Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Hawks of Central Park West

For the last week, my favorite news story has been a people story about birds or a bird story about people, a "human interest story" about hawks.

Once in a while, a particular wild or semi-wild animal captures the hearts and awe of the American people, though Americans do usually seem to like their wildlife animated a la Disney as opposed to the really wild thing. Usually, these notorious animals get their fifteen minutes of fame by being caught, symbolically, in the crunch between wild nature and man-made world, between artifice and wildness.

In 1993, a red-tailed hawk built a prominent nest on the ledge of an elaborate co-op at 927 Fifth Avenue. He lives there still. His nest was removed that first winter, but it was a good spot with plenty around to eat, so he came back and rebuilt it the next year, and he has made some home improvements every year since. His name is Pale Male. He is the most famous hawk - and perhaps now the most famous bird - in the nation if not the world.

Pale Male is a closely watched bird. He has Lola, his current mate, his admirers, his fan club and his own website. Some who watch with binoculars and persistent zeal are avid birders, Audubon Society types, who keep track of his every move, familial and otherwise. He and his changing family hunt for pigeons and rats, and it seems along the sidewalks, sewers and rooftops of Manhattan, there are plenty of those to go around - an abundance, really, a veritable feast for hawks.

Pale Male's nest grew to eight feet by three feet and with various mates he has fathered 23 young hawks in this amazing spot. He has been the subject of an eloquent book, "Red-Tails in Love," and the star of a subsequent PBS documentary, which is being shown quite often in New York these days.

Last week, citing health concerns and the mess birds (and especially birds of prey) make, the board at 927 had the nest removed, but that was just the beginning of this latest and most notorious of chapters for the most famous bird in the world.

You see, some real headliners live at 927, including Mary Tyler Moore. And Mary Tyler Moore is one of Pale Male's most ardent and heartfelt fans. She joined the public outcry almost immediately - and stood with loud protestors during the day and a candlelight vigil at night, hoping to have the hawks' home restored, a fixture as it was of her own home. She wants "peace" for the birds. She even went down to the police station to the aid of a protestor (who runs palemale.com) after he made a threatening remark to the seven year old son of CNN newscaster Paula Zahn.

Paula Zahn also lives at 927, and she once proudly mentioned the hawks at 927 on a CNN broadcast, but this week she has kept mumm about the latest controversy surrounding these seemingly out of place birds. Her husband is chairman of the small co-op board members and himself pushed for the nest's removal.

Today, a week after Pale Male's nest was hauled off in garbage bags, the co-op board relented to public pressure and the shame of national news cameras parked outside across the street, watching the displaced birds circle high over Central Park, wondering what and where to call home. Today, the board agreed to restore the birds' nesting place and even secure it better than before - so that it wouldn't blow off the ledge and so the birds could keep things a bit tidier for the unsuspecting pedestrians down below.

But from now on, more of those pedestrians down below will be in the know, now that Pale Male and his clan, if they choose to rebuild and roost there again, will again be amongst the luckiest and certainly the most watched birds in the world.


At 12/15/2004 7:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo!!! I'm a fan of Pale Male!
Got your e-mails from last night, but mine are being bumped from your e-mail. RQ


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