Tag: Baltimore Oriole

Eurasian Eagle-Owl in NY’s Central Park

Eurasian Eagle Owl Central Park New York City

Flaco the Eurasian Eagle-Owl in Central Park, NY

Fugitive Owl Making it in New York

At 8:30pm on February 2, 2023, officials at New York’s Central Park Zoo realized that a twelve year-old Eurasian Eagle-Owl named Flaco was not in his enclosure. Someone had cut the wire mesh, and the owl had flown. Later that evening, Flaco was spotted on the sidewalk at Madison Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets. NYPD officers tried to take him into custody, but he flew off. By morning, he was back in Central Park, perched in a tree. Efforts to re-capture him were unsuccessful. And despite initial concern about the owl’s ability to hunt (he’d been at the zoo since he was  less than 1-year old, in an enclosure no bigger than a bus), he’s remained in Central Park for the past 4 months living off mice and rats and who knows what else

During a recent visit to NYC, I went to look for this survivor. He’d recently been roosting in trees near a compost heap in the northeast part of the park. I couldn’t find GPS coordinates or any specific directions to his “favorite tree” online, so I hoped my positive attitude would lead me to the owl.  When I arrived at the compost heap in the afternoon, I found it surrounded by trees that looked like the one he roosted in. But I couldn’t find the owl. There weren’t any agitated crows or songbirds giving his position away. No other birders came by, either. After 90 minutes of wandering and checking the branches over and over again, I decided to go get some food and return in an hour.

My first glimpse of Flaco

When I came back to the spot, I decided to search twitter for some help. I found an account called “Manhattan Bird Alert” (@BirdCentralPark), which included a bunch of posts of Flaco from the last week. They included lots of great photos, many close up, but those didn’t help me identify the tree. After scrolling forever, one showed a person standing by a blue dumpster, a big orange-white striped drum, and a fence, looking up into a tree. It had a caption that Flaco was in the tree. I’d walked past that blue dumpster several times, and looked up into that tree over and over again. But this gave me hope. With renewed optimism, I carefully scanned all the branches, from many angles. Within a few minutes, I caught a glimpse of the big owl’s back on a densely-leafed horizontal branch, presumably where he’d been all day long.

Moving around, I found 3 precise spots where you got good looks. Move 2 feet in any direction from those spots, and he disappeared. It was still an hour before sunset, so he wasn’t moving. Indeed, he only bothered to open one eye. About 15 minutes after I found him, the adult Baltimore Orioles who were feeding two young in a nearby nest started harassing the big Eagle-Owl. This prompted him to open both eyes. He was a big, healthy looking owl. 

The rare Eurasian Eagle-Owl / Baltimore Oriole combo photo

Eurasian Eagle-Owls are one of the largest owls on earth. They’re the orange-eyed Eurasian counterpart to America’s Great Horned Owl. They live from Spain to Russia  in a wide range of habitats. Like many owls, they are nocturnal predators, heading out just after sunset to hunt.

The biggest debate surrounding Flaco is whether he should be recaptured and returned to the zoo or allowed to roam freely. The Audubon Society had a long piece on it with many considered views. I’m firmly in the camp that supports Flaco’s freedom. There’s some appeal to the idea that he’ll live a longer life in captivity. He wouldn’t be eating poisoned rodents, and wouldn’t risk a nighttime collision with a vehicle.  But that logic applies just as well to the Great Horned Owls who call Central Park home. I can’t so easily go along with the notion that recapture is what is best. Would spending years in captivity, inside a mesh school bus  be a better life than weeks or months or maybe years of wild freedom? I doubt that any captive animals, or humans, would say yes.

Moreover, this isn’t an endangered species. Flaco is little more than a gorgeous display item at the zoo. That’s not to say I support zoo vandalism. Zoos do great work, promoting animal and habitat conservation. But this Eurasian Eagle-Owl, despite a life in captivity and confident assertions to the contrary, has made the transition to self-supporting NYC resident. Let’s enjoy the survival story as long as it lasts.




