New Yorkers get two celebrity owls for Christmas

Owls are lifting spirits in a festive season clouded by the pandemic

Against the gloomy backdrop of rising coronavirus rates and tightening lockdowns, New Yorkers are delighting in the appearance of not one but two owls that are gaining celebrity-like status in the city.
First, a tiny owl is being nursed back to health after being found hungry and dehydrated clinging to the branches of a Christmas tree that was being driven from upstate to stand at Rockefeller Centre.
Naturally, the adult male bird of prey has been named Rockefeller.

Then came Barry, a rare barred owl. He has fast become a star attraction for the city’s birdwatchers, who descend upon Central Park every day for a chance to see the flat-faced bird’s antics.

Owls are nocturnal, but Barry flies around and preens during daylight hours, delighting crowds of nature-lovers and photographers. The New York Times described his behaviour as "practically vogueing".

"NYC is having an owl moment," wrote Lisa Collins, a New Yorker, on Twitter.
Birdwatchers first spotted Barry in October. He has been seen winking, snoozing, swooping into a lake to clean his feathers and going on the hunt for chipmunks and a robin. Rather than being scared off by onlookers, Barry appears to enjoy the attention.

Rockefeller, meanwhile, is being nursed back to health at Ravensbeard Wildlife Centre, two hours north of the city, on a diet of fluids and mice.
The northern saw-whet owl, one of the smallest owl species in North America, was found hiding in the branches of a 23-metre Norway spruce, this year's Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree.

At the weekend, the wildlife centre said Rockefeller was "doing very well". Conservators have been scouting out locations for the owl's release, which could come as soon as Monday evening.
"We all want the best for little Rocky," the centre wrote on Facebook.
In the meantime, Rockefeller and Barry are content to be admired for their cuteness.
But for Ms Collins and others, there could be a serious side to the winged arrivals. Owls are traditionally seen as wise creatures and sightings of them are a "sign that change is afoot", she wrote.

Adrian Benepe, an expert on city parks, noted that sightings of owls and other birds of prey were “omens that portendend major changes”, which could relate to the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.