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What the Hell Happened: Flaco the Owl, a Metropolitan Hero

Flaco’s last year was perhaps his most glorious. In the end, Flaco became a New Yorker.
Flaco’s last year was perhaps his most glorious. In the end, Flaco became a New Yorker. By Angel Zhang
By Thomas A. Ferro, Crimson Staff Writer

On the night of Feb. 23, Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl struck an apartment building in New York City. Shortly after, Flaco was proclaimed dead — an announcement that sparked waves of mourning across the media, with coverage by the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and Town & Country Magazine.

Almost exactly one year ago, after Flaco’s cage at the Central Park Zoo was illegally torn open, the almost-13-year-old owl escaped into the night. Now, just one month before he would have turned 14, Flaco has died.

In his one year of freedom, Flaco needed to learn how to adapt to a city environment — one very different from his natural habitat of northern Asia and Europe. However, gripping to fire escapes and claiming Central Park as his home, Flaco was able to successfully live, hunt, and even look for a mate longer than anyone had expected — especially as other Eurasian eagle-owls who had escaped from zoos, notably Gladys from the Minnesota Zoo, were not able to survive as long as Flaco did.

From spurring a fictional piece in the New Yorker to bringing attention to murals and inspiring public memorials to be held in the city, Flaco’s death spread ripples of grief throughout the country. However, this occasion is not the first time celebrity birds have garnered headlines in New York. Pale Male, the beloved hawk, held New Yorkers’ fascination throughout his 32-year lifespan — children’s books and even a film highlight his life as a raptor in New York City.

Yet not every predatory bird has had the same impact on New York culture that Flaco and Pale Male had. Just days before Flaco’s death, Rover the Bald Eagle was killed by a vehicle in the city. This death, while lightly reported on, did not attract the same amount of attention that Flaco’s death did. What is it about Flaco that won the hearts of so many New Yorkers?

To become a hero, one typically has to overcome some adversity, and Flaco did just that. After spending his entire life in captivity, Flaco was freed — an action that posed a great threat to a bird unaccustomed to living in the urban wild. But Flaco overcame the odds. While he did ultimately succumb to the perils of city living, Flaco’s last year was perhaps his most glorious. In the end, Flaco became a New Yorker.

—Staff writer Thomas A. Ferro can be reached at

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