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Celebrity owl Flaco memorialized in New York after fatal building collision

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NEW YORK -

Dozens of mournful fans of Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl gathered in New York City on Sunday to say goodbye to the beloved celebrity creature who became an inspiration and joy to many as he flew around Manhattan after someone let him out of his zoo enclosure.

A memorial featuring speeches, songs and poems was held in the late afternoon in Central Park at what organizers call Flaco's favourite oak tree.

Flaco was found dead on the Upper West Side on Feb. 23 after apparently hitting a building. Testing by zoologists concluded he suffered traumatic impact injuries, but more testing is planned to determine whether he may have been sick.

His death was a heartbreaking end for the birders who documented his daily movements and the legions of admirers who followed along, as people posted photos and videos of the majestic owl with a nearly six-foot wingspan perched on tree branches, fence posts, fire escapes and water towers -- as well as his hours of hooting.

"With all of this challenging time that is happening all over the world, this bird really became a symbol of hope and brought so many of us together," Breanne Delgado said at the gathering.

David Lei, an avid birder in the city, said losing Flaco was hard to put into words. He said the owl faced the same fate as many other birds in Manhattan -- flying into the deceptive windows of tall buildings.

"Flaco was larger than life and is leaving behind a legacy to match," Lei said. "I thank him today, as I did every day I got to see him, for the joy, awe and wonder he inspired in us throughout his journey."

People at the ceremony also advocated for new laws aimed at helping to prevent birds from flying into buildings and curbing the use of rat poison that larger birds can ingest while eating prey. Efforts also are underway to put a statue of Flaco in Central Park.

Flaco was freed from his cage at the Central Park Zoo a little over a year ago by a vandal who breached a waist-high fence and cut a hole through a steel mesh cage. The owl had arrived at the zoo as a fledgling 13 years earlier.

Zoo officials and his fans were at first worried about his survival, but he soon proved adept at catching rats and other prey. The zoo later suspended efforts to re-capture him after failed attempts.

Tributes poured in from across the globe after his death.

Police are still seeking to arrest whoever let him out of his enclosure.

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