November 30, 2023
Flaccus, the famous Eurasian eagle owl, explained

Flaccus, the famous Eurasian eagle owl, explained

Flaco, New York

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle owl, is New York City’s most famous bird – and with abundant news coverage, it may well be the most famous bird in the world. Flaco’s story spanned many months into 2023, and on November 17th took a happy turn when he was seen back in Central Park. He was on a long and anxiety-inducing (for Flaco fans) trip through the forests of lower Manhattan.

I’ve been following Flaco’s activities, along with what seems like half of New York, for some time, and I’m very excited about his return. I’m so committed that I’ve received over ten texts from other people about Flaco after the last update since I’ve been texting they about him without stopping. Why are we obsessed with a single escaped bird? I’m so glad you asked.

Who is Flaco and why do New Yorkers love him?

Flaco means “thin” or “thin” in Spanish, but it is a large, robust eagle owl, of a type whose wingspan can reach up to six feet, according to the Audubon Society. He lived in captivity at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. In February 2023, he left his enclosure after it was damaged in an act of vandalism. (Who broke into Flaco’s enclosure is still unknown.) The bird community is vocal and devoted, the press loves animal stories, and everyone quickly fell in love with Flaco. Flaco dominated the headlines as goalkeepers tried to lure him back and, concerned for his well-being, spent days trying to recapture him. Some even camped out and kept Flaco company 24/7 in the cold of winter. There was concern that Flaccus would not be able to hunt alone and would find the surroundings of the park strange and uncertain hunting grounds. Even if he managed to acquire food, New York is full of dangers and poisons, so concerns for his well-being arose.

Meanwhile, bird watchers flocked (sorry) to the park to take a look, and many, many people took photos of Flaco, increasing his celebrity status and publicizing him. As Flaccus continued to evade capture and proved himself independent against all odds, his legend only grew. New Yorkers love a tough cookie, and Flaco’s disregard of expectations and persistence in remaining free created a Flaco fandom. He was a still-unseen vision in the city that he’s seen it all, and is imminently photogenic. The camera loves him. Flaco became a star.

Flaco leaves the park and a new saga begins

Concerns about Flaccus eased after he proved capable of hunting and seemed content on his own. He remained a social media darling, but daily headlines dwindled. But in late October 2023, Flaco took off from Central Park and headed downtown. It was spotted on November 7 in Manhattan’s East Village, which is more than five miles from the park.

A new chapter in the story of Flaccus began. People in the city center began photographing and sharing photos of Flaco in urban settings – Flaco, perched on an air conditioner high above the city, Flaco peering over a window sill, Flaco on a tall building, Flaco visiting a balcony.

Mainstream media outlets upped the narrative stakes and speculated that Flaco could be on a “desperate hunt for love,” hopeless because, according to bird experts, “he doesn’t know there are no mates in the region.” That’s never stopped passionate New Yorkers from pursuing them before. Flaco-watch has reached a fever pitch. I was worried.

This is a particularly difficult time in our history, with brutal conflicts, economic uncertainty, dangerous policies that violate rights, toxic social networks and an endless series of social difficulties that seem to grow every day. Perhaps it seems foolish to some to worry about a bird with so many vast issues at stake. But the human brain can multitask – it can still worry and root for the survival of a wayward eagle owl, even as the planet burns around us. I started to “joke” that my personal well-being depended on Flaco being well.

Exaggerated? Dramatic? Clear. But rooting for Flaco and following the news about him was a distraction I needed and a potential change in the outcome that I could attribute to something specific. And so I, along with many others, checked in to see what updates were emerging about Flaco and to wait for him to return to Central Park. While there are dangers in the park, lower Manhattan is a whole different ballgame. I was delighted by the reports of Flaco’s adventures in the city center, but I feared that I would eventually open social media to bad news about him. It’s a bad news kind of world out there.

Flaccus Strikes Back: The Return of Flaccus

Flaccus watchers began to feel more hopeful as he was spotted further uptown. Then, on November 17, 2023, the excellent X (formerly Twitter) Manhattan Bird Alert account reported the news we had been waiting for.

“Joy in Central Park today as Flaco the Eurasian eagle owl has returned to reclaim his favorite oak tree,” they wrote, alongside a photo of Flaco on the oak’s branch, “maintaining his position despite visits from a hawk and some crows. ” When I say that I have rarely retweeted anything faster:

Many of us who followed this segment of Flaccus’s journey were concerned that it would come to an unhappy conclusion. Flaco lost in New York seemed like a story that would probably end in tragedy. But this time it didn’t happen. And although the park and the city still pose threats to Flaco, we can use this moment to enjoy that he is safely back in an area that feels more like home. Flaco proved to be a true New Yorker, resilient and seemingly unfazed by the city’s obstacles.

Caring about what happens to Flaccus is a rare unifier in a cynical age. Those of us who are interested in his journey and hope for a happy existence for him are celebrating the persistence of something small in a big, scary place. I’m happy for Flaccus and happy for the kind of humanity I see in those who extend their thoughts to him.

Just a bird, some will say. But he is our bird. And he’s back.

(featured image: Rhododendrites/Wikipedia Commons)

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