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New York City Owl Flaco Dies After Crashing Into Building

Written by on February 25, 2024

Tributes poured in Saturday for Flaco, the beloved Eurasian eagle-owl that became a feel-good New York story after escaping its Central Park Zoo enclosure and flying free around Manhattan.

Flaco was found dead on a New York City sidewalk Friday night after apparently flying into a building. It was a heartbreaking end for the birders who documented the owl’s daily movements and the legions of admirers who eagerly followed along.

“Everybody feels the same, they’re devastated,” said Nicole Blair, a New York City artist who devoted much of her feed on the X platform to photos and memes featuring the celebrity owl with checkerboard black and brown feathers and round sunset-hued eyes.

Staff from the Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rehabilitation center, declared Flaco dead shortly after the collision. A necropsy was expected Saturday.

Flaco was freed from his cage at the zoo a little over a year ago by a vandal who breached a waist-high fence and cut a hole through a steel mesh cage. The owl had arrived at the zoo as a fledgling 13 years earlier.

Flaco sightings soon became sport. The owl spent his days perched on tree branches, fence posts and fire escapes and nights hooting atop water towers and preying on the city’s abundant rats.

Like a true celebrity, the owl appeared on murals and merchandise. A likeness occupied a spot on Blair’s New York City-themed Christmas tree, right next to “Pizza Rat,” the infamous rodent seen in a YouTube clip dragging a slice down a subway stairwell.

“I got to see him on my birthday,” Blair said of her encounter with Flaco in Central Park in the fall. “It was kind of an unbelievable situation, and I’m like, this is the best birthday present ever.”

But she and others worried when Flaco ventured beyond the park into more urban sections of Manhattan, fearing the owl would ingest a poisoned rat or encounter other dangers.

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

Flaco fans shared suggestions Saturday for a permanent bronze statue overlooking New York City. One requested that the owl’s remains be buried in Central Park.

“Flaco the owl was, in many ways, a typical New Yorker — fiercely independent, constantly exploring, finding ways to survive ever-changing challenges,” read a post on the X platform, reflecting a common sentiment. “He will be missed.”

David Barrett, who runs the Manhattan Bird Alert account, suggested a temporary memorial at the bird’s favorite oak tree in the park.

There, he wrote in a post, fellow birders could “lay flowers, leave a note, or just be with others who loved Flaco.”

 

By Associated Press


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