A Eurasian eagle-owl named Flaco sits in a tree in...

A Eurasian eagle-owl named Flaco sits in a tree in New York's Central Park on Feb. 6, 2023.  Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

ALBANY — Flaco, the celebrity owl famous for his appearances throughout Manhattan, may also gain fame in death as the inspiration for a state law that would protect other birds from lethal strikes against buildings.

The legislation that would better protect birds from deadly strikes against state-owned buildings and encourage all office workers to take steps to protect birds will soon be renamed for Flaco. Flaco died last Friday after apparently striking a building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The legislative bill that had been named The Bird Safe Buildings Act is being renamed the FLACO Act, turning the Eurasian eagle-owl’s name into an acronym for “Feathered Lives Also Count.”

The proposal would require any new “significantly altered” state buildings to become more bird friendly. That includes windows designed to help birds recognize the hard surface isn’t a passage or open sky as reflected by the window.

More than 250,000 bird deaths statewide and up to 1 billion nationally are attributed to building strikes, often into closed windows that could easily be altered to ward birds away, according to Cornell University.

Flaco escaped from the Central Park Zoo and made personal appearances throughout the city and as far away as Newark, New Jersey. Flaco became a star whose image was captured in newspapers, TV news and by New Yorkers posting snapshots to social media. 

The owl’s travels were followed under the account FlacoTheOwl on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and by others in posts through #FlacotheOwl. New Yorkers gathered after Flaco’s death at one of his favorite roosts in Central Park. Flowers, teddy bears, stuffed owls and paintings and photos of Flaco decorated the base of the tree. “Rest in Peace Flaco” trended among New Yorkers.

Initial findings of a necropsy of Flaco at the Bronx Zoo showed evidence consistent with death due to “acute traumatic injury,” the Wildlife Conservation Society reported on its website. But further tests are planned to check for poisons and diseases such as West Nile virus and avian influenza.

“I’m gutted at the death of Flaco the owl,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan), a sponsor of the bird-protection bill. 

“Though his death is certainly tragic, our hope is that it can also serve as an inspiration for positive change,” Hoylman-Sigal told Newsday. His bill was first introduced in May 2023 with little movement since.

“Sometimes it takes a high-profile event like this to raise enough awareness and focus to actually move a bill across the finish line … ” he said. “I can think of no better way to honor this magnificent creature, by passing an act in his name, which will help reduce the chances that other birds in New York State make the same unfortunate mistake that Flaco did.”

Assembly sponsor Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) said Flaco’s death was a “senseless, unnecessary and human-driven death … a heart-wrenching story.”

“If we had simply taken the small effort to add window treatments to our buildings, we could have prevented his death and continued our collective awe and hope that his freedom gave to us all,” Kelles said. “Collision into windows is the second greatest cause of bird deaths in the U.S., and it is completely preventable.”

Lights in and on buildings at night also causedeadly strikes.

“Nonessential light from buildings attracts and disorients birds in, and to, areas where they collide with glass surfaces,” said Andrew Farnsworth, a research associate at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. “Untreated, reflective and transparent glass reflects the sky or vegetation during the day or appears to be a clear path through which birds can fly, and birds are unable to perceive the glass as a solid surface and collide with it.

“Eliminating unnecessary light and treating glass offer proven solutions to mitigating this component of the alarming bird population declines in the last 50 years,” Farnsworth added.

A related bill called the Dark Skies Protection Act would require most “nonessential outdoor lighting” to be covered by a shield, be motion activated or turned off between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. The measure would protect migrating birds attracted to the lights as they travel at night, according to the bill’s sponsors, Assemb. Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas (D-Queens) and Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse).

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