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'Celebrity' owl escapes from NYC zoo, amazes officials by catching prey on its own, surviving in Central Park

An owl that escaped from a New York City zoo has become a local celebrity in Central Park and has been seen catching prey on its own and maneuvering freely around the park.

An owl that escaped from the Central Park Zoo in New York City has been spotted hunting on its own and acclimating to life in the wild while becoming a local celebrity around the park.

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle owl, was first discovered missing from the zoo on Feb. 2 after his exhibit was vandalized and the mesh netting around it was cut, which caused officials to worry about whether the owl could survive on its own.

Those concerns quickly dissipated after Flaco was spotted in the area catching prey on his own and the zoo says it is "no longer a concern" whether he can feed himself.

"Several days ago, we observed him successfully hunting, catching and consuming prey," the zoo said in a statement last week. "We have seen a rapid improvement in his flight skills and ability to confidently maneuver around the park."


The zoo has been trying to recapture the owl by luring him with food, which has not yet been successful, and said it will "need to rethink our approach."

"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 zoo’s statement said. "We are also aware that he faces potential challenges in this environment on a daily basis. We will continue to monitor him, though not as intensely, and look to opportunistically recover him when the situation is right."


On Friday, the zoo released a follow-up statement explaining that they had tried to lure Flaco back into captivity with bait and recordings of owl calls, but he opted to remain in the wild.

"Though he showed some interest in the calls, the attempt was unsuccessful," the statement said. "As we noted previously, efforts at recovering the bird have proven more difficult since he has been very successful at hunting and consuming the abundant prey in the park."

The owl has drawn crowds in Central Park, and one onlooker, retired corrections officer Kenny Cwiok, told The Associated Press that the owl is "a celebrity" and that he believes the animal can survive in the wild.

The Eurasian eagle owl is one of the larger owl species with a wingspan of up to 79 inches, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. It has large talons and distinctive ear tufts.

Like the Mandarin duck, the Eurasian eagle owl is not native to North America, but native owl species including great horned owls and barred owls do frequent Central Park, where they dine on rats, mice and smaller birds.

Dustin Partridge, director of conservation and science for NYC Audubon, said he hopes Flaco’s plight raises awareness of the fugitive bird’s wild cousins. "There’s a lot of owl life in the city," Partridge said. "If you’ve never seen an owl, they’re majestic creatures."

The New York Police Department is investigating the vandalism incident that led to the owl’s escape.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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