HomeScience & EnvironmentFlaco’s Crash Might Have Been More Than Bad Luck. Here’s Why.

Flaco’s Crash Might Have Been More Than Bad Luck. Here’s Why.


Flaco spent a year defying expectations, an owl born into captivity who quickly learned to hunt and fend for himself in the wilds of New York City. That ended on Friday when he flew into a building near Central Park. What went wrong?

Did he hit a window that he failed to perceive as glass, like hundreds of millions of birds across the United States each year? Or was he compromised in some way that impeded his ability to navigate New York’s concrete canyons?

A necropsy, to be performed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, will provide the most definitive answers. His initial examination, performed Friday by the Wild Bird Fund, a rescue group, showed a contusion on his chest and an impact to his right eye. He may have been dead by the time he hit the ground, said Rita McMahon, the group’s director. If not, the impact from the fall may have killed him.

But the examination also indicated that he was thin, possibly underweight.

“He wasn’t truly thriving,” Ms. McMahon said.

Poisoning by rodenticide, lead or even disease like avian flu could have all contributed to his death, she noted. Sluggish, poisoned rats make easy targets for birds of prey, which in turn ingest the poison.

Barry, the celebrity barred owl in Central Park who died after colliding with a car in 2021, was found to have high levels of rat poison in her system.

Pigeons, which Flaco had been seen hunting recently, can ingest high levels of lead while pecking around the city. Lead can accumulate in birds of prey, causing lack of coordination, weakness and other symptoms. Poisoned birds become more vulnerable to predation, trauma and other diseases, according to the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab.

Moreover, Flaco could have been infected with a highly pathogenic form of avian flu that has been wreaking havoc on birds and even some mammals around the world.

Preliminary gross findings from his necropsy by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Central Park Zoo, are expected as early as Saturday, a spokeswoman said. The results of testing on tissue samples are expected in coming weeks.

While Flaco was unique, having escaped from a zoo, birds of prey have been increasingly adapting to life in cities over the last few decades. New York is home to substantial breeding populations of red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, American kestrels and osprey, according to NYC Audubon.

Three species of owl live in the city’s parks. For a year, with Flaco, it had been four.

As Flaco’s legions of fans grieve his death, bird advocates hope the loss will jolt the public into making cities safer for birds.

“We celebrate these creatures,” Ms. McMahon said, pointing not only to Flaco, but also to Barry the barred owl and a bald eagle named Rover that reportedly died a few days ago. “In essence, they probably will all die from human interference, from things we’ve done.”

Bird-friendly glass, turning off lights at night and avoiding the use of anticoagulant rodenticide can all help, experts emphasize. To protect smaller birds, keep cats inside.

“That’s the one good thing that can happen,” Ms. McMahon said. “Often you have to lose something to care about it.”





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