August 18, 2021 Avian and Exotics Misc

How Does an Owl Captivate New York: Barry the Barred Owl

A crowd in Central Park to watch Barry the Barred Owl

How Does an Owl Captivate New York: Barry the Barred Owl

Being a casual birder, I was captivated last winter by the presence of a snowy owl in Central Park. The photo accompanying this blogpost was taken at the north end of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir last February where I was one of hundreds braving the freezing cold and ice, hoping for a glimpse of the visitor. Snowy proved elusive, but another owl, Barry the barred owl, took up residence in Central Park and became a regular part of my birding circuit

Finding Barry the Barred Owl

The first time I saw Barry, it was a chilly Sunday afternoon, but I was on a mission, armed with her Google coordinates posted at Manhattan Bird Alert @BirdCentralPark. We really didn’t need the coordinates because even early in her Central Park tenure, the area surrounding her tree was filled with excited fans exclaiming how adorab-owl she was. Her face was like a cinnamon roll.

Barry’s Home in the Hemlock Tree

Barry’s winter home was a ragged hemlock tree near the Boathouse Restaurant, and daytime visitors were rewarded with a glimpse of her sleeping or, if you were lucky, a feather fluff from this talon-ted owl. Even in a snowstorm, I was not the only one peering into the hemlock tree to see if she was safe. When the weather warmed up, she moved to her summer residence at the Azalea Pond, a hundred yards or so away. Barry was a celebr-owl-ty in Central Park. Her twitter feed @BarryBarredOwl is full of videos of her bathing, flying, hooting and eating rats (yuck). She even appeared on a poster in the park asking us to “Keep My home Bea-Hoot-iful and Clean”.

Farewell to Barry the Barred Owl

Last week I was away from New York City but kept tabs on Barry through her twitter feed. I was shocked to find a tweet from @CentralParkNYC announcing Barry’s passing on August 6th. Even in death, Barry is a phenomon-owl. Now her twitter feed is full of drawings, tribute videos and photos of a vigil held on August 9th in her honor. The photos show the path to her tree a shrine of flowers, chalk drawings and messages in her honor. She even had an obituary in the New York Times.

Why did Barry the Barred Owl mean so much to so many?

The pandemic has strengthened the human-animal bond, elevating animals’ roles in our lives and families. Dog owners in the UK, for example, welcomed the opportunity for outdoor exercise with their dog during lockdown because it was one activity allowed during pandemic restrictions. In Spain, researchers found that pets helped mitigate the difficulties associated with confinement due to the pandemic. And in Australia, dog ownership was associated with less loneliness during the pandemic

But Barry was not a pet. A pet is defined as a domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship or pleasure. Yet, she did all the things pets did during the pandemic. For many of us, a walk in the park to visit Barry became a pandemic ritual. Unlike a pet, we didn’t keep her, rather she kept us and gave us great pleasure. This spring, Central Park was the most bea-hoot-iful I have ever seen it. I think it must have been Barry.

If you are grieving the loss of an animal in your life, the Animal Medical Center offers a Pet Loss Support Group and Pet Loss Resources provided by AMC’s Veterinary Social Worker.

Tags: Barry the Barred Owl, birds, central park, COVID-19, Owls, pandemic, pet loss,

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