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The eagle owl Flaco, who escaped from the zoo, became a celebrity in Central Park: he gained a lot of weight on a diet of New York rats


Alina Prikhodko

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Flaco the eagle owl, which is vandalized helped to escape from the Central Park Zoo in February, has grown significantly after authorities said they would keep him at large. He eats rats, poses for photographers and attracts crowds of fans, almost like Alex the lion from the cartoon “Madagascar.” An impressive eagle owl has become something of a celebrity after he escaped from a zoo and learned to live on his own, reports Daily Mail.

Photographers, nature lovers and tourists are captivated by the unusual spectacle of a bird of prey perched on roadside trees, hunting rats and showing off its two-metre wingspan. Flaco usually lives in the star-studded Upper East Side, and fans claim he's "definitely gotten a lot bigger" since his release.

“I watched Flaco eat up to four rats a night, which I heard was four times more than he ate at the zoo,” said Anke Frohlich, a New Yorker who took impressive photographs of Flaco in flight.

“After escaping, he became much larger and found his voice. His screams are full and strong. You can hear it all over Central Park.”

Kathy Robles, 73, who lives across the river from Central Park in New Jersey, said the bird became “violent” after its escape. “He flails around, so he uses his leg muscles and chest muscles,” said Robles, who has more than 500 people following Flaco on Facebook.

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Robles suggests that New Yorkers can easily empathize with Flaco because of his ability to survive in the city's concrete jungle. “This bird, the nature of which our citizens had not previously encountered, became, in fact, an immigrant who conquered Central Park.”

People take notice and likely feel sympathy for Flaco because of his unique history and ability to survive in adverse conditions that no one initially thought would be possible.

“I love how a lot of New Yorkers are responding to it,” Robles added. “I love that it really sparks interest because a lot of people these days have lost their curiosity about nature and the world around them.”

Local celebrity

Investor David Barrett, 59, who runs a popular Twitter account dedicated to Manhattan birdwatching, has been documenting Flaco's development since the night of his escape. “From that night on, he became a celebrity in New York,” he said. “That’s why following Flaco is exciting.”

Barrett immediately noticed the changes, because at first Flaco was not very good at flying - much less able to land - but over time he began to get better at it. And what’s surprising is that Flaco learned to hunt in just a few days. Nobody expected this.

Historically, animals bred in captivity, as Flaco was, were not capable of surviving in the wild. They don't learn survival skills. As far as we know, Flaco is the only wild eagle owl in all of North America, which is another reason visitors come to Central Park to see him.

Barrett, who lives near where Flaco usually sits, said the bird attracts “hundreds, if not thousands of people” to the northeastern edge of Central Park. According to him, visitors from all over the world write to him on his account @BirdCentralPark on Twitter, which has 80 followers, asking where they can see New York's famous owl.

The magical taste of freedom

Central Park Zoo abandoned its attempt to capture the owl several weeks after its escape, in part due to “strong public sentiment in favor of allowing Flaco to remain free.”

Ryan Stott, 46, a Utah tech worker and wildlife photographer, extended his recent work trip to New York City by one day in hopes of spotting a treasured owl. “The whole experience of seeing such a beautiful bird in such a unique place was incredible,” he said. Stott added that due to Flaco's noticeable weight, he was "not too worried" about how he would handle the winter.

Dedicated owl watcher and property marketer David Ley also captured mesmerizing images of the bird. “His appearance changes, sometimes he gets fluffy and seems bigger,” said the 35-year-old New Yorker.

He is quite expressive. This is one of the reasons why owls are so charismatic - they have big, beautiful eyes. When he was released from the zoo, he was very alert, keeping his ears up the entire time. But now he looks quite calm.

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