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Birders Screech at Central Park Conservancy on Owl-icide

5:02 PM EDT on August 9, 2021

Barry the barred owl in Central Park. Photo: Via Twitter

It's still a hoo-dunit.

Some birders aren't accepting the account of the Central Park Conservancy about the death of Barry the barred owl, the avian celebrity killed in the park early Friday morning by the driver of a maintenance vehicle.

How Streetsblog covered the story.
How Streetsblog covered the story.

"The Conservancy is trying to do 'damage control' here," said Robert DeCandido, aka Birding Bob NYC, who conducts birding walks in Central Park and brought many fans to see Barry.

DeCandido disputed a Conservancy statement that said that Barry, a bird so beloved that he (she?) was the subject of a New York Times profile, had flown into the truck while in "search of a meal."

"Their vehicle hit the owl," he said. He also pronounced the claim of the Conservancy that the truck was traveling at a low speed "dubious," because owls' superior night vision would enable them to avoid a slow-moving vehicle in most circumstances.

On Friday, the Conservancy, a not-for-profit that has performed park maintenance for 40 years under contract with the Parks Department, told Streetsblog that the driver of a pick-up truck was doing "routine" park maintenance and “traveling slowly (about 15 mph) using lights and flashers on the West Drive (in low 60s)" at about 2:30 Friday morning when the collision occurred. On Monday, under questioning from Streetsblog, the Conservancy added that the truck driver "self-reported" the truck's hard-to-believe low speed, and that the workers realized that it had hit the bird when it "felt the impact," at which point they "stopped the vehicle immediately."

"The Conservancy has safety rules in place to reduce the risk of accidents in the Park," the spokeswoman added. "They are rare, but when an incident occurs, there are protocols that must be followed, including reporting the incident to a supervisor, which the crew did in this case. The supervisor then informed NYC Parks Rangers. Park Rangers then take the deceased animal."

The new information came after the Conservancy's initial tweet on Friday about the killing of Barry blamed the victim for his own death, a common practice of authorities in vehicular crashes.

A Parks spokeswoman said that the department is in possession of the carcass, which, per "standard practice" will be sent to the State Department of Environmental Conservation for "necropsy this week."

Barry was set to be memorialized on Monday evening at a vigil near the site of his (her?) untimely death. The Conservancy helped to promote the event via Twitter)

Others rose to defend the Conservancy and praise its stewardship of the park. Former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe tweeted that the Conservancy "has spent four decades and more than $500M making Central Park safer, more beautiful & more environmentally sustainable. They restored the Ramble & North Woods specifically to be excellent bird habitat. They have made life better for millions of people AND birds."

Cars supposedly were banned from the roads in Central Park in 2018, but a variety of maintenance vehicles and the private cars of cops who work at the park precinct are seen there. Oversized vehicles, including pick-up trucks, have contributed to rising numbers of pedestrian deaths in the city and nationwide in the last decade.

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