Monday, April 21, 2008

Red-Tails in Love

In 1998, Marie Winn wrote a wonderful book. It tells a story unfolding over six years in New York's Central Park where she spent time with a faithful band of birdwatchers and nature lovers.  An amazing event occurred early in the book.  A Red-Tail Hawk, named "Pale Male" for his unusual light coloring, appeared, courted and won the heart of a female, named "First Love".  Amazingly these two attempted to build a nest and reproduce in the heart of New York City.  After an initial failure, in the second year they settled in on a posh building at 74th St. and 5th Avenue, building a nest on the 14th floor where some pidgeon- repelling spikes actually held the contents of the nest together. This was unprecedented and a hearty dedicated group of devoted birdwatchers grew, braved cold, sleet, pre-dawn hours to monitor the progress of these lovebirds.  We follow Pale Male's courtship and reproduction with several partners, sharing the loss of First Love and Chocolate, her successor, but also the successful birthing and fledging of two sets of chicks. We learn of Mary Tyler Moore's interest as a resident of the building and Woody Allen's apartment nearby, which becomes a favorite stopping place for the hawks. We become acquainted with a wonderful, somewhat eccentric, lovable group of people who champion their success when the nest is threatened by cleaning crews, pesticide poisoned rats, traffic accidents. We learn  of banding programs for injured birds, of laws protecting wildlife in the park, and of the winter and spring migrations of a remarkable range of birds in this crowded urban area. My husband had the book with him when we met the author under the nest on 5th Avenue in 2000. We stop by on our New York trips, to sit on the benches where people look through spotting scopes, binoculars and view film coverage as the birds reside elegantly, high above us. It's a pleasure to wander through the Rambles and other wilder areas of the park on a visit. The next time you're in New York, en route to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  you may want to stop by and salute Pale Male and his current partner, along with the hearty band of his supporters, known as the Regulars.

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