A New York City owl has learned to hunt on his own after escaping from the Central Park Zoo.
Flaco, a 13-year-old Eurasian eagle-owl, flew the coop on Feb. 2 after an unidentified person vandalized his enclosure, cutting the mesh that had kept the bird from being able to fly away. The zoo mobilized to try to recapture Flaco, fearing that he wouldn’t be able to survive on his own. Born in captivity, the owl had never learned to hunt, prompting worries that he would simply starve to death.
In the meantime, Flaco’s growing flock of fans chronicled his journey on social media, most notably the Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert. (That account also took some heat for publicizing Flaco’s whereabouts, with critics noting that crowds gathering to get a glimpse of the eagle-owl could impede the zoo’s recapture efforts.)
But on Sunday, the zoo released a hopeful update about Flaco’s self-reliance. It seems the owl has wised up to the ways of the wild and managed to catch prey on his own.
“Several days ago, we observed him successfully hunting, catching and consuming prey,” the statement said. “We have seen a rapid improvement in his flight skills and ability to confidently maneuver around the park.”
Because of that development, the zoo said it would ease up its efforts to trap Flaco, though it would continue to “monitor” him and possibly recapture him in the future.
“We will continue to monitor him, though not as intensely, and look to opportunistically recover him when the situation is right.”
Though he’s proved able to feed himself, Flaco still faces challenges and dangers on his own.
“He may not possess all the skills and endurance required for life in the wild,” Richard Simon, wildlife unit director for the city’s parks department, told The New York Times.
And one major hazard for Flaco is a danger that also threatens the city’s native owls ― rat poison. Rodenticides work their way up the food chain, and predators like owls can die from eating poisoned rodents. In 2021, a barred owl named Barry was killed in a collision with a park truck. Investigators later found that Barry had a high level of rat poison in her system, which could have impaired her flying abilities and led to the crash.