Flaco, famous Central Park Zoo owl who had been flying free for a year, has died

Flaco, the famous Central Park Zoo owl who went missing after a vandal tampered with the bird’s exhibit more than a year ago, died Friday, zoo officials said.

The owl struck a building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, not far from Central Park, the zoo said in a statement shared by the World Conservation Society, which operates it.

People in the building contacted the World Bird Fund, and members of the rehabilitation center picked up the unresponsive bird around 7 p.m., the zoo said.

Flaco was declared dead shortly after and transferred to the Bronx Zoo for a necropsy.

The owl went missing from its exhibit at the zoo in Central Park on the evening of Feb. 2, 2023.

Someone cut through steel mesh at Flaco’s habitat, allowing the majestic bird to go on a tour of the city, Central Park Zoo said at the time.

The owl had come to the zoo as a fledgling 13 years earlier. Some expressed concern about his ability to survive in the big city, but Flaco feasted on abundant prey, the zoo said.

“We observed him successfully hunting, catching and consuming prey,” Central Park Zoo said in a statement released 10 days after he went missing. “We have seen a rapid improvement in his flight skills and ability to confidently maneuver around the park.” 

“People did not expect him to survive,” Jacqueline Emery, a birder who documented the owl’s daily movements told The Associated Press earlier this month. “New Yorkers especially connect to him because of his resilience.”

Flaco was adept enough at surviving in the city that he evaded authorities, first on Fifth Avenue next to the park the night he flew off, then multiple other times after.

The owl became a frequent and famous flyer around Manhattan in the year after the breach, with the zoo saying in a statement at the time, “There are a lot of eyes on Flaco.”

No one has claimed responsibility for cutting into the habitat.

Whoever damaged the exhibit “is ultimately responsible for his death,” the zoo said in its Friday statement. 

“We are still hopeful that the NYPD, which is investigating the vandalism, will ultimately make an arrest,” it said.

A New York Police Department spokesperson said he was unfamiliar with the status of the case but said officials would respond after looking into it.