Friday, October 21, 2005

Is Pale Male Junior really Pale Male's son?

Everyone called the red-tailed hawk that raised two chicks on the 35th floor of the Trump Parc Hotel last spring Pale Male Junior because of his striking resemblance to the grand sire of Fifth Avenue. But is Junior really a Pale Male offspring?

And what about all the other redtails who have been trying to build nests in recent years all around the periphery of Central Park -- on Mt Sinai Hospital, on various ledges along Central Park West, or in a niche on the Cathedral of St. John the Divine? Are they all part of the Pale Male Dynasty?

Quite a few months ago John Blakeman, our resident hawk guru, made an observation about the Trump Parc nestlings that held true for all of Pale Male's nestlings of years past: without exception their chests had a conspicuous orange-brown coloring.

Now I and all the other Central Park hawkwatchers had not failed to make the same observation. Of course their chests were orange in color, But for most of us who had never seen any other redtail nestling besides Pale Male's or Juniors, this just seemed the normal course of events for immature redtails. And then John Blakeman, who had seen a great many young redtails in the course of his long exp[erience with the species, expressed surprise at our local hawk kids' chest color. Apparently this was not at all the usual color for baby Buteo jamaicensis.

That's when I wrote my first letter to Len Soucy, who runs the Raptor Trust in New Jersey and who has long been a friend and advisor of the Central Park nature community. I sent it sometime in July. Last week I came upon the letter in a file and wondered why I'd never heard back from Len. Maybe it had gone astray, I thought. Or maybe I never sent it in the first place. I printed the letter out again, scribbled a note on the top and sent it again.

Obviously I had never sent it, for this time I received an answer right away.

I've just spent a fascinating hour on the phone with Len on the subject of the Pale Male Dynasty, and I now believe we are nearing an answer, or at least the beginnings of an answer to our first question.

Here is the letter I sent Len Soucy:

Dear Len,

I’ve been corresponding [and posting on my website] frequent comments from an Ohio redtail expert named John Blakeman. In the course of a discussion about whether the new redtail family at the south end of Central Park is related to Pale Male, Blakeman wrote:

“Already the birds have the very golden breast color that Pale Male's Fifth Avenue progeny had. As I may have indicated elsewhere, this dark coloration is uncommon, perhaps a direct genetic trait passed on by Pale Male Sr. I haven't seen this color here in Ohio red-tail eyasses, but I see only a few of the 5000 Ohio red-tail nests or eyasses. Ask one of the NY or NJ area rehabbers if they ever see this color morph locally.”

Len, I seem to remember that once when I was visiting the Raptor Trust, I saw a redtail in a cage with a reddish-colored breast. Is this something you often see? Or is it a rare thing?

Warmest regards,


[ I have to catch a train. Please tune in tomorrow for the next part of this story.]