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Critters of New York

Many Birders Are Wondering: Will Flaco Fuck?

Flaco the owl is on a spectacular journey. Will it include intercourse?

12:29 PM EST on February 24, 2023

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl, perched on a tree branch in Central Park.

A New Yorker contemplating the possibility of love. (Rhododendrites / Wikimedia Commons)

Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl formerly held in captivity at the Central Park Zoo, has captured the hearts of both birders and more normal people ever since he escaped his enclosure on February 2. Worried about the owl's ability to survive outside of captivity, zoo staff initially used dead rats, nets, and even recordings of other hooting owls to lure Flaco back into their custody. But Flaco persevered, ultimately showing that he is capable of hunting prey and keeping himself fed independently, thanks to the park's rat population.

With Flaco's immediate well-being assured, New York City's birding community is wondering if he'll move up Maslow's hierarchy of needs—because Flaco isn't the only famous owl to call Central Park home.

Geraldine, a female great horned owl, has inhabited Central Park since January 2022, and remains a beloved favorite of birders, a certified "stunner." You can see where this is heading, right?

That's right, the people are asking: "Could Flaco fuck another owl?"

Several people have tweeted that the two raptors should hook up, with one birding fan even going as far as making a cute Valentine's Day photoshop of the owls. "Geraldine is much-loved by many birders and, as far as we know, is the longest-staying large owl Central Park has had. Birders want her to have a full and happy life," said David Barrett, the man behind the @BirdCentralPark Twitter account, who has floated the possibility of this kind of owl love.

While birding enthusiasts are busy shipping the two, expert opinion on the likelihood of their intercourse is more divided. Andrew Farnsworth of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology told Hell Gate that at least one Eurasian eagle-owl and great horned owl couple "have apparently" been bred together in captivity. "I suppose one could say it is possible, but not probable," Farnsworth said. "Most probably a fanciful 'what if' but not 100 percent impossible at all."

Yale ornithology, ecology, and evolutionary biology professor Richard Prum was much more direct about the unlikely prospect of Flaco and Geraldine getting it on, writing in an email (emphasis my own):

Within the genus Bubo, the Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) is not closely related to the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). The sister species to the Great horned Owl is the Snowy Owl, and I know of no cases of hybridization between them. The first evolutionary split in the genus Bubo is between the New World and the Old World species, and that was likely millions of years ago.

So, I would say that there is no chance (next to no chance?) that Flaco will mate with a local Great Horned Owl in Central Park.

A month ago, if you'd asked for my opinion on bird sex (or anything bird-related, for that matter), I would have said, "No, thank you" and changed train cars at the next stop.

But damn it, I'm Flaco-pilled. I love his pointy horn feathers. I love when he puffs up like a volleyball. And I love every video that shows him hooting from a branch overhead. I want the world for both Flaco and Geraldine. Yet even in the toniest park in town, nature is unbending. The odds are these owls won't be hooking up. 

And that's OK. Flaco and Geraldine can surely enjoy each other's company in platonic ways that are perhaps imperceptible to anyone who isn't an owl. I'm just glad they're New Yorkers.

(Photo credit: Rhododendrites / Wikimedia Commons)

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