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Flaco, the Owl Who Won The Hearts of New Yorkers, Has Died

By Brian Richards | Social Media | February 26, 2024 |

By Brian Richards | Social Media | February 26, 2024 |


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This past Friday, the unfortunate news was announced that Flaco, the Eurasian Eagle Owl who made the Upper West Side his home after his exhibit at the Central Park Zoo was vandalized and allowed him to escape last year, had died. The cause of death was originally stated as Flaco colliding with a building on West 89th Street, but it was later stated to be more likely that he had flown into a window made of untreated glass.

From this statement by the Central Park Zoo, which was posted on the Wildlife Conservation Society’s website:

We are saddened to report that Flaco, the Eurasian eagle owl discovered missing from the Central Park Zoo after his exhibit was vandalized just over a year ago, is dead after an apparent collision with a building on West 89th Street in Manhattan.

The downed owl was reported to the Wild Bird Fund (WBF) by people in the building. Staff from the WBF quickly responded, retrieved the non-responsive owl, and declared him dead shortly afterward. The WBF notified zoo staff, who picked up the bird and transported him to the Bronx Zoo for necropsy.

The vandal who damaged Flaco’s exhibit jeopardized the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for his death. We are still hopeful that the NYPD, which is investigating the vandalism, will ultimately make an arrest.

For the past year, Flaco had become a familiar and incredibly welcome presence for New Yorkers. He was often photographed from a distance as he would perch on trees, fire escapes, water towers, and other structures that would allow him to look as regal as possible while looking over the City That Never Sleeps.

Of course, the NYPD had attempted to capture Flaco shortly after he left the Central Park Zoo and was found wandering the streets of New York. But those attempts were clearly unsuccessful, as Flaco said, “ACAB,” and took off so that he could enjoy his newfound freedom.

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From everyone’s favorite unproblematic newspaper, the New York Times, which marked the one-year anniversary of Flaco’s escape:

Before long, Flaco was spotted a few blocks away on Fifth Avenue. Nobody knew where this bird with fiery orange eyes had come from, and soon he was off to a tree by the Pulitzer Fountain, outside the Plaza Hotel. A tourist with wings. Call it an escape, a release, a departure, a crime — Flaco was free. Could he fend for himself after a lifetime in captivity?

A year later, the answer is definitely yes. He has spent most of his time in Central Park, though he has wandered all over Manhattan, peering into apartment windows with his striking eyes…Now, out on the Manhattan streetscape, Flaco appeared lost. Karla Bloem, the executive director of the International Owl Center in Houston, Minn., said he looked “freaked out” and “terrified” in pictures from that first night and the following days. Over the next couple of weeks, though, as he settled into the park and eluded the zoo’s efforts to retrieve him, Ms. Bloem detected a transformation in his pictures. “His ear tufts are down,” she said. “He’s puffier. He was certainly getting comfortable with his surroundings.”

When news first broke that something had happened to Flaco, the New Yorkers who grew to love and adore him became worried that he might have been poisoned, as Flaco was known to feast on rats that would cross his path around the city, and there were concerns that he would consume a rat with poison in its system. When his death was announced, it didn’t take long for people to express their sorrow, and how much Flaco truly meant to them.

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(FYI: Lei was well-known on Twitter for sharing his numerous photographs of Flaco.)

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From The Central Park Zoo, who released this statement upon performing a necropsy on Flaco to discover what led to his death.

Bronx Zoo pathologists performed a necropsy today on Flaco, the Central Park Zoo’s Eurasian eagle owl, who died yesterday evening after reportedly colliding with a Manhattan building.

The initial findings are consistent with death due to acute traumatic injury. The main impact appears to have been to the body, as there was substantial hemorrhage under the sternum and in the back of the body cavity around the liver. There also was a small amount of bleeding behind the left eye, but otherwise, there was no evidence of head trauma. No bone fractures were found. Flaco was in good body condition at the time of death, with good muscling and adequate fat stores. His last weight taken at the Central Park Zoo was 1.9 kg (4.2 lb). He was 1.86 kg (4.1bs) at necropsy.

The next step will be to identify any underlying factors that may have negatively affected his health or otherwise contributed to the event. This will include microscopic examination of tissue samples; toxicology tests to evaluate potential exposures to rodenticides or other toxins; and testing for infectious diseases such as West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza. Results from this testing will take weeks to be completed.

Flaco’s tragic and untimely death highlights the issue of bird strikes and their devastating effects on wild bird populations. It is estimated that nearly one quarter of a million birds die annually in New York City as a result of colliding with buildings.

Some people were happy that Flaco was free to live his very best life around the skies and streets of New York. Others were infuriated that Flaco’s enclosure at the zoo was damaged and allowed him to be free in the first place, especially since most zoos provide more safety and comfort to animals like Flaco than people realize.

Flaco’s death was the second incident this month in which a bird roaming around New York City sustained injuries that led to its death. Rover, a bald eagle who had been spotted flying through Manhattan and Brooklyn since 2018, had died after colliding with a moving vehicle in Central Park last week. For many birders and wildlife photographers, both amateur and professional, February has been a heartbreaking month. But it hasn’t stopped them from expressing their appreciation for the joy that birds like Rover and Flaco have brought to their lives, and to the city they call home.

There has already been some discussion where Flaco’s admirers have expressed hope that a memorial or statue will be constructed in Flaco’s memory. Only time will tell if New York City Mayor Eric Adams will take a break from increasing the budget of the NYPD and decreasing the budget of the city’s public libraries to make this hope a reality.