2004-12-16 / This Week's Attitude

Cuckoos Come To Senses Over Hawks’ Nest

This Week

This Week’s AttitudeBy Neil S. Friedman

This one’s strictly for the birds. Actually, one particular feathered inhabitant that has received lots of attention, especially after it, its mate and fledglings were evicted last week from their lofty nest atop a swanky Fifth Avenue building, overlooking Central Park at East 74th Street.

And just as the celebrated swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, California, every spring, New York’s renowned red-tail hawks are about to enjoy a holiday homecoming at the 12-story Manhattan residence where the red-tail male has nested for more than a decade.

Within a week after Pale Male, his mate Lola, and three fledglings were driven out from the 12-story aerie above the swanky posh high-rise apartment building when their nest was destroyed, resulting in a dispute between nature lovers and the building’s co-op board, a meeting was held that may have resolved the dilemma allowing the celebrity birds of prey to return. The Monday get-together among building management, co-op board members and representatives from the National Audubon Society, resulted in a tentative agreement, pending an engineer’s report, to reclaim the space the birds were forced to vacate after their nest was dismantled.

Bird-watchers maintain that nearly two dozen red tails have been raised in the nest since 1993, sired by Pale Male and four mates.

In a what can only be called a fowl twist, Pale Male was initially capable of setting up a fixed aerie behind a metal barrier erected to ward off pigeons from roosting on the corner ledge where the hawk took up occupancy.

The co-op board claimed the raptors’ 6’x8’ nest violated city regulations and posed a safety hazard by possibly weakening the façade when the hawks would shove twigs for the nest between the building’s bricks. The board also said half-eaten remains from the hawks’ meals often wound up on the sidewalks below.

The only peril these hawks create is for the city’s teeming pigeon and rodent populations that regularly end up as the carnivorous raptors’ main courses.

Pale Male gained widespread interest six years ago when a book and subsequent public television documentary that detailed its uncommon urban tale.

Red-tail hawks are the most common raptor in the U.S., according to the Audubon Society’s web site, and can be found throughout North America, but are not typically found nesting in urban centers. Bird watchers believe that during their winter migration New York City serves as a temporary home to hundreds of hawks, but only a small number make the city their permanent home.

The federal Migratory Species Treaty protects the red-tail hawk species, but only up to a point. The accord does not forbid removal of inactive nests, such as the one on the Fifth Avenue co-op ledge.

The hawks’ predicament is particularly personally fascinating because I’m reading an absorbing book about another majestic bird of prey — the peregrine falcon, which is currently an endangered species.

If you have the slightest concern for nature, living creatures, our planet’s future or just enjoy a compelling book or nature documentary, I recommend Alan Tennant’s recently published, “On The Wing: To The Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon.” In the 300-page book, the award-winning author and avid observer of wildlife and nature recounts his effort to track the transcontinental migration of the peregrine falcon, a complex task that no one had ever before attempted.

Perhaps if the nature observer were aware of the plight of New York City’s celebrity hawks, he’d join the continuing protest to allow the hawks to return to the building’s ledge.

Bird lovers and angry co-op residents, including at times actress Mary Tyler Moore, held candlelight vigils for the birds after the nest was destroyed. Last week local tabloids reported that the Pale Male and Lola had set up a new nest across town atop the Carlyle Hotel with three fledglings hatched last summer, but reportedly continued to fly over the tony Fifth Avenue building, eyeing the old nesting spot.

A few bird-brained residents of the pricey co-op, where some apartments are reportedly valued at $10 million, who supported the birds’ eviction, claimed a few professed bird-watchers, who flock to the location, are nothing more than peeping toms attempting to peer into their windows with huge, close-up camera lenses and not in the least concerned about the hawks.

Others involved in the hawks’ dilemma since it became news, range from the city Parks Department to officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and, naturally, the local and national chapters of the Audubon Society.

Now that a solution appears to have been worked out, Pale Male and his feathered family will certainly use their innate perseverance and instinct to return to their preferred home and settle in — and perhaps, like the opening line of “New York, New York,” start spreading their wings.

In a city that prides itself on coping with countless trivial inconveniences, it’s a damn shame the hawks were dislodged in the first place. The last thing New York needs is more homeless inhabitants — with or without wings — especially during this festive time of year.

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