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New Yorkers honor beloved owl Flaco in Central Park

New Yorkers remember Flaco, owl who escaped Central Park Zoo
New Yorkers remember Flaco, owl who escaped Central Park Zoo 02:47

NEW YORK -- Saturday was a sad day for New Yorkers and bird lovers across the country after the Central Park Zoo announced the death of Flaco the owl.

He became somewhat of a celebrity after escaping from the Central Park Zoo and flying free in the city for more than a year.

Flowers and handwritten notes laid beside a very special tree in Central Park on Saturday.

"We called it Flaco's favorite oak. And he would spend the day here resting. It was his roosting tree in the summer, early autumn of last year," wildlife enthusiast David Barrett said.

Barrett last snapped a photo of the Eurasian eagle-owl on Feb. 16 on the Upper West Side, where he had been frequently seen since mid-December. He'd often be heard hooting at night but hadn't been heard since Feb. 18.

Just five days later, on Friday night, the Central Park Zoo announced that he'd died of an apparent collision with the window of a building on West 89th Street.

"There may have been an underlying condition that was the ultimate cause of him not being able to fly as well as he should," Barrett said.

A major concern among bird experts was that he would eat a rat that had been poisoned by rodenticide. Although his exact cause of death hasn't been determined yet, his unusual behavior days before his death could have been caused by poison.

"Flaco may have ingested ... a rat or a mouse that was poisoned with rodenticide ... and maybe that may have potentially led to the collision with the window," said Dr. Dustin Partridge, director of conservation and science with New York City Audubon.

The Central Park Zoo released a statement Saturday saying in part that the initial necropsy findings "are consistent with death due to actue traumatic injury."

The statement goes on to say:

"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."

New York City Audubon says deadly bird collisions into windows are all too common citywide. Under Local Law 15, building windows are required to have lining on windows with small dots or lines to be visible to birds to prevent collisions like these. Upper West Side neighbors feared for Flaco's safety once he left Central Park.

"I would always say, 'Flaco's my boy.' Starting to get a little emotional here," Upper West Side resident Tova Getoff said.

Even the governor posted about Flaco's death on X, writing, "What a sad day for New York City. Flaco's journey brought such joy to so many of us."

Mayor Eric Adams wrote, "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."

The owl was originally kept at Central Park Zoo up until February of last year when someone cut open his enclosure and he flew out. The zoo says the vandal "jeopardized the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for his death," but went on to thank Flaco fans for "all the support and concern over the well-being of Flaco throughout the past year."

Rory Fedorochko, visiting from Virginia, is one of the many admirers of Flaco, who represented resilience, surviving in the city for an entire year after a life of captivity.

"Just a bird flying free can bring people together in a meaningful way," Fedorochko said.

He left Flaco a note on his favorite tree.

"Rest well, night flyer. Wherever he may go," he said.

Flaco would have turned 14 years old in March. Owls of his kind can live up to 20 years in the wild and up to 60 in captivity.

The investigation into who vandalized Flaco's enclosure continues. No arrests have been made.

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