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Dear Ann,

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.

Attribution: by Rhododendrites – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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.

Love,

Kay

107 Comments

  • Oh my god, that yawn!

    • Flaco is just like us! A temporary foray downtown for some fun, but back uptown for the long term ( hopefully). I hope he perches somewhere near us! Love the matching sweater!o

    • This is beautiful!

  • Wonderful news that Flaco is thriving and I too share your love of Solbein. I just blocked mine. Duly purchased the felting tools from the fantastic MDK shop, I am ready to steek away during my winter break from work next week. Go for the orange buttons, it is the perfect sweater to let your Flaco spirit fly.

  • Owls by Kate Davies Designs! An adorable sweater in all sizes. I made it once but came out too small. Will try again in honor of Flaco!

  • Oh! Maybe this could be the February sweater!!

    • What a beautiful bird.

    • Kay, thank you for this – what an uplift, what a joy to see Flaco. Such an independent spirit, survivor, owl about town. Mia, landing this note as a reply to yours to tell you and everyone that a bird-spotting thrill just happened in my little spot of South Carolina, right where you were a few months ago! A Snow Goose has briefly joined us at the state park. This is not the normal route for a Snow Goose and this youngster is by herself (I’ve decided it’s a she-goose, no confirmation by the photographers or other birdwatchers). I spotted her in the marsh last weekend and am heading back tomorrow to see if she’s still with us. She’s just lovely and has brought joy to many people with her visit!

  • Thank you for sharing Flaco’s story and video. He’s so serene amongst the city din. I would love to see yarn dyed in a Flaco colorway and maybe someone could design a hat or cowl to capture his beauty in the Flaco yarn. I haven’t the talent to create either, but my credit card is ready when you are 😉

    • My thoughts exactly!

  • Even Nutmeggers like me were happy when Flaco came back.

  • Thank you for introducing me to Flaco. He was the perfect way to start my day, sipping my morning coffee. I am now a Flaco fan!

  • I’m fortunate to have a terrace near Central Park West from which I’ve been able to watch (and hear!) Flaco on several evenings. He perches on the parapets and water towers of nearby buildings and looks as though he’s hunting — for love, possibly? He has joined the flock of red-tailed hawks, descendants of the famous Pale Male, as TANYs – True Avian New Yorkers.

  • Thank you so much for educating me on the trials and tribulations of Flacko. What a magnificent bird, and you are so right in that his markings would make an excellent color palette for a shawl or sweater.

  • Liked the article. Had not heard of Flacco!

  • Hadn’t heard about Flaco in a while. Very pleased to read your update, see all the pictures and dream about the possibilities of hand-knitted sweaters in his honor.

  • My sons was in a high school band named Charismatic Megafauna. Image 5 tall, gangly, cute 16 year olds playing rock n’roll. Won the Battle of the Bands. I think it might have been the name.

    Sólbein Cardigan or Andrea Mowry’s Alpineglow.

    • Love the band name!

  • I love the Flaco update! Here is another that might work https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/bourne-5. Dryades from Lion brand also evocative!

    • Yes, this might work

    • The Bourne is perfect. Through some links, there’s even a kit for it!

    • Thank you for update. Flaco embodies the spirit of freedom so very glad he was liberated.

    • These both look like great picks to me!

    • This design would be a great choice, too. Decisions, decisions . . .

  • A “herd” of Great Horned hooties lets us share their range of fields and woods here. They are the dusk and dawn choir this time of year.
    Sweater ideas:

    Kartanonuela done all in close neutrals

  • So wonderful to read that Flaco is back but he needs a Flacette.

  • I’ve followed Flaco’s story from about 1600 miles away…such a beautiful owl. I’m so glad that he seems to be doing well!

  • This made my day. I’ve just read it aloud to my husband.

    • Thank you for update. Flaco embodies the spirit of freedom so very glad he was liberated.

  • He reminds me of My Neighbor Totoro:)!

  • Hooray for Flaco! What a delightful story.

  • A Flaco sweater would become an instant sensation! First time hearing about Flaco, but I’m fascinated by his story of escape and freedom.

  • Flaco is a bird that looks like a cat. What’s not to love?

  • Bunnymuff on ravelry has a number of beautiful owl things–a sweater, hat, mittens–she has all kinds of fun things to knit

    • Wow – thank you for the reference to Bunnymuff. There is some gorgeous color work there!

  • He’s giving off very “my neighbor Totoro” vibes in the photo above. Best of luck Flaco. Perhaps in the spring you’ll be teaching little hybrid Eurasian Eagle- Screech or Barn or Barred (imagine those stripe patterns!) owlets how to hunt in the Park.

  • A great story!

  • Thank you for this!
    Long live Flaco – hope for the wildlife in the Park.
    What a beauty and also inspiration.
    The cardi you included looks as if inspired by the feather coat of this owl! I am sure it was accidental, but maybe another bird or animal was in mind of the artist…? I would see this pattern as a shawl too and would like to use natural alpaca shades… hmmm…
    So many ideas, so little time!

  • This is hilarious! What a glorious, celebratory way to begin the shortest day of the year! Thank you, Kay.

