish, and since it was not seen eating when it escaped, it seemed to be living up to its name. But when he started spitting out his fur and bones, it caused excitement. Evidence that he hunted and ate.
Officials acknowledged that Flaco’s recovery proved difficult, especially “because he was very successful in hunting and consuming the abundant game in the park.”
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the eagle owl is one of the largest species of owl, with a wingspan of 2 meters (79 inches). They have large claws and distinctive ear tufts.
Despite evidence that Flaco ate rodents, work to catch him continued.
Recently, zoo staff tried to lure the flako with bait and recordings of eagle owl calls. He showed some interest, but he didn’t fall for the ruse.
The search for Flaco began on February 2 after vandals were discovered to have cut the stainless steel mesh of the bird enclosure.
Flaco has toured Upper Manhattan, but has never strayed far from the park. He flew to his Fifth Avenue shopping center nearby, where police officers unsuccessfully tried to apprehend him. He captivated audiences wherever he went, including a visit to the park’s skating rink. Twitter was flooded with sightings, and the hashtag #freeflaco and an online petition to keep him free quickly spread.
“Flaco is doing great in Central Park. And it’s been great. He went from an owl in captivity to the wild much sooner than anyone expected,” said a birder on Twitter. said David Barrett, who runs the accounts Manhattan Bird Alert, Brooklyn Bird Alert and Bronx Bird Alert.
“He’s catching prey himself. He keeps flying better and better,” he said. “He seems to be enjoying himself there.”
Since eagle owls are not native to North America, Flaco had to travel across the ocean to find them in the wild. In 2010, he was less than a year old when he set up a home at Central Park Zoo.
Owls are predominantly solitary animals, typically socializing with other animals only during the breeding season.
“Will he be lonely there? That’s a good question,” said Barrett.