Flacco, the owl who escaped from the Central Park Zoo and thwarted suspicions, has died.

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle owl who escaped from the Central Park Zoo and caught the public's attention, died Friday night after striking a building on the Upper West Side, authorities said.

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

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

Zoo staff took him to the Bronx Zoo, where an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death. He will be 14 next month.

Flacco's year as a free bird began on the evening of February 2, 2023, when someone tore through the netting of the modest enclosure in which he had lived his entire life. Police said in January that no arrests had been made and that the investigation was ongoing.

“The vandal who vandalized Flaco's exhibit endangered the bird's safety and was ultimately responsible for his death,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in its statement. “We still hope the NYPD, who is investigating the vandalism, will eventually make an arrest.”

Soon, Flacco settled in Central Park.

As the days passed and he was free, the question of whether he could survive a lifetime at the zoo turned his plight into a back story. When he showed he could endure, he became a feathered feel-good figure in troubled times, with birders, ornithologists and everyday New Yorkers following him in person or, in many cases, following his exploits online.

But being trapped outside every day is dangerous — even without the dangers offered 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.

Attacking a building, especially a window, is one of the many dangerous threats he faces. Others include the death of rats he ate by poisoning with rodenticide, and a fatal collision with a vehicle.

More than a year later, Flaco proved immune.

After leaving Central Park last fall, he mostly managed to avoid vehicles by clinging to rooftops, water towers and other tall elements of the built environment. But the risk of him being killed in a construction strike is great: many 230,000 birds According to the National Audubon Society, they died a year after hitting windows in New York City.

David Lee, with his partner Jacqueline Emery, who has been photographed following Flacco since his escape, said in an email that he and Ms. Emery were “saddened beyond words but hold all of our fond memories of him.”

Flako hatched on March 15, 2010 at Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, NC, according to records from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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He arrived at the Central Park Zoo within two months. He was initially placed with snow leopards, snow monkeys and red pandas. Later, he was moved to an enclosure the size of a department store window near the Penguin House exit.

He was far from his natural home: Eurasian eagle-owls, known by the scientific name Bubo bubo, are apex predators typically found in much of Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and Central Asia. They are among the world's largest owls with wingspans of up to six feet. They thrive in mountains and other rocky areas near forests, swooping down at night to hunt rodents, rabbits and other prey.

In a November 2010 news release, citing Flacco's “huge rhythms” and “intense vision”, the conservation association said he was “adjusting well to his new home” and was “a truly stunning sight”.

But Flacco's life at the zoo was remarkable. It was only after he left that he began to inspire real awe.

In the early days of his release, security forces made several attempts to rescue him. They backed off after he proved that a lifetime of captivity had not dulled his essential nature, and faced with growing public sentiment that he should be allowed out of zoos.

A turning point came when he was seen swallowing a rat, and later, he coughed up indigestible chunks of fur and bones.

“A big concern for everyone initially was whether Flacco would be able to hunt and eat,” the conservation society said in a statement 10 days after he left the zoo. “It's no longer a concern.”

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Putting that concern aside, the community said it would “reevaluate our approach” to addressing Flacco's new circumstances: “We will continue to monitor him, but not aggressively, but opportunistically when the situation is right.”

Before long, Flacco settled into a comfortable life at the north end of the park, sitting in favorite trees and picking food.

He left the park's relative safety around Halloween and embarked on a Manhattan tour that took him to the East Village, Lower East Side and Upper East Side, delighting those he met as he returned on terraces and air conditioners. Cliff edges frequented by Eurasian eagle owls.

In December, Flacco settled mostly on the Upper West Side, returning to certain buildings from the 70s to the 90s, from Central Park West to Riverside Drive.

He usually spent his days sleeping on fire pits in yards where it was warm and out of the wind. At dusk it flies out in search of prey.

He mostly ate mice, although he was recently seen catching pigeons.

A harsh aspect of Flacco's Manhattan life is that, as a non-native, he can never find a mate. That didn't stop him from trying, sometimes calling for hours in the post-midnight darkness to establish his territory and announce his interest in breeding.

According to David Barrett's Manhattan Bird Alert account on social media, Flacco's last reported calls came from a water tower on West 86th Street, east of Columbus Avenue, around 3 a.m. last Sunday.

On Friday, Flacco was found a few blocks away.

Kathryn Einhorn Contributed report.

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