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Flaco, NYC’s Beloved Escaped Owl, Meets an Untimely End 

Updated: Mar 27

By Cristina Damato 

On February 2, 2023, a Eurasian owl named Flaco escaped the Central Park Zoo after an act of vandalism left a hole in his mesh enclosure. There was much concern over how the bird was to survive, but Flaco proved resilient enough to avoid all of the city’s dangers, of which there are many, for over a year. As time went on, he accumulated a large fan following, many of whom were devastated to hear of his recent demise.

Flaco spent much of his free year trying to find a mate; however, as a species native to Europe and some of Asia, he was unsuccessful. After some months, he began to venture out of the relative safety of Central Park and eventually settled mostly on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, sleeping on fire escapes and hunting at dusk. Authorities initially tried to recapture Flaco, but later decided to let him be.

Flaco’s freedom ended when he flew into a building on West 89th Street in Manhattan on Friday, February 23, 2024. Estimates say that a quarter of a million birds fly into buildings in New York City each year, most likely mistaking reflections in windows for sky. Other hazards include lead poisoning, rodenticide from consuming affected rats, and disease. As reported by the New York Times, the Central Park Zoo stated, “Flaco’s tragic and untimely death highlights the issue of bird strikes and their devastating effects on wild bird populations.” Bird-lovers hope that this incident will prompt New Yorkers and city-dwellers everywhere to take steps to protect birds.

In Flaco’s case, preliminary reports are consistent with collision with a building. However, further testing is going to be done to search for evidence of lead poisoning, rodenticide, and Avian Flu, an illness that has affected an estimated 58 million birds in the US.

Interestingly, Flaco’s weight upon retrieval was only slightly lower than his weight while in captivity, proving that he was capable of hunting adequately on his own, an impressive feat for a bird born in captivity.

After Flaco’s death was announced, bird lovers flooded into Central Park, leaving flowers and cards under the oak tree that was deemed his favorite. CBS News wrote that NYC Mayor Eric Adams posted, “We were saddened to hear about the passing of our neighbor Flaco, who captivated New Yorkers and reminded us of the beautiful wilderness that exists in our bustling urban landscape. Although he’s gone, his spirit will fly over NYC forever.” As for the vandal, the police have yet to find the culprit. In a New York Times article, the Wildlife Conservation Society commented that the vandal was “ultimately responsible for [Flaco’s] death," and expressed their hope that the NYPD would make an arrest.

Regardless of whether Flaco’s escape is viewed as an act of vandalism or an emancipation, he made an impact on the entire state. Even the governor, Kathy Hochul, bid him farewell, posting on X, “What a sad day for New York City. Flaco’s journey brought such joy to so many of us.”

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