Weekend Reading
February 25, 2024

For the past year, New York City residents, and especially residents of uptown Manhattan, have been captivated by sightings of Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl who was at one point held in the Central Park Zoo.

In February of 2023, Flaco’s mesh enclosure was slashed, and he escaped into the urban wild.

New Yorkers began immediately to spot Flaco, who was known for his bright orange eyes, around town.

For nearly twelve months, Flaco found apartment building courtyards to sleep in by day.

At night, he hunted for pray—rats, mostly—and was often spotted soaring around buildings uptown and downtown, finding perches for himself along the way.

The New York Times published a recent account of his activities. His story captivated a city, yet bird experts feared for the many things that could happen to him in an urban landscape.

Ingestion of rat poison and collision with city architecture were the biggest risks.

On Friday, Flaco collided with a building and fell to the ground. The Wild Bird Fund responded quickly, but he was pronounced dead that night.

Since then, people all over the city have been mourning Flaco’s passing.

I’m one of them. I never saw him, although he was often spotted and ultimately died not far from where I used to live. When I found out about the collision yesterday, I burst into tears.

Much of what was written about Flaco emphasized the wondrous parts of his story, but that story is also full of tragedy.

There’s the central tragedy of Flaco’s initial captivity and removal from his native habitat. It’s also a tragedy that he was released into an environment that was not safe for him, and then died in a violent way.

Many people were inspired by Flaco and his year in the concrete jungle. I can’t blame them; at times it seemed as though his movements were a series of adventures.

Yet I know that Flaco was simply trying—and possibly really struggling—to survive.

I also know how problematic it is to impose heroic symbolism onto a living being who was the victim of unjust circumstances.

Years ago, before Covid struck, I passed by a baby bird that had fallen out of a nest one late afternoon in my old neighborhood.

The building on the street corner where I spotted the bird was under construction, which had disrupted nearby trees, bushes, and architecture.

The bird seemed to be little older than a fledgling, with tiny feathers and wide, open eyes, but it was clearly too young to fly. It hopped around on the sidewalk corner, a little erratically but without straying too much from one place.

There was no one else around, and I was terrified that someone might accidentally tread on the bird.

Worse still, I feared that it would hop too far in the wrong direction and find itself in the middle of the street, rather than on the sidewalk.

Instinctively I knew that I shouldn’t try to touch the bird, but I had no idea what to do. I got on my phone, and through a local government website I found a list of local bird rehabilitators whom I could call.

I left some voicemails and waited for my phone to ring. I thought about trying to get materials or chalk to create a sign on the sidewalk, alerting pedestrians to look out for a tiny bird near their feet.

When one of the specialists got back to me, she asked whether I could create some sort of elevated area with leaves and branches that might signal a nesting area to the bird, then gently encourage it in that direction without making any physical contact.

I said that I could, and I began to do this in the most elevated area I could find—the flat, wide, secluded upper landing of a close-by brownstone staircase.

While I was trying to construct something, the baby bird hopped away, ultimately disappearing behind a temporary mesh wall that was part of the scaffolding around the corner.

I went over and tried to peek beneath the material, but I couldn’t see the little bird moving around back there.

I called the rehabilitation specialist back and described what had happened. Was there anything I could do, I asked? Should I wait to see if the bird re-emerged?

The specialist heard me out and told me gently that there probably wasn’t much more that I could do. She said that I should trust that the bird would find its way to an elevated area, be reunited with a mother bird, or find some other way to survive.

I got home in the early evening and wept on my sofa, thinking about how tiny and vulnerable the bird had seemed.

The New York Times spoke with a man yesterday who connected his own experience as an immigrant in New York City to Flaco’s efforts to survive in the past year.

When I read this, I felt deeply for the many New Yorkers who saw their own stories of adversity in Flaco’s year of so-called freedom.

The heartbreak that I feel today and when I saw that baby bird is for all living beings who struggle against harsh circumstances.

We all have moments of feeling helpless, whether our conditions are personal or collective. I’ve had a few of them recently.

These moments are humbling and softening. They’ve heightened my capacity to grieve Flaco and the safer life that he ought to have had.

I’m holding space today for those who feel helpless or lost as they struggle through something big and imposing—a circumstance, a loss, a relationship, a health challenge.

I’m thinking, too, about the non-human animals who find themselves trapped in manmade conditions.

May we all know safety and support.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

1. Who doesn’t need a bowl of vegan SpaghettiOs once in a while?

2. It may be labeled as a holiday recipe, but this wintery saffron and millet salad is something that I’d love to make right away.

3. Mushroom and artichoke piccata over a big bed of pasta is my kind of meal.

4. Soft pretzels are one of my favorite things. Can’t wait to try Melissa’s vegan soft pretzel recipe.

5. These vegan Biscoff brownies look like an irresistable dessert.

Reads

1. Flaco’s story has heightened awareness—my own awareness included—about bird collisions, which kill billions of birds each year. CNN reports on some of the ways in which architects are trying to create solutions.

2. Loma Linda University’s Children’s Hospital has found a way to make hospital visits less stressful for kids.

3. A major NIH study may give us clues for understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

4. Writer Heidi Lasher reflects on “shifting baselines”—the change in cultural and collective memory that comes with generational change and memory loss. I found this to be a mournful essay, especially in its treatment of climate change, yet also lyrical and important.

5. A reminder that I always need, and maybe you need, too.

Today’s glimmers are a very sunny sky, dinner with my mom, and a tasty bowl recipe to tell you about in the coming week.

Wishing you a restful afternoon.

xo

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    2 Comments
  1. Hi Gena,
    I enjoy reading your blog and making some of your recipes.
    I just heard something that might be of interest to you.
    On NPR, on the podcast “On Point”, today (March 1,2024). the program was called “food,we need to talk”.
    It was about body image and relationship with food.

  2. Your experience with the baby bird reminds me of an experience I had recently when I found a distressed pigeon near my apartment building. I did what I could to help the bird, but it never feels like enough. As an ethical vegan I don’t just want to avoid exploitation of animals, I want to protect them and most of the time I cannot, and that haunts me.

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