New York City Mourns Death of Inspirational Owl Flaco

Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl that captured the hearts of New Yorkers a year ago after escaping from the Central Park Zoo, died Friday after colliding with a building.

“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 Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement Friday.

“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.”

Flaco spent eight years at the Central Park Zoo, where he was among the more popular exhibits; Eurasian eagle-owls, usually native to parts of Europe and Russia, are the largest species of the bird, with wingspans up to six feet. However, in February 2023, a still-unknown person cut the mesh of Flaco’s enclosure, allowing the owl to escape.

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

While Flaco’s escape from the zoo and eventual settling in Central Park itself captivated New Yorkers and became a social media sensation — he had his own (unofficial) Twitter account, and New York mayor Eric Adams called him “one of New York’s Flyest” — his unexpected liberation also significantly decreased the owl’s life expectancy: Eurasian eagle-owls in captivity can live up to 60 years, while the same bird in the wild usually lives 10 to 20 years, CNN reported. Flaco made it to 14 before his death Friday.

“This has been a deeply sad day for all of us at the Wild Bird Fund. We hoped only to see Flaco hooting wildly from the top of our local water tower, never in the clinic,” the Wild Bird Fund tweeted. “Our initial exam, and information from the scene, indicated that Flaco had collided with a window. Whether there was an underlying cause, such as rodenticide, we don’t yet know.” 

(Another New York-famous owl named Barry died in 2021 after colliding with a car, though an autopsy discovered the bird had high concentrates of rat poison in its system, contributing to its death, the New York Times reported.)

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Actor Lou Diamond Phillips tweeted, “Heartbroken. Flaco was an inspiration. His tenacity and will a sheer joy to experience. Something wild and free and determined to persevere. Just seeing pictures of him made me happy. I know many New Yorkers felt the same way. Forever Soar, Flaco.”

Following Flaco’s death, the administrator of the owl’s Twitter account announced a memorial for Flaco at “my favorite oak tree” in Central Park. “Goodbye and thank you. I love you NYC!,” the account added, signing off:

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