Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Flaco the owl’s wild New York City adventures

Thanks to everyone who has sent me their stories. (Send me a story in the form at the end of this article!) As we travel along roads and through parks, we encounter all kinds of creatures. All we need to do is look up sometimes to see them… birds come into play this week.

Another lost cat

Reader Robin D. wrote, ”On our very first trip in our motorhome, on the day we were to leave the campground, one of my two cats climbed under the dashboard and made her way from the driver’s side to the passenger’s side, worming through the wires. When we returned from our morning showers we couldn’t find her. After a thorough search, we discovered her location but no way was she moving. We were quickly approaching our departure time.

“I ended up halfway under the dashboard myself. I can attest to there not being much space between the seat and the snarl of wires under the dash. My husband pounded hard on the top of the dash, frightening her into coming towards me, where I could grab her and remove us both. Afterward, we used foam panels to block off the area under the dash. Of course, DH took a photo of me half under the dash with my backside in the air (certain death if he posted the photo).”

A chicken-loving bird

Another reader, Bill D., and his wife shared a lovely story about a special bird. Bill, I had to edit the story for length but I hope I preserved your tale in the spirit it was written.

Bill writes, “My wife, Nicole, and I have spent a number of summers as the hosts of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Roaring Judy State Fish Hatchery.

“One day, we had finished work and were back at our camp relaxing beside a clump of bushes. All of a sudden, a juvenile bird hopped out of the bushes beside me. It looked very lost and hungry. I went into the camper and brought out a piece of leftover chicken. That bit of protein was as close as I could come to a bug. I broke off a small piece and put it on the ground in front of the bird. The bird devoured it instantly. A bit later it was back and ready for more chicken.  

“The next morning, we opened the RV doors and from out of nowhere appeared our bird. It, too, was ready for breakfast. This went on for a few days. We had not seen the bird fly but it was hopping around with much more vigor than on day one. Each morning we’d pop out of the van for breakfast and the bird would just appear out of nowhere ready to eat.  

Bird Photo: Bill Dunn

“Nicole started taking our bird out for walks in the field. They would scare up bugs the bird would pounce on and eat. One day we came back from work and the bird was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t show up the next day or the day after. We wondered if it was finally on its own?

“A few weeks after our first encounter we noticed a couple of birds that looked very similar to our bird. They were hopping along, working the field for insects just like my wife had trained our bird to do. That gave us closure to our bird. Since seeing that, we have told ourselves that one of those birds was ours and it now had a companion. Couldn’t have asked for a happier ending. We hope it’s true.”

Flaco the owl stepping out on Fifth Avenue

Flaco was spotted on this high branch in the Central Park by David Barrett, who runs the Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert. Credit: Manhattan Bird Alert

In early February, a rare Eurasian eagle-owl made a daring escape from New York City’s Central Park Zoo. With the help of vandals who cut the wire of his enclosure, Flaco flew to freedom. 

Flaco’s escape prompted a massive owl hunt as winter conditions threatened the raptor from Europe and Asia. Zoo officials were very concerned that Flaco would not be able to survive on his own having lived in protected comfort with his flatmates the red pandas, snow leopards, and snow monkeys at the zoo. In the wild, these large owls, also known as bubo bubos, live in wooded areas with rocky outcrops hunting rodents, rabbits and other small mammals. With a wingspan of 79 inches and bright orange eyes, Eurasian eagle-owls are formidable hunters.

Flaco’s escape mobilized hundreds of rescuers including zoo staff, park rangers, police and local NYC bird groups. Armed with binoculars, his rescuers were relieved to have spotted him on 5th Avenue and later in a tree on 59th St. Coordinating efforts, spotters kept an eye on Flaco while attempts to trap him continued. He hung around the zoo and was making Central Park his territory. There was evidence that Flaco was hunting on his own and apparently doing just fine. Zoo officials scaled back rescue operations and decided that Flaco’s survival instincts had kicked in enough for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the zoo, to say it would ease the intensity of its effort to retrieve him. 

“A major concern for everyone at the beginning was whether Flaco would be able to hunt and eat,” the Society said in a statement, noting that zoo employees had observed him catching and consuming prey. “That is no longer a concern.”  Well, given the rat population in NYC, Flaco should be eating well. However, experts are concerned about the urban dangers he could face—rat poison, glass windows and cars. Dustin Partridge, the director of conservation and science at NYC Audubon, called Flaco’s release from the zoo “unfortunate” because “These threats are very real.” 

The Society will focus on monitoring his well-being and there may come a time when re-capture becomes safe and plausible, although Flaco has adroitly avoided capture so far—he’s apparently having too much fun. 

So Flaco shines bright on Broadway and is keeping birders in New York enthralled. 

You can follow Flaco’s story and other birds of New York City on the Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter.

And finally…

And I’ll leave you with this image to make your day…

Mr. Happy Face, 18, is the reigning champion of the World’s Ugliest Dog contest. (Jeneda Benally)

Do you have a story to share? Please send it to me using the form below. Thank you!

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.



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