Celebrity owl Flaco dies a year after becoming beloved by New York City for zoo escape


NEW YORK (AP) — Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl who escaped from New York City’s Central Park Zoo and became one of the city’s most beloved celebrities as he flew around Manhattan, has died, zoo officials announced Friday.

A little over one year after he was freed from his cage at the zoo in a criminal act that has yet to be solved, Flaco appears to have collided with an Upper West Side building, the zoo said in a statement.

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

Staff from the Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rehabilitation center, responded to the scene and declared Flaco dead shortly after the collision. He was taken to the Bronx Zoo for a necropsy.

“We hoped only to see Flaco hooting wildly from the top of our local water tower, never in the clinic,” the World Bird Fund wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Flaco’s time in the sky began on Feb. 2, 2023, when someone breached a waist-high fence and slipped into the Central Park Zoo. Once inside, they cut a hole through a steel mesh cage, freeing the owl that had arrived at the zoo as a fledgling 13 years earlier.

Since the zoo suspended efforts to re-capture Flaco in February 2023, there has been no public information about the crime.

Until now, Flaco had defied the odds, thriving in the urban jungle despite a lifetime in captivity. He became one of the city’s most beloved characters. By day he lounged in Manhattan’s courtyards and parks or perches on fire escapes. He spent his nights hooting atop water towers and preying on the city’s abundant rats.

He was known for turning up unexpectedly at New Yorkers’ windows and was tracked around the Big Apple by bird watchers. His death prompted an outpouring of grief on social media Friday night.

One of Flaco’s most dedicated observers, David Barrett, suggested a temporary memorial at the bird’s favorite oak tree in Central Park.

There, fellow birders could “lay flowers, leave a note, or just be with others who loved Flaco,” Barrett wrote in a post on X for the account Manhattan Bird Alert, which documented the bird’s whereabouts.


Associated Press Writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed.

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