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New York's celebrity owl Flaco is spotted far from Central Park for the first time

Flaco is seen Monday evening at Kenkeleba House Garden in New York's East Village.
David Barrett
Flaco is seen Monday evening at Kenkeleba House Garden in New York's East Village.

Flaco, New York's celebrity owl, has been spotted far outside of his longtime home of Central Park for the first time since flying free of his zoo enclosure in February.

He was spotted by photographers on Monday at Kenkeleba House Garden, a sculpture garden in Manhattan's East Village, some five miles away from his normal roost.

"This is a big change," says David Barrett, a Flaco-watcher who runs an account called Manhattan Bird Alert on the social media network X, as well as a website on the topic.

Aside from a brief foray into the streets nearby, Flaco has remained in Central Park since February, where he's built up a network of fans.

"It's disappointing to many, many people because he was always there for nine months and in generally recurring locations that you could visit," Barrett says.

Flaco likely traveled to find a mate, as it's his mating season.

"He'd been hooting for many weeks. That's one way that owls indicate their availability to the opposite sex. It's also how they indicate their territory," Barrett says.

New York's celebrity owl Flaco was spotted in the East Village on Monday.
/ David Barrett
/
David Barrett
New York's celebrity owl Flaco was spotted in the East Village on Monday.

His calls went unanswered, though — Flaco is the only Eurasian eagle owl in the wild in North America.

Flaco also may have gotten sick of some American crows bothering him in Central Park.

"They're quite annoying, and they're big birds," Barrett says.

Barrett thinks Flaco left Central Park the night of Oct. 31 and that he gradually made his way to the East Village over several days. Flaco was not seen in the sculpture garden on Tuesday, however, so the owl's current whereabouts are unknown, he said.

Flaco has been on the loose since someone cut the stainless steel mesh on his exhibit at the Central Park Zoo in early February. Zoo officials tried to lure him back to recapture him but were unsuccessful.

Danger ahead

There are two main concerns now that Flaco has left Central Park: rat poison and traffic.

The owl's diet consists almost entirely of rats and mice. Inside the park, rodenticide use is limited. But on New York's streets, restaurant owners and others frequently employ it to deal with the city's well-known rat problem.

Scott Weidensaul, an author who researches owls, told NPR in February that rat poison is "certainly capable of killing a bird, but even at sublethal levels, there are health problems."

The other danger is cars. In the park it's much safer. But now, Flaco could see a rat on the street and swoop down into the path of an oncoming vehicle, Barrett says.

Barrett isn't sure where Flaco will travel to next, though he's not ruling out a 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," he says.

"But I don't think it's likely in the near term. 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."

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James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.

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