An outpouring of tears, heartbreak as fans flock to NYC's Central Park memorial for Flaco the owl

Saturday, March, 2024

by Patrick Reevell


The death of Flaco, the Eurasian eagle owl who escaped from his vandalized Central Park Zoo enclosure and spent more than a year as a free bird eating rats and winning admirers, has prompted an outpouring of love and heartbreak as New Yorkers gathered this weekend at one of his favorite trees to pay respect.

Many fans of Flaco dropped off bouquets, poems, condolence cards, stuffed teddy bears and toy owls at an oak tree in the park's North Woods and expressed grief for the fugitive fowl, often citing his resilience and plight to survive in the wild against longshot odds after living the first 12 years of his life in captivity.

Some admirers paying homage to the orange-eyed owl, who became a symbol of freedom as his fame spread worldwide, hugged, cried and swapped stories of encounters with Flaco, recalling how they looked on in awe as he tested the limits of his 6-foot wingspan.

Artist Calicho Arevalo told ABC News he spent most of Saturday completing his eighth street mural honoring Flaco in lower Manhattan before trekking to Central Park to express his condolences at the impromptu memorial to the iridescent feathered creature. He said the bird not only gave him artistic inspiration, but he found parallels between his and Flaco's plights to survive in a new world.

"For me, it’s more the story of an immigrant or someone not from the city, and then [he] flies free and finds his instincts to trust himself and survive. Everybody was like, ‘You’re going to die tomorrow,'" Arevalo said of the naysayers who initially doubted Flaco's ability to fend for himself in the wilds of America's largest city.

He said friends called him "crazy" for giving up a career as an architect in Colombia to chase his dream of being an artist in New York City.

"It’s kind of my scenario," he said of Flaco. "I was like, I have faith that art could be my path. So that's my parallel with Flaco."

Other mourners left heartfelt notes at the memorial.

"We deeply mourn your passing. We love birds and owls, but you especially. Your freedom brought great joy to me and my mother. And now you are gone into eternal flight," one handwritten note left at the memorial said.

Another note read, "You moved us all. We loved you so much. We are so glad you had a year of freedom."

Flaco died Friday night after apparently colliding with a building on West 89th Street in Manhattan, according to a statement from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which runs the Central Park Zoo.

People in the building reported the downed owl to the Wild Bird Fund (WBF). Staff from the WBF quickly responded, but Flaco was nonresponsive and they declared him dead shortly afterward.

The initial findings from a necropsy performed Saturday are consistent with death due to "acute traumatic injury," WCS officials said.

The "main impact" was to his body, with "substantial hemorrhage" under the sternum and around the liver, according to the WCS statement. There were no bone fractures found.

Flaco was otherwise in good health, zoo officials said, with "good muscling and adequate fat stores." He weighed 4.1 pounds, nearly as much as when his weight was last taken at the zoo.

More tests are being conducted to determine if there were underlying factors that may have contributed to Flaco's demise, including the potential exposures to rodenticide or other toxins, the WCS said.

The zoo officials said the vandal who, on the evening of Feb. 2, 2023, cut open the stainless steel mesh of Flaco's enclosure, enabling the owl to bolt into the wilds of the concrete jungle, is ultimately responsible for his death.

Patrick Reevell

Patrick Reevell serves as the principal political analyst at RicanMagazine, specializing in American politics. He delves into elections, public sentiment, demographic shifts, and polling trends. With a keen eye for detail, Reevell provides insightful commentary on the dynamics shaping the political landscape.