Friday, April 28, 2006

Blakeman says: Let's get real here

I appreciate the warm and laudatory comments you've posted.
But it's time that we all move forward in the observation and explanation of the Central Park red-tails. Yes, the CP hawks have been given -- quite appropriately, I think -- human names. But that's as far as it should go.
Let's get real here. These are birds, not humans. They have emotions, but they aren't ours. Their brains are wired very differently from us. They don't and can't think or emote like we do. Pale Male and Lola are not distressed in any way by their reproductive failure. They do not "know" that they should be feeding two or three little elevated mouths this week. They weep no tears over the loss of their offspring, both because they don't weep as humans do, and because they can't cerebrally contemplate the loss. Now, as always, the hawks are acting and reacting merely in response to the environmental prompts they immediately encounter. Yes, this is somewhat mechanistic, but that's the only way animals without complex cerebral cortices can act. Attributing human traits to these birds, being anthropomorphic, can be fun. But it should be confined to wonderful children's books, not used to explain the hawks' behaviors in the park.
In short, it's not inappropriate to warmly and emotionally identify with our hawks. I've been doing that since I saw my first red-tail on my grandfather's farm at the age of 13. But we must strive to accurately understand and describe what we see. I find that the birds' behaviors are even more engaging when explained by their unique hawk "lifeways," not as merely winged humans. For fun, we can attribute any sort of human emotion or motivation to these birds. But in the end, let's keep everything focused on the real science.
The Central Park red-tails will continue successfully reside in New York City. That's the real story. The how's and why's of it should be the center of CP hawkwatchers' efforts.

John A. Blakeman