Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl whose escape from the Central Park Zoo and subsequent life on the loose in Manhattan captured the public’s attention, died Friday night after apparently striking a building on the Upper West Side, officials said.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the zoo, said in a statement that Flaco had been found on the ground after hitting a building on West 89th Street.

Building residents contacted the Wild Bird Fund, a rescue organization, whose staff members responded quickly, retrieved him and declared him dead a short time later, the society said.

Zoo employees took him to the Bronx Zoo, where a necropsy will be performed to determine the cause of death. He would have turned 14 next month.

Flaco’s year as a free bird began on the evening of Feb. 2, 2023, when someone shredded the mesh on the modest enclosure where he had lived nearly his entire life. The police said in January that no arrests had been made and that the investigation was continuing.

“The vandal who damaged Flaco’s exhibit jeopardized the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for his death,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in its statement. “We are still hopeful that the N.Y.P.D., which is investigating the vandalism, will ultimately make an arrest.”

Flaco began attracting a passionate fan base almost as soon as he showed up on a Fifth Avenue sidewalk the night he was set loose. He looked out of place, with police officers standing nearby and Bergdorf Goodman a short flight away. He soon settled in Central Park.

As the days passed and he remained free, the question of whether he could survive outside the zoo after a lifetime there turned his plight into an underdog’s story. When he showed that he could endure, he became a feathered feel-good figure in troubled times, with bird watchers, ornithologists and everyday New Yorkers following in him person or, in many cases, tracking his exploits online.

But each day outside captivity was risky — even without the hazards presented by an urban environment. Wild Eurasian eagle-owls can live more than 40 years in captivity, but only 20 on average in their natural habitat.

Striking a building, especially a window, was one several lethal threats he faced. Others included death by poisoning via the rodenticide in the rats that he ate, and a fatal collision with a vehicle.

For more than a year, though, Flaco proved immune.

He was able to avoid vehicles by sticking largely to rooftops, water towers and other elevated elements of the built environment after leaving Central Park around early November. But the risk that he would be killed in a building strike was great: As many as 230,000 birds a year die in New York City when they hit windows, according to the National Audubon Society.

David Lei, who, with his partner, Jacqueline Emery, has followed and photographed Flaco since his escape, said in an email that he and Ms. Emery were “sad beyond words but holding onto all our fond memories of him.”

This is a developing story. It will be updated.



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