Super Bowl week was “superb owl” week in the Big Apple: Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl is still on the loose after escaping from his Central Park Zoo enclosure on Feb. 2 when someone tampered with it. Not only is he becoming quite the local celebrity, the critter is also adapting swimminglyto life outside the cage.

“Several days ago, we observed him successfully hunting, catching, and consuming prey,” said a Central Park Zoo spokesperson on Feb. 12. “We have seen a rapid improvement in his flight skills and ability to confidently maneuver around the park. A major concern for everyone at the beginning was whether Flaco would be able to hunt and eat; that is no longer a concern.

“Since our recovery strategies thus far have all been based on luring him to familiar food items, we need to rethink our approach. Our main concern has always been for the well-being of the eagle owl. Our observations indicate that he seems to be comfortable in the area of the park where he has been hunting, and we don’t want to do anything to encourage him to leave this site.”

The statement also said the zoo is still seeking to recover the owl, but will loosen up on monitoring the bird of prey because Flaco’s cult-hero status means anyone with a Twitter account can probably track his movements. The NYPD is currently investigating the tampering and police said a complaint of criminal mischief was filed on the night of the owl’s escape. 

Dr. Michael Schummer, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s resident ornithologist, recommended that New Yorkers give Flaco space because Eurasian eagle-owls hunt during the night and need to rest during the day.

“If you have to use a telephoto lens to take a picture of an owl, then you’re far enough away,” he said. “The general approach to owls is that if an owl looks at you for extended periods of time, you’re definitely too close. Now, of course, this isn’t a wild owl. It’s been around people quite a bit. But I think the most important thing the public can do is give this owl space, because that many people being that close to it [is] probably doing more harm than good.”

Beaks and claws are also a thing, and while Schummer says Flaco isn’t likely to snack on someone’s Yorkshire terrier or chihuahua, there’s a level of danger for police and zoo experts working to capture the owl, so giving them space is also essential. 

Currently, Flaco is usually found traversing Central Park. He’s even visited his fellow zoo animals since escaping. But as New Yorkers flock (pun intended) to catch a glimpse of the owl, Black New Yorker Christian Cooper was harassed by a white woman while birdwatching in Central Park just three years prior. 

And while Flaco is seen hunting, Schummer says poisoned rats are usually the easiest meals in New York City for birds of prey. Numerous owls and other raptors die each year from such consumption. Barry—Central Park’s previous celebrity owl—was found with lethal doses of rodenticide after she was fatally struck by a vehicle in 2021. 

Eurasian eagle-owls are not endangered—the ecological governing body International Union for Conservation of Nature deems them of “least concern.” But there’s only one Flaco, and his plight has been met with great concern. 

“Everybody tries to do their best—you hope for the best outcome and it doesn’t always work out,” said Schummer. “People should be mentally prepared for it not working out. But understand that really good people are on the job, and they have professional- and academic-level training and years of it. Everybody’s hoping for the best outcome, so give those people space to be able to do the best work they can.”

Flaco did not respond to Amsterdam News’ attempts to contact him. 
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting

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