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The eagle-owl has landed: Free bird Flaco spotted on Lower East Side

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.”

Hoo, hooooo you lookin’ at? Flaco poses for a photo on Grand Street. Maybe the famous owl — which has a massive following — is used to being photographed at this point. (Photo by Robin Herbst)

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.

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.


  1. Patricia Hilbish Patricia Hilbish November 10, 2023

    I volunteer for a well-known raptor center and know many rodenticides (rat poison) are anticoagulants. They build up in a bird and, if injured, they cannot stop bleeding. I’ve seen a bald eagle chick in the nest break a pin feather (blood feather) and bleed out in its nest because parents brought home rats or smaller rat predators to feed it and had the poison build up and thin its blood. Rat poison is just awful for all raptors.

  2. Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost November 10, 2023

    Would it be all right for him to be returned to the zoo if he can be captured? Wouldn’t he be safer there? What about the cold weather of December, January and February? Can he handle that?

  3. lynn Pacifico lynn Pacifico November 9, 2023

    Anyone using rat poison – please stop as eating poisoned rats is the killer of our prior famous (loved) birds.

    • Shau Shau November 9, 2023

      Very good point. I think a public announcement should go out…
      I am near SF, the furthest from NY, but we have lots of owls 🦉 live on our tall trees.

  4. Pamela Grossman Pamela Grossman November 9, 2023

    I agree re mate. It would be fantastic if there could be a gal for him, since he is looking!

  5. Kathryn Adisman Kathryn Adisman November 9, 2023

    Message to Flaco:

    Come to the West Village. Plenty of rats to dine on here. Look forward to seeing you in the nayb!

  6. BCapoNYC BCapoNYC November 9, 2023

    Damn, East River Park would’ve been a fine place for Flaco.
    #SHAME on the horrific & COSTLY destruction, in so many ways.
    He might’ve loved to watch the kites, and sang to them, hoping one was a mate. CRIMINAL the loss of wildlife & human life habitat. There was an #EcologicalSolution

    • lynn pacifico lynn pacifico November 9, 2023

      Maybe East and West Siders can join forces to stop the destruction of what is left of our treasured nature in our nabes, although it might be too late for your loss on the East Side. Politics will not stop, though, as long as there is money to be made.

  7. Susan Susan November 9, 2023

    I wonder if there could be a way to bring a female Eurasian eagle-owl for Flaco, so that he might finally have a mate.

  8. Desiree Desiree November 9, 2023

    It’s heartwarming to see him out & about, and safe Downtown. But sad that there’s no mate available for him. Can’t anyone import one for him? D. Perez

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