BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Flaco — New York City’s favorite celebrity owl — touched down at the Grand Street co-ops on Wednesday night.
Robin Herbst, a psychologist who lives at the East River Houses, at Grand and Lewis Streets near East River Park, said the escaped Eurasian eagle-owl landed on her air conditioner.
Initially, though, she wasn’t sure if her new feathered friend was even an owl.
“My partner and I are not Flaco experts,” she said. “I was only 85 percent certain it was an owl, I’m ashamed to say.”
But after she uploaded a photo of the free bird to social media, people immediately said it was Flaco.
“I posted this pic to our community Facebook page last night and they were so happy to see him,” Herbst said. “They identified him. I didn’t realize he was such a celebrity — I just thought it was wild to see an owl here. I then posted to Twitter, responded to a group that is tracking him, and the post caught on pretty rapidly with people sharing, posting funny comments, seeming to also believe it was him.”
Flaco fans were just happy to see that the Internet-famous avian is all right.
“The amount of relief it seems to have brought people to know he’s okay, playfulness to ignite imaginations about his travels, joy just to come together around tracking him, etc. is absolutely heartwarming,” Herbst said.
“I have to say, this is all more fun than I could have imagined. He may be the most unifying force in NYC right now.”
Flaco was held in captivity at the Central Park Zoo for 12 years, taken there when he was just a little owling, less than one year old. His name means “skinny” in Spanish.
In early February, though, he flew the coop from the zoo after someone vandalized his cage, leaving a hole for the eagle-owl to fly to freedom. Spreading his wings, the big bird of prey took up residence in Central Park, repeatedly frustrating zoo staff’s efforts to recapture him. Conveniently for Flaco, his favorite dish is rats, so New York City is his kind of town.
On Oct. 31, the runaway raptor ditched Central Park. According to news reports, on Monday he was seen in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side. There was speculation he is looking for a mate because he had been hooting for weeks — which bird experts say is an effort to attract a female.
Unfortunately, though, it seems Flaco is doomed to a life of bachelorhood since he is the only Eurasian eagle-owl in the wild in all of North America.
Another theory is that Flaco was being pestered by large crows in Central Park. Who knows, maybe he was also looking for large rats — and so targeted Downtown Manhattan with its overabundance of outdoor dining sheds.
While we wait for Flaco to make his next appearance, here he was in his favorite Central Park oak on October 27 doing his pre-flyout things, including much hooting. 🔊 🦉 ♥️ pic.twitter.com/ThE7x19gaw
— Manhattan Bird Alert (@BirdCentralPark) November 8, 2023
David Barrett, a local Flaco fan who runs Manhattan Bird Alert on X, told NPR he thinks the eagle-owl might eventually return to Central Park.
“I think he stays in the general area, probably in Manhattan or close to Manhattan, and so, yes, returning to Central Park will always be a possibility if that’s what he wants,” the urban birder opined.
“But I don’t think it’s likely in the near term,” he said. “I think he left for a reason, and he’s going to wander for a bit. But if he doesn’t find what he wants, which he won’t, coming back is something that he could do.”
It won’t be hard to notice Flaco around Downtown — especially when he’s in flight. The Eurasian eagle-owl is the world’s second-largest owl species, weighing in at 3 to 7 pounds, with a whopping wingspan of up to 6 feet. Flaco also sports striking orange eyes and tufted ears and his feathers have a beautiful mottled pattern. He’s a nocturnal hunter — which, again, might attract him to the outdoor dining “streeteries.”
In all seriousness, the rare eagle-owl might still be doing most of his hunting in park areas. Although nearby East River Park has been deforested for the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, the Grand Street co-ops are surrounded by grassy lawns.