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'A fabulous ambassador' Flaco, the beloved New York owl, died after building collision

Flaco sits in a tree in New York's Central Park on Feb. 6, 2023.
Seth Wenig
Flaco sits in a tree in New York's Central Park on Feb. 6, 2023.

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl who became a New York celebrity known for escaping the Central Park Zoo last year and evading attempts to be recaptured, has died in an apparent collision with a building on the Upper West Side.

Wild Bird Fund, a local rescue group, saidthe incident occurred Friday afternoon. When they arrived on scene, Flaco was unresponsive and lying face down in an apartment courtyard.

The group's initial exam suggests that Flaco may have struck a window but there could be another underlying cause. The Central Park Zoo said the beloved owl has been taken to the Bronx Zoo for a necropsy.

"Everyone was connected with that bird and he was a fabulous ambassador. Just inspiring with his own life," said Rita McMahon, the director of Wild Bird Fund.

Flaco thrived in the city for about a year before his death

Flaco fledthe Central Park Zoo last year in February after someone cut the stainless steel mesh on his exhibit.

At first, zoo officials worried how Flaco would fare in the concrete jungle. Eurasian eagle-owls can go weeks without food, but when they are ready to eat, they tend to go for small mammals like rats. While there's plenty of those in New York, some feared that Flaco would accidentally consume rat poison.

Despite those concerns, Flaco appeared to thrive in the city. He soared and hooted with no sign of struggle and turned busy New Yorkers into curious bird watchers.

Over time, Flaco became a sort of symbol for freedom and resilience, having evaded attempts by local police and zoo staff to be brought back to the zoo, where he arrived as a fledgling over a decade ago.

Central Park Zoo staff carefully kept an eye on him, in case he showed any signs of difficulty or distress. But in large part, Flaco appeared comfortable in the wild that is New York City.

To this day, it remains unclear who damaged Flaco's exhibit. The Central Park Zoo said such stunts jeopardize the safety of animals in their care and blames the unknown figure for Flaco's death. But this past year, Flaco thrived on his own and captured hearts along the way.

Between 90,000 to 230,000 birds are killed every year in New York City after collisions with building glass, according to the group NYC Audubon.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.