  • Thanks for the news that Flaco is back. I live just north of NYC, am a bird lover, and heard updates on the local news from time to time. And I worried too. Such good news!

  • Just read about Flaco in the WaPo this morning & thought it was the coolest thing! I can’t imagine putting something as magnificent as he is in a bus-stop sized enclosure. Glad to see he’s thriving.

  • We were all following Flaco news! He is a true NYC celebrity.
    (and much prettier than Pizza Rat.)

  • Thank you for the update on Flaco, Kay! Living out west, I’d only heard about his escape and the zoo’s attempts to catch him. It’s joyful to hear that he’s thriving in Central Park.

  • I’m so glad Flaco found his freedom. Twelve years in solitary confinement? I had to read it twice to be sure I read it correctly. We humans can be so cruel. I’ll look for news about him and wish him a long and healthy life. The sweater is absolutely lovely! Thank you for sharing and Happy Holidays!

  • I first heard of Flaco just yesterday, so thank you, Kay, for bringing us the wonderful back story. And I agree that Sólbein gives proper homage to the beauty of his plumage. Orange glass buttons, yes!

  • Having already knit Solbein I am thrilled that I’ll now think of Flaco whenever I wear it!

  • What a great story! Just got back from a retreat with MJ and Gudron. The way they taught to look at the world around you for color inspiration is perfect for what you are suggesting. They changed the way I look at the world. Flaco sweater knit a long!

  • Did not know about Flaco, so glad he’s free. Pronunciation? Like flock, or flack, or flake?

  • I don’t know if this is his first Winter. What I do suspect is that he is hungry. This is perhaps why he is by people window looking in. I believe that it is wise that the Zoo provides him with outdoor food in one particular spot during the winter and early spring without trying to capture him.

    This is the most they could do after holding a big bird in a tiny cage for such a long time.

    • No worries about food. He seems to have remembered his natural predatory instincts and soon after his escape was seen chomping on rats, of which our fair city has plenty. He’s an ENORMOUS bird, and could most likely handle other small mammals. No need for people to put out food for him — he’s a born and capable hunter.

  • Thanks for spreading joy like Flaco’s wingspan!

  • Hooray for a Flaco sighting! Have you read Owls of the Eastern Ice:A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl? A knitting student recommended it, several others in the class had read it, so I got it from the library. I was anticipating something rather dry, but t was really captivating. While the fish owl is only perhaps a cousin of Flaco, I recommend this book for owl lovers.

    And yes to Solbein!

    • This is a fantastic book – agree it is a great read & not at all dry.

      For people worried about Flaco being hungry, he definitely isn’t – he is a very successful hunter. When the zoo tried to recapture him soon after his escape they tried using lures with live prey animals, but after a few days he lost interest in that b/c he was catching food for himself easily.

  • this Ravelry pattern has nice owl feathers:

    https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/owl-feathers

  • I bought a FLACO sweat shirt when I learned about him. Part of me wants him to.be caught so he can be monitored for his health and well-being; but the other part of me wants him to remain free and happy, dining on the city’s bounty of rodents.

  • Brown sweater with shades of tan white and orange. Thank you for article.

  • What a great story! Thumbs up to Flaco for escaping. I will be singing “Free Bird” all day. Please post the sweater when you finish it.

  • Hope the movie is not Disney. Would like people to watch it.

  • God creates such spectacular creatures!

  • How about a version of Alice Starmore’s Raven Poncho? You could definitely capture Flaco’s feathery finery with it!

  • I am fascinated by Flaco and his story. He been enjoying being free. Flaco probably doesn’t want to go back to his too small enclosure. Good for him!

  • That sweater pattern looks just like Flaco’s speckles. I am in Oregon but have heard about him on TV news and late night. You can’t have too many owls!

  • His lower chest feathers look like the crimp in raw fleece

  • What a delightful surprise to see an owl post on a knitting blog. I’ve been an owl lover since fostering a short-eared baby owl eons ago in my teens. I am on the west coast so had not heard about escapee Flaco until today. Great story and what a gorgeous bird! I love the knitting tie-in which inspires me to think about knitting something owlish in color and pattern. Thank you for a bright start to the day! Happy New Year!

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    This is a great owl hat; sizes newborn to adult medium. https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/chouette
  • Wonderful story of Flaco and I love the sweater as well.

  • Cool loved the editorial about the famous owl. The sweater liooks excellent and I agree that orange glass buttons would be an asset.

  • I absolutely over this post!
    All the best for Flaco!

    • Absolutely love- pardon the typo!

  • Love reading about Flaco and his adventures

  • Very interesting and exciting

  • Fantastic article, Kay!

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    And Flaco has become NYC’s favorite peeping tom! https://youtu.be/C43ii8MzRFU?si=4-wceL6qgyNUgYhm Cannot wait to see your Flaco creations. Reach out to NYC journalists to promote your creations. It will be a hoot!
  • I don’t have any suggestions, however, I’m happy that he’s fine. I only wish he could find a female. I do know that Eurasian owls are not native to the Americas. Therefore, he’ll be alone. It’s very sad. He’s such a beautiful and magnificent owl. I hope he lives a long and healthy life.