Catching Up on 5MR Action

Believe it or not, this is a color photograph of a Pigeon Guillemot

A trio of new birds for the 5MR life list

It’s been a crazy year for vagrants in Los Angeles County this year. Most of them are birds I’ve already seen in the county, so I don’t chase after them. Instead, I stay faithful to my 5MR circle. And while it gets harder and harder to add new birds to my 5MR life list each year, vagrants are always out there waiting to be found. Thus, while many birders slavishly continued their never-ending LA County big years, chasing birds they see every year,  I was able to add 3 new species to my 5MR list.

The first of the fall trio is (you’ll have to trust me) pictured above. That black dot just below the center of the photograph is a Pigeon Guillemot lounging off Dockweiler Beach. This bird had probably been around for about a month when I saw it. But I’ve become increasingly uncertain about my bike’s ability to hold itself together, so I haven’t been taken long rides to the beach that often. In the wake of a close encounter with Tropical Storm Kay in Septemebr, I decided to check out Dockweiler Beach and see if anything unusual was around. Happily, the Pigeon Guillemot was offshore. It was closest when I first arrived. Once I put the binoculars down and got the camera out, it was further offshore. The result is the sorry documentation photo posted above. But, you know what? For all its shortcomings, that picture is actually one of my favorite shots from the whole year. There’s something about its monochromatic fuzziness that demands you give it a close, careful look.

The second of my trio was one I’d been hoping to find. In my 2021 5MR recap post, I identified Grasshopper Sparrow as my #1 target for my 5MR life list. In that post, I wrote that “these secretive sparrows are undoubtedly present in my 5MR, probably every year.” In early November, I proved myself right. And the one I found was just where I thought it would be – the Ballona flatlands. Much of the Ballona ecological reserve, which is full of great habitat, is fenced off. Since you can’t walk through it, hoping to flush a Grasshopper Sparrow, you’ve got to walk its edges. One such edge is along the very beginnings of the 90 “Freeway” where it crosses Culver Boulevard. I say “freeway” because, at 3 miles long, it can be driven from end to end quicker than you can read this blog post. Anyhoo, you can walk along the northwest edge of Area C of the Ballona Ecological Reserve right where the 90 freeway starts. I’ve done it a few times, getting looks at Loggerhead Shrike and White-tailed Kite, but never a Grasshopper Sparrow. Until I did. Amongst a group of White-crowned Sparrows, I noticed a skulkier sparrow with more brownish coloring. I pished, and a Grasshopper Sparrow popped up into view, first in a bush and then along the fence. According to eBird, it was only the third Grasshopper Sparrow found in West LA Basin. the first was 2012, then 2017. With mine in 2022, it may mean the next one won’t be found until 2027.


The third of the trio was found in one of my favorite parks to bird in my 5MR – Ladera Park. It’s a rectangular shaped collection of tall trees just south of Kenneth Hahn Park and the Inglewood Oil Field. Thanks to the tall trees, it’s a good spot for songbirds. In the past, it’s hosted Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Prothontary Warbler, Varied Thrush, and is maybe the best spot in my circle for wintering Plumbeous Vireo. I was not expecting any kind of oriole at Ladera Park when I visited in mid-November (orioles clear out by the end of September around here), much less a Baltimore Oriole. But I was definitely looking at an oriole high up in the sycamores. I first thought an odd, late Hooded Oriole. But that ID wasn’t adding up as I watched this bird deliberately move through the upper canopy. The top of the tail was orange, not black, and there was a patch of black on the birds lower neck that was not in the right place for Hooded. I next thought Bullock’s Oriole, but they usually show a lot more white on the lower belly and a stronger eyeline.

That left Baltimore Oriole. But I struggled to get good, unobstructed looks. The bird was surprisingly elusive despite its orange color and deliberate pace. As a result, I wasn’t sure until I got home and took a closer look at my photos. Some streaking on the head and a scaly upper back (together with the black growing in on the head) sealed the ID. Pretty cool, given that these birds are supposed to winter in Central and South America.

So it’s been a nice fall in the 5MR. We’ll see if December brings another addition to the list.