Owl Be Seeing You

March 5, 2024

I didn’t hear much about Flaco the Coop-Flown Owl, until the poor bird met his tragic end. For those similarly unaware, about a year ago, Flaco, a rare Eurasian Eagle Owl living in captivity in the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan, was suddenly liberated by a vandal who shredded his enclosure. 

What followed was a gritty Streets of New York story—the spunky and resourceful Flaco, making his way in the big bad city. Crowds would gather whenever there was an owl-sighting. There were cheers when he learned to hunt and catch prey (NYC rats, what else?) For a solid year, Flaco flew free, amid hopes that he could survive long-term in the “wild.”

Alas, our majestic feathered friend was no match for the urban landscape. Flaco was killed flying into the side of a building. That dramatic demise could be the subject of a folk song (“The Owl That Almost Could”), right? Where are Peter, Paul and Mary when you need them?

Flaco’s story brings up some questions. Is it inhumane to cage wild creatures in zoos? Are we destroying their animal instincts? Flaco never asked to be a celebrity; he was just doing his best to stay alive in very difficult circumstances. What did this owl, the very symbol of wisdom after all, think of the humans who gaped and gawked and snapped photos as he flew from tree to tree? Since he’s dead, plus we don’t speak owl, we will never know.

I am a big owl fan, though I rarely spot them in nature—I’m much more likely to see a Temple (University) Owl, than the actual bird. Even back in the old days when I was a rather nocturnal young adult, I never saw one IRL. Of course, I was much more Disco Denizen than Nature Girl, so unless an owl decided to sneak into the bar with a fake ID, the odds of our paths crossing were low.

I do know that owls fly without making a peep, their massive wings gliding along, utterly silent, in order to surprise their prey. I do know that their heads can swivel almost completely around (they have fixed eye sockets, and have to turn to see things). 

A recent thrill for me was a woods walk I took near Seattle at dusk, with Evan and some of his friends. We spied TWO huge and beautiful white owls, in two different trees, and then spent a good 10 minutes gaping and gawking (as humans tend to do). We were waiting for their moment of flight, and were not disappointed when at last they alit, soaring soundlessly through the air.

The debate about zoos and other man-made habitats rages on. While modern zoos make much more of an effort to give the animals space, they are still trapped. But they are also protected from harm (Flaco’s “liberator” notwithstanding).

All I know is, I’m glad that, for one brief shining year, Flaco the Owl had a glorious taste of freedom.


    I am an author (of five books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a retired director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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