  • Yippee

  • Loved this article!! You go, Flaco!

  • beautiful

  • Awesome story thanks for sharing I’m soso Greatful he made it home and he let us know that he never left he was there all the time Flacos said just look high in mighty to the sky I never left my home just getting a view of the remarkable city I’m surrounding glad to be back home merry Christmas

  • Kay

    Love your writings re FLACO
    NOW I AM WATCHING NEWS FOR HIM TOO
    WHAT AN OWL!
    SWEATER SOUNDS GRAND.

  • I’ve been reading about him for a couple weeks now it’s very interesting to read about it all that escape but is still flourishing very ironic that he is flourishing in New York City must be a very smart owl

  • What a majestic Spirit Animal!

  • Love your colorful and artistic commentary Kay!!
    Keep the dialogue coming my friend!

    Kathleen

  • Flaco is just like us! A temporary foray downtown for some fun, but back uptown for the long term ( hopefully). I hope he perches somewhere near us! Love the matching sweater!

  • Flaco could be Jewish being spotted on the lower east side lol, atb to everyone especially the bird.

  • I’ll buy your sweater, and I believe other New Yorkers would too! I say get a lot made!

  • Thank you for sharing Flaco⭐

  • A pair of ex-pat UWS New Yorkers, squirreled away in a small apartment in downtown Macon, Georgia, following Flaco’s flights.

  • So Cool Owls are so special!!❤️

  • This beautiful eagle owl should have a mate! He been sitting alone for to long and deserves a female companion!

  • I feel they should get Flaco a mate. That’ll be very interesting.

  • That was so amazing and uplifting to read.
    Thank you.
    I’ve been wondering if he would safely live through our cold winter.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if a warm SAFE enclosure built high in his favorite spot were made for him?

    As for the sweater, it’s an amazing idea and while I’m a man in my late 50’s I would buy one.

    How do I keep up about it?

    Thank you so much

    A.M

  • Oh! I don’t know Flacco, but I met his cousin this past summer at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. They do a raptor program and I met their Eurasian eagle owl. I had no idea that such a bird existed, and have been obsessed ever since. We were able to stand in a room with him – just 2 feet away, and then he flew around the room over our heads, between our shoulders. His wings even brushed me as he flew by. You have to go there and meet him!!!!

  • He looks like a Totoro owl!

  • Looks like a brioche pattern to me…Stephen West would have that sorted in a heartbeat. Top-down, and Atlas comes in the colors. Collaboration, possibly?

  • Kay, you are precious!
    I am in love with Flaco too!
    So much. 😉 he makes me happy,!
    The sweater sounds very cool…
    What i would like to do is make him a giant forest like nest that he can sleep in when the snow starts to come. I know he might not really like it, but maybe he would!
    I was a volunteer at a pond in Syracuse for many years helping and feeding geese! And many kinds of ducks..
    I want to make this nest for him!
    I wish someone could make him a big bird house that he could call his home through the winter..
    My love for him is immeasurable….i would give anything to have him sit on my house in some way.
    I love the way you wrote about him.my thoughts are with you as well.
    Happy Christmas. He is a gift 😉 loveto you Jill..

  • Please identify the beautiful orchestral background music. Almost as enjoyable as watching Flaco.

  • Flaco is the feel-good story of the year! So happy he’s doing so well on his own, exploring the city. Now I need a Solbein too – it’s perfect.

  • I’d never heard of this owl. Now iMll be watching!

  • What a beautifully serene video and beautiful bird. I must save this post for when I need to lower my BP and heart rate. I LOVE the sweater idea (and would need to add some of the warm cinnamon and oatmeal colors. However, we NEED socks to go with!

  • Wonderful Flaco story , completely enjoyed it
    TY
    Janet W

  • Okay! I bought the solbein pattern! I had been looking at it for days! Now I know it popped up in my ravelry feed because of your article.

    Two hats and 1 mitten away from end of Christmas knitting. My Aileas cardigan is midway thru first sleeve!

    But this will probably jump into line soon!

    Thanks for the story

  • Oh, Kay!! Wonderful! Everything about your note and the video is wonderful! I once had a peaceful, chance encounter with a large male coyote while I was hiking alone on a secluded trail in an Indiana park. My local yarn shop had a boucle-ish ribbon yarn with a colorway named
    “Coyote”! I bought it and made a lovely shawl.
    I totally get your need to knit in response to your found feathered friend! Please let us know how you enjoy the continued saga of Flaco! Blessings to you this Christmas!

  • Why is he called Flaco? He looks pretty Gordo to me.

    • Many of us start out as skinny kids…

  • Huge thank you for sharing Flaco with us. He’s beautiful!! Such a joy to see wildlife living and thriving among us. We’re in a SoCal suburb with a pond and lots of trees in the yard, so we’re blessed with the occasional falcon or red-tailed hawk. Isn’t it joyous??

  • I love hearing about the sitings of Flaco. I hope he stays safe, happy and healthy. I hope someday I am lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him. Be safe, Flaco. We love you.

  • xyandanxvurulmus.dpELJI5OLiw9

  • xbunedirloooo.pRS1MqAj1vNK

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