Oh No! The Big, Beautiful Owl Got Out!
10:49 AM EST on February 15, 2023
Look at Flaco.
Flaco is very, very beautiful. He is gorgeous.
He is the most beautiful owl in all the land.
Each day, Flaco stands on his stage and poses for many fans:
tall ones and tiny ones
and hairy ones and bald ones,
and snooty ones and nice ones.
“Please,” they beg him, “show us your captivating orange eyes and your big, big wings.”
And Flaco does.
But he is not happy.
Flaco lives in a small neighborhood in the biggest, brightest city.
He lives in a magical place: the Central Park Zoo.
If he flies up to the top of his home, he can see snow leopards
and red pandas
and snow monkeys!
And of course he can always see the birds in the sky
“Whooo are you?” he calls to them.
But they are too busy to reply.
They fly high like planes and swoop like dancers.
Flaco wants to swoop like a dancer.
Every day, he asks the nice zookeeper who brings him breakfast if he can swoop like a dancer.
But the zookeeper says that he cannot.
“Don’t you remember why you are named Flaco?” the zookeeper asks.
Flaco means skinny and Flaco was so so skinny when he first arrived.
“But I was just a baby then!” Flaco says.
And it's true. He was.
“You have never lived out there in the scary big world,” the zookeeper says.
“You don’t know how, and probably, you would be very, very scared. And very very hungry.”
Flaco eats his breakfast and crosses his wings.
He thinks he would be just fine.
But he cannot know for sure.
Every day, Flaco asks, but she will not let him out.
“Everyone loves you here,” she says. And it is true. They do.
One night, at Flaco’s favorite time, he sees someone.
No one is supposed to be near his house at night!
“Whoooo is it?” Flaco calls.
But the night person does not respond.
Flaco can see in the dark, so he is not scared.
And he can see that the person is making a hole in his home!!!!
Flaco swoops down to the new exit.
It feels very nice to swoop.
Flaco sticks his head through the mesh.
He could fit.
He would fit.
Flaco squeezes first his head and his big orange eyes and his little pointy beak
and then his giant wings and his pointy feet through the hole.
He shakes his body to relax.
He knew he could do it.
Flaco flaps his wings and rises high, high above his home.
From up high, he can see how small his home is.
It is nestled in a bunch of trees.
And around those trees are the tallest, shiniest trees Flaco has ever seen.
They shine in the night like stars.
They are so beautiful!
Flaco lets himself fall toward the earth, and feels the wind on his face.
He is swooping!
He swoops for hours like a dancer, free and beautiful.
He swoops down toward the shiny trees and lands on the hardest ground he has ever felt.
There are people everywhere.
He lets them take his photo before he swoops away.
He swoops until he is so sleepy that he falls asleep at the top of a nice tree a few blocks away from his home.
He sleeps almost all day, waking up only to swoop a couple of times, or move to a less sunny tree.
Night is his time to swoop.
Free and beautiful, he swoops from tree to tree.
He passes other beautiful swooping owls, but none are as big or as beautiful as him.
He swoops for hours before he hears his name being called.
“Whooo is it?” Flaco asks.
It is the zookeepers. They want him to come home!
“Aren’t you hungry?” they ask.
And Flaco is hungry. He is really rather hungry.
He hides from the zookeepers in another tall, tall tree, but he is too hungry to fall asleep.
There are so many bumps and creaks and whispers in the night.
“Whooo is it?” Flaco asks.
But no one responds.
For five days, Flaco sleeps. And for five nights, he swoops.
Every day it becomes easier to swoop, to be graceful and beautiful.
He swoops all across Central Park.
The zookeepers follow him everywhere.
He cocks his head for them. But he does not go home.
On the sixth day, when Flaco is so hungry he thinks he might cry,
he spots a delicious rat sitting in the middle of a field.
Flaco swoops down to the rat.
Convenient! Like a plate!
But when Flaco tries to take the rat, he is caught!
The net is a trap!
“WHOOO” Flaco yells.
He shakes his pointy feet and flaps his big, big wings.
He is scared for a minute.
Until he shakes himself free.
But he is still hungry.
Maybe this is a big mistake, Flaco thinks.
Maybe he can’t be free.
Maybe the zookeeper was right.
Flaco sits in his tall tree as the moon rises, and his belly grumbles.
He looks out across the park.
If he were in the zoo, his dinner would be arriving soon.
But here he is lonely, and hungry, and too tired to swoop.
If he can’t swoop because he can’t eat, then what is the point?
What was the point of any of this!
Why be free at all?
Flaco hangs his head. He is sad.
But when he does, he sees something moving over by a trashcan.
It is a rat!
And it is far, far, bigger than any rat he has ever seen.
This is a jumbo rat: a treat, a feast!
Flaco swoops so fast down from his tree.
He snatches the rat from the ground.
He would swoop forever!
Everyone is stunned by his accomplishments.
They travel to the park to find him up in the trees and admire him.
He is a hunter now.
People with cameras take his picture here too.
He is very, very beautiful.
He winks for them.
He spits out the skull of his rat lunch as a little treat.
He is proud of himself.
And everyone else seems to be proud of him too.
One evening he hears his name: “Flaco!!”
He opens one eye.
“Whooo” he says.
It is the zookeeper.
“Flaco!” she says. “We are going to leave you alone for now!”
Flaco opens his other eye.
“I was wrong!” she says.
“You can swoop like a dancer and you can hunt and you are so beautiful.”
Flaco hoots back.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe in you!” the zookeeper says.
“You can always come back to the zoo if you ever get scared or hungry or want to.”
Flaco does not want to go back to the zoo.
But it is nice to know that he could.
Art by Chris Thompson