By Dave Colon
Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl left Central Park for the Lower East Side this week. Is it because he's on a quest to get laid? Is it because he recently developed an affinity for racist reactionary podcasters? It's always hard to say with owls. But Flaco, who transfixed New Yorkers by surviving for nine months after a February jailbreak from the Central Park Zoo, left us one final owl pellet full of joy before he moved: niche internet birder drama.
The first thing to understand in this moment is that the largest Flaco-dedicated fan account on Twitter, @flaco_theowl, is not an account who quote tweets people's photos of the majestic owl with various heart emojis. Instead, it's an account that insists they are the real life Flaco, tweeting up a storm with his claws and maybe beak. Which was all fun and games until days before Flaco (the real owl not the person running the Twitter account) set out for new territory. That's when prolific bird photographer @Above96thStreet called the person running the account a photo thief, accusations backed up by other furious birding fans.
Clout chasing using other people's photos is not cool, both in the world of the extremely online, and also possibly in the world of birding. The Code of Birding Ethics, (thank you Ryan Mandelbaum for the tip) after all, asks you to both "Respect and promote the birding community and its individual members" and respect birds more generally.
Is stapling Wikipedia's standard photo for Flaco, without crediting the photographer, onto a tweet asking to be part of Marianne Williamson's cabinet in exchange for an endorsement respectful to the birder who took the photo?
More to the point, is it respectful to Flaco himself?
Surely even if you've divined that Flaco's politics veer to the crystal-heavy, it's not respectful to New York's favorite zoo escapee to ascribe a tweet of a bar of "One Margarita" at 11 o'clock in the morning to him.
Nor is it respectful to suggest the owl is mad he wasn't given an Ozempic prescription. First of all that's a drug for humans. Second of all, it's been a fact throughout the entire spectacle of worshiping Flaco that we all think he looks great.
The whole thing, from tweets yelling at other Twitter accounts pretending to be Flaco that they're stealing your bit to IP theft defenses of "I'm just an owl hoot hoot" is deeply silly, but also a little concerning since the account has taken a turn towards the weirdly defensive and lashing out.
The account, and this blog post even, are at least a nice throwback to what Twitter used to be. Which was, to be clear, a place to rush to with a valid email address the moment you saw an animal escaped a zoo or swam into the fetid waters of the Gowanus Canal. On the one hand, @flaco_theowl amassed more followers than either Gowanus Canal dolphin novelty account, but not as many as the account pretending to be the cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo in 2011. Maybe though, if they stick with it, and fire off a few more tweets about how George W. Bush should be indicted for 9/11 (doing it? letting it happen? unclear), they'll be worthy of a Reuters profile too.
The old ways are dying though. Twitter is different now, and we use it differently. Yes, previously established novelty accounts are still going. Someone is still tweeting pretending to be the groundhog Bill de Blasio dropped. Incredibly, someone was still plugging away at fucking @ElBloombito last year. But no one created a Twitter account pretending to be the Central Park zoo sea lion who escaped her enclosure during September's torrential rain and flooding. Nor has anyone quickly pulled out their phone to create like @ErdoganAdams, which is, let's say, an account that just recreates all of Eric Adams's most famous quotes but in Turkish.
And so even in violating birder ethics, the owner of the FlacoTheOwl account (a human person who is not an owl) may wind up with a certain lonely distinction like that of Flaco himself (the real life owl), who is the only known Eurasian eagle-owl in New York City: one of the last local "parody" accounts.