Death of Flaco the Owl Renews Calls in NY for Bird-Safety Bills

Flaco, the beloved Eurasian eagle owl, seen on Feb. 13, 2023. (Nancy Kaszerman/Zuma Press/TNS)

NEW YORK (New York Daily News/TNS) — If some New York state lawmakers have their way, the death of Flaco the Owl will not be in vain.

Three days after the freed Eurasian eagle-owl from the Central Park Zoo met an untimely fate, apparently succumbing after a crash with a landmarked eight-story building on the Upper West Side, legislators in Albany launched a bid Monday to use the tragedy to whip up support for a package of bird-safety bills.

The lead legislator who gives a hoot, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, has renamed legislation that would require new and renovated New York state government buildings to have bird-friendly windows, a first step toward pushing private buildings to have similar standards.

Once called the Bird Safe Buildings Act, the bill has been renamed the Feathered Lives Also Count Act — the FLACO ACT. Hoylman-Sigal first introduced the bill seven years ago, and several states already have similar provisions, he said.

Flaco, who was freed from a small enclosure at the Central Park Zoo by an unknown vandal before spending more than a year on the loose, seems to be in large if melancholy feathered company.

In New York City alone, between 90,000 and 230,000 migrating birds die after striking building glass each year, according to the New York City Audubon Society. The bright artificial lights of the city contribute to the death toll, the society said, leaving disoriented birds flying into windows.

One form of glass, plate glass, has been cited in particular as a threat to birds, because it reflects images of a bird’s natural habitat, which may lead them to chase what they think are trees or vegetation.

It was not immediately clear what type of windows are on the exterior of the building where Flaco was found, and it was not certain that the owl — who was not a migratory bird — crashed into a window, or even a building’s wall. Flaco knew the buildings in the neighborhood well, and may simply have grown sick and fallen from a perch, said David Barrett, who manages a popular bird-watching social media account.

Still, Hoylman-Sigal said Flaco’s captivating explorations across Manhattan and his death at age 14 set the stage for a renewed look at bird safety. He said the legislative push is intended to honor Flaco.

Flaco, an adept flyer who had piercing orange eyes, a coat of golden and black feathers, large tufted black ears, and a puffed chest, was followed by a flock of admiring bird watchers during his 12-month adventure in the urban skies of Manhattan. He spent many of his final nights hooting away on the Upper West Side.

“When an animal like Flaco captures the public’s imagination, and ends with such a sad story, I believe we should try to make some good out of it,” said Hoylman-Sigal, a Greenwich Village Democrat.

He added that the time is ripe “to reflect — no pun intended — on natural species like birds that come into direct contact with human-made and avoidable circumstances such as plate-glass windows.”

A second bill sponsored by Hoylman-Sigal, the Dark Skies Protection Act, is aimed at reducing light pollution by requiring much of the nonessential outdoor lighting in the city to be masked by a shield, turned off, or limited to motion activation between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., according to the senator’s office.

The light pollution bill, which was first introduced four years ago, could benefit humans’ mental health as well as the navigational exploits of nocturnal birds, Hoylman-Sigal’s office suggested.

The Assembly sponsor of the Dark Skies Protection Act, Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat, said in a statement: “Joyful memories of Flaco should serve as a call to action for New Yorkers from the Adirondacks to Long Island.”

“While we don’t know if Flaco’s collision happened at night,” she acknowledged in the statement, “we do know that the Dark Skies Act would help prevent many of them at night and reverse the troubling trends of bird species extinction and disruptions to migration patterns.”

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