One Flew Over the Zoo
Last Saturday, you and I were on the phone discussing all and sundry and I shared the joyous news that Flaco is back—he’s been spotted on Central Park West!
And you had no idea what I was talking about. Unbelievably to me, you hadn’t heard the story of Flaco the Eurasian Eagle-owl. Since February of this year, not a day has gone by without me thinking about Flaco. I can’t believe it hadn’t come up before—but I had the best time telling you about the raptor of my heart.
While I don’t want to spoil the Disney movie that surely is being made about Flaco right this minute, I share his adventures (so far) in a spirit of holiday wonder. There is spaciousness and beauty in this world, despite everything.
In case I miss something important, here’s the Wikipedia entry on Flaco. It is recommended reading, if only for the phrase “charismatic megafauna.” Also recommended: so many excellent pictures of Flaco, in different moods and times of day and night. I love the video up top because you can hear the din of the city, yet Flaco is serene and unbothered as he grooms and stretches.
In brief, Flaco is a Eurasian Eagle-owl, a large (five- or six-foot wingspan!) species (Bubo bubo) native to the forests of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Flaco was bred in captivity, and as a young owl he was brought to the Central Park Zoo, where for 12 years he was exhibited alone in a small enclosure with a painted background. As a New Yorker I am required to tell you that this wild creature’s enclosure was the size of a bus stop.
In February of this year, Flaco escaped the zoo. This was an electrifying news story. A city of eight million people who generally avoid eye contact with each other was immediately riveted to the attempts to rescue a bird who had lived among us in anonymity and tight quarters—just like us. We waited anxiously for confirmation that Flaco was alive, that he was safe, and crucially—that he knew how to hunt. Which he did! The rescue effort was soon abandoned, because Flaco was doing all right and in addition, he was super hard to catch.
This ushered in a spring and summer of regular Flaco sightings in Central Park. He has been living it all the way up, with panache. I’ve not seen Flaco in real life myself, but I often pass photographers toting very long lenses, being followed themselves by Flaco fans hoping to get a glimpse—so I’m pretty sure Flaco has seen me. I’m content to know Flaco only through photographs, but please, for the love of all that’s lethal and hooty, keep them coming, photographers.
In November, a text from a friend alerted me to unsettling reports that Flaco had not been seen recently and was believed to have left Central Park. After a few nervous days (I don’t know that Flaco was nervous, but I was) he was spotted on the Lower East Side. It being mating season for Eurasian Eagle-owls, one theory was that like other young New Yorkers, he knew that the action was downtown.
I wanted him to come back to the park as soon as possible. While the rat-o-mat is well stocked throughout the five boroughs, Central Park is one of the most forest-like settings we’ve got, where an eagle-owl can be relatively safe and famous. So I was thrilled on Saturday morning, when someone posted a picture of Flaco perched high on a tower of an Art Deco building on Central Park West. I’m sure it must have sounded weird to you when I screamed FLACO IS BACK at you on the phone, but I’m glad you now know.
Here’s the knitting angle.
Wouldn’t Flaco’s markings make for a stunning yoke sweater? He is a stylish guy, with orange eyes and breast feathers in an arrangement that is midcentury modern in both palette and design.
One sweater keeps floating to mind: Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Sólbein Cardigan.
Photo: Mary Jane Mucklestone
While it doesn’t capture all of Flaco’s feathery flourishes, it suggests his spiky spirit. Orange glass buttons would really nail it. And it’s a plus that I already had Sólbein on my list of sweaters I want to make.
If any of our readers has any other patterns to suggest, please put them in the comments! This would be a grand sweater to start off the new year, with a nod to a soaring adventure that began in a year that I am otherwise pleased to leave behind.