Artists Mourn Death of Flaco, the Owl Who Inspired Millions

Artists of all feathers are mourning the death of Flaco, the beloved Eurasian eagle-owl of New York City who succumbed to acute traumatic injury after flying into a building on Friday, February 23. He was found lifeless on a sidewalk on 89th Street in Manhattan. 

Eurasian eagle owls can live up to 20 years in the wild and up to 60 years in captivity — Flaco was 13.

“We even had a bar mitzvah for him,” said Valerie Hartman, who lives near Central Park South and started following Flaco in 2015. She spoke with tears in her eyes on Tuesday, February 27, as she and several others gathered at the foot of Flaco’s favorite tree — a large oak a few hundred feet from the park’s East 102nd Street entrance. 

Hundreds of flowers adorned the ground, along with a blown-up photo of the orange-eyed raptor. Nearby, people working with documentarian Penny Lane placed dozens of drawings, letters, cards, and artwork left in Flaco’s memory into a large plastic tub for fear of the rain in the forecast. They cleared out an hour before the storm.

“Fly high,” read many of the notes. One artwork was reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s screenprints of Marilyn Monroe. Others appeared to be drawn by children.

Jacqueline Emery, an amateur wildlife photographer and birder who lives on the Upper West Side, has been following Flaco since the night of his escape from the Central Park Zoo last February, when vandals allegedly made a hole in his enclosure.

“I improved my skills greatly with Flaco,” said Emery. “Using a low shutter speed, playing around with ISO, figuring out how to deal with ambient light — there were a lot of challenging conditions.”

Emery is grateful for the photos and says looking at them helps her cope with the loss. 

“[Art] is a quick, simple way to take a deep dive into your unconscious,” said Carla Rose, a board-certified creative arts therapist and licensed psychotherapist in Manhattan. “And when you talk about grief, it’s a complicated emotion, it’s really hard to put into words, unless you use something like poetry or art.” 

Flaco was hatched in North Carolina on March 15, 2010. He died just weeks shy of his 14th birthday. Not only did his death inspire international headlines, but it is also the focus of proposed legislation. 

On Monday, February 26, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal renamed a bird safety bill introduced last year the FLACO (Feathered Lives Also Count) Act. If passed, the legislation will require buildings to “incorporate bird-friendly designs, particularly in their windows.” According to the nonprofit NYC Audubon, between 90,000 and 230,000 migrating birds are killed in the city each year in collisions with building glass.  

“I think the point that people can make change here is really great,” said Dr. Dustin Partridge, director of conservation and science for NYC Audubon. “Flaco has done so much for conservation because he got so many new people out into the amazing wildlife that exists within New York City.”

A memorial service for Flaco will be held on Sunday, March 3 at 4pm by the “Flaco Oak.” 

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