Barry the Owl Brought Us Together. What Will We Do Without Her?

Birdwatchers observing Barry from a safe distance near Azalea Pond in the Ramble.Credit…David Lei

She was a charismatic creature, as sassy and confident and constant as Harry Potter’s beloved Hedwig. As wise and playful a teacher as Merlin’s Archimedes. And in real life, an owl unusually accommodating of the many humans who gathered in Central Park every day to watch her snooze in her favorite hemlock tree or fly out through the Ramble on her nightly hunting rounds.

“We used to joke,” David Lei, a photographer, recalled, “that if there were a scientific formula for cuteness, Barry was it: fluffy and round, with those huge, expressive eyes. And I think she was very unusual — especially for a solitary bird — to be so generous with us, to let us observe her so closely every night.”

Barry the Barred Owl alighted in Central Park last October, and startlingly, remained here through the winter and spring and summer. Her arrival during the pandemic brought joy to many New Yorkers who had been hunkered down in their apartments, worried about Covid and their jobs and a crucial presidential election. She got people away from their Zoom meetings and TV screens, and out into the light and air of the park. She transformed folks who couldn’t tell a finch from a sparrow into ardent birders, spurred people who hadn’t picked up a camera since the days of dark rooms to take up digital photography, and turned children and grown-ups alike into students of all things owl, devouring books and videos about owl behavior, owl history and owl legends.

She brought strangers together in a community based on a shared love for this magical creature who’d made Central Park her unlikely home.

It’s a measure of just how many people Barry touched that her death last week in a collision with a Central Park Conservancy maintenance vehicle resulted in an outpouring of sorrow that was expressed around the world. 08-08-21

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