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Flaco the Owl fondly remembered at his Central Park oak tree

NEW YORK — At Flaco the Owl’s oak tree in Central Park on Saturday, New Yorkers fondly remembered the Eurasian owl who flew his coop a year ago and became a treat to Manhattan bird watchers.

“He’s a symbol of freedom, perseverance and strength and overcoming all odds,” said Manhattan resident Brittanie McCormack, 31.

Flaco also stands for “getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things,” McCormack said Saturday.

Which Flaco did — though his keepers thought his freedom of movement was not good for him.

Flaco left his home at the Central Park Zoo on Feb. 2, 2023 after someone opened his cage.

In his year of uncaged freedom, Flaco flew up and down Manhattan. His life came to a sad end late Friday when he flew into a building on West 89th Street on the Upper West Side, zoo officials said.

Flaco, in the end, met the same fate as hawks and other birds flying around the city: glass windows. Birds do not see clear glass windows as a barrier and usually fly into them at full speed, the Audubon Society said.

“The downed owl was reported to the Wild Bird Fund by people in the building,” the Central Park Zoo said in a statement.

“Staff from the WBF quickly responded, retrieved the non-responsive owl and declared him dead shortly afterward.”

Flaco’s remains were taken to the Bronx Zoo so a necropsy could be performed.

About 365 million to 1 billion U.S. birds are killed annually in collisions with windows, the Audubon Society said. Collisions with windows are the second leading cause of bird mortality — second only to free-roaming cats.

Upper West Sider Jacqueline Enely was visibly choked up about Flaco’s death.

“The last night I saw him was Friday the 16th,” Enely, 45, said at Flaco’s oak, near Central Park’s East Drive around East 104th Street.

“He looked perfectly healthy. He was hooting. He had caught a pigeon,” Enely said. “We watched him eat the pigeon.

“I’m shocked and devastated by his death. I am grateful that I had over a year with him to watch him transform into a wild owl and I’m heartbroken as so many people are.”

Flaco’s departure from the zoo a year ago sparked a massive owl hunt. He quickly became a social media sensation as New Yorkers posted images of the regal owl on trees throughout Central Park and the West Side.

Flaco’s park adventure also quickly became a highlight for New York City birders who photographed and reported on his movements.

Central Park Zoo officials suspended their efforts to get Flaco back in his cage after two weeks of chasing him around the park.

They’d tried to entice him with food and “recordings of eagle owl calls,” but to no avail.

“Though he showed some interest in the calls, the attempt was unsuccessful,” zoo officials said at the time. “Efforts at recovering the bird have proven more difficult since he has been very successful at hunting and consuming the abundant prey in the park.”

Zoo workers continued to keep an eye on Flaco and were “prepared to resume recovery efforts if he shows any sign of difficulty or distress.”

Central Park Zoo officials blamed Flaco’s death on the vandal who ripped open the owl’s enclosure, allowing him to fly away.

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

We will miss you, Flaco, and we know you will be missed by the long-term birders of New York City, those inspired by your presence, and the New Yorkers you brought out to experience birding for the first time,” the NYC Audubon said on X.

“Flaco will live on in our memories and in the positive actions we can take on his behalf, and for all the birds Flaco shared the city with,” the Audubon Society said.

“His tragic death is a reminder that our actions can protect wildlife: prevent collisions by making glass #birdfriendly.”