sábado, abril 13

New York mourns Flaco, an owl who inspired him by taking over the city

Pjetar Nikac has been manager of 267 West 89th Street, an eight-story building near Riverside Park, for 30 years. What happened there Friday made it a day he won’t forget.

Mr. Nikac was returning from a visit to the store around 5 p.m. when he noticed an object on the ground in the courtyard of the building.

“I thought it was a rock,” he said. “I got closer and saw: Owl.”

Mr. Nikac immediately knew that it was not just any owl, but Flaco, the Eurasian eagle owl which, just three weeks ago, passed the one-year mark of life in the relatively wild nature of Manhattan after leaving the Central Park Zoo. Someone had opened the fence of his enclosure during an act of vandalism which remains unsolved.

Flaco had apparently crashed into the building. Even though he was still alive when Mr. Nikac found him and, with the help of Alan Drogin, a bird watcher and resident of the building, who rushed to him for help , Flaco was quickly pronounced dead.

On Saturday evening, the Central Park Zoo announced that preliminary results of an autopsy showed that Flaco died from acute trauma. He had significant bleeding under his sternum and around his liver, as well as a small bleed behind one eye. Tests to determine whether the owl was exposed to toxins or infectious diseases will take longer.

Thus ended an unlikely adventure for a large, fiery-eyed bird that attracted public attention in New York and beyond by showing that it could thrive alone, at least for a time, although it lived almost his entire life in captivity.

Flaco would have turned 14 next month. And while the dangers presented by the urban environment almost guaranteed an early death, his life as a free bird inspired a passionate following that was evident in the widespread grief that greeted the news of his demise.

In the North Woods section of Central Park on Saturday, mourners – some carrying flowers, others carrying binoculars, a few pushing strollers – moved back and forth among some of Flaco’s favorite oak trees, looking for the right place to pay homage to him under the freezing sun.

Offerings left under trees near the park’s East Drive included a furry owl doll, an owl carved from a block of wood, a pencil portrait of Flaco, letters and flowers. A letter bade Flaco farewell to “eternal flight”. Another thanked him for bringing “joy to the hearts of all who were able to witness your magical journey.”

Breanne Delgado, 34, was among those in the park. She placed dried red roses at the base of an oak tree along the park’s East Drive and said she was writing a children’s book about Flaco, calling him her «muse.»

“I feel like he was showing us how we can break free from our cages, from the mundane, from the things that don’t serve us, from the things that hold us back,” Ms. Delgado said.

The owl was a muse to all kinds of artists. People got Flaco tattoos and wrote rap lyrics and poetry about him. A documentary film is in preparation. Colombian-born artist Calicho Arevalo, who painted eight Flaco murals, began a new one Saturday afternoon in Freeman Alley on the Lower East Side.

Alfonso Lozano, 36, came to Central Park on Saturday with his wife, Sarah Buccarelli, and the couple’s 3-month-old daughter. Mr. Lozano said he had been unhappy in his job as a photographer when Flaco left the zoo last February.

That changed, he said, when he began visiting Flaco daily at one of the owl’s usual perches, in Central Park’s ravine.

“He was my therapy,” Mr. Lozano said, adding that spending time with Flaco inspired him to quit his job and start his own business.

“Flaco helped me find freedom,” he said.

Originally from Spain, Mr. Lozano linked Flaco’s discovery of a way to survive in New York to his own experience as an immigrant in the city.

“Flaco means New York,” he said.

Lia Friedman, 33, a public school teacher who lives in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood, said Flaco’s activities introduced her to a new circle of friends. She said she would sit for hours under an elm tree where Flaco often perched, chatting with those who stopped to photograph him, draw him or just to say, “I love you.”

“It seemed really magical, like living in a storybook version of New York,” she said.

Ms. Friedman understood that the threat of Flaco hitting a building, colliding with a vehicle or ingesting a lethal amount of rodenticide was ever-present. She felt torn between wanting him to stay free and wanting him to be somewhere safer, perhaps in a rural area upstate.

“I was really worried about him,” she said.

Ruben Giron, 73, a registered nurse who lives on 112th Street, said he cried Saturday morning when he heard the news.

“It’s the symbol of the simple joy of being outside and letting the sun hit you,” he said. “It’s an eye-opening experience of what it means to be free.”

He added: “We are all looking to live our lives. That’s what we do, and he did it.

Marianne Demarco, who lives in a building on West End Avenue adjacent to the one struck by Flaco, said she first saw the owl surrounded by about 50 spectators in Central Park. Little did she know that he would eventually have one of his usual hangouts built for her.

“It was like having a little thing that you could take care of and protect,” Ms. Demarco, 50, said Saturday, tears streaming down her face as she walked her pit bull around the block. She said she met several of her neighbors in the building through Flaco’s presence.

“It’s kind of like the end of—” she paused “—the end of a dream we all hoped to hold on to.”

Mr. Nikac, the superintendent, appreciated Flaco’s presence, particularly for its effect on the building’s rodent problem. “Since he arrived here, no rats,” he said.

He said he didn’t know exactly how Flaco died, but that when he viewed security footage from Friday night, it briefly showed the bird falling quickly and bumping into the camera.

“He was so handsome,” Mr. Nikac remembers.

Flaco’s stay in New York was limited to Manhattan, but his fans were everywhere.

Megan Hertzig, 53, who lives in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, was running with her dog in Prospect Park on Saturday. She said she had followed Flaco’s exploits and had mixed feelings about the act that freed him.

“On the one hand, I’m happy that he’s free because he was in too little confinement,” she said. «But releasing him into a situation where he couldn’t survive necessarily makes me really unhappy.»

Interviewed last month, Scott Weidensaul, the author of the Peterson Reference Guide to Owls, expressed similar regrets about the position in which Flaco had been placed and echoed the opinion of other bird experts that this was “only a matter of time before something bad happened.” »

On Saturday, Mr. Weidensaul said by email that he was not pleased to learn that Flaco had died.

“Sometimes,” he said, “it sucks to be right.” »

Anusha Bayya, Nathan Schweber, Olivia Bensimon And Gaya Gupta reports contributed.