Friday, April 21, 2006

We scoop the New York Times

From this morning's New York Times. They got it right, as far as they went. What they didn't know, and you did [see previous post]: There was already at least one chick in Junior and Charlotte's nest when the Times photographer clicked his camera yesterday.

April 21, 2006

Four Hawks, Two Nests, One Empty

First, the bad news.

For the second year, Pale Male and Lola, the now famous red-tailed hawks of Central Park, have failed to reproduce.

That is the anguished conclusion reached yesterday by the New York City chapter of the Audubon Society. Too much time had passed, the society said, since Lola laid eggs early in March in the hawks' 12th-floor nest on the facade of one of the city's most opulent co-ops, at 927 Fifth Avenue, and the eggs are no longer considered viable.

But there is better news not far away on Central Park South.

There, on a 35th-floor perch at Trump Parc, an equally resplendent condominium building at Avenue of the Americas, two younger red-tailed hawks are tending to eggs that are expected to survive and could hatch at any moment.

They are known as Charlotte and Junior, a male that bird experts believe to be Pale Male's offspring. Their struggle to survive and reproduce on an unprotected skyscraper ledge high above Central Park has astonished the city's many ardent hawk watchers.

"Everything is going just swimmingly for those birds," said Marie Winn, the author of "Red-Tails in Love," an account of Pale Male's survival over Central Park since he arrived in 1991. "They have provided a safety net now that things are going badly on Fifth Avenue."

The man behind Trump Parc said the young raptors have good taste.

"They know a lot about location," said Donald Trump, who converted the former Barbizon Plaza Hotel, a 38-story art deco tower, into Trump Parc. Junior and Charlotte's nest is on a decorative ledge near the top of the building with a sweeping view of the park.

"This could only happen to me," said Mr. Trump, adding that he had no intention of interfering with the nest. "I am honored by their choice of my building."

Although much remains unclear about how the two pairs of hawks have selected and adapted to their big city roosts, bird experts say they have moved in for good.

"This is a wild rural species of raptors that have simply colonized Central Park," said John A. Blakeman, a raptor biologist from Ohio who has closely tracked the hawks' behavior.

Junior, also known as Pale Male Jr., bears similarities to the elder Pale Male so striking that his lineage can easily be assumed. Pale Male is known to have sired 26 hawks from the Fifth Avenue nest, and 23 of them survived to fly off on their own.

But Junior is the first to bear offspring from such an elevated and dangerous perch over Central Park. He and Charlotte did so last year in an ordeal that tested the nerves of hawk watchers, if not the hawks themselves.

It happened as the glare of publicity was trained on 927 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 74th Street, where the nest built by Pale Male and Lola was removed by the co-op board, provoking a groundswell of protest in December 2004, and where the same nest was restored in a protective steel cradle put there by the co-op.

Lola laid eggs in March of last year in the newly restored nest, but those eggs failed to hatch.

About the same time, Charlotte laid two of her own in a flimsy nest on the Trump Parc ledge that she and Junior had pieced together using sticks from Central Park. But at 35 stories above the street, they were buffeted by storms and high winds, the eggs rolled off the ledge, and the nest was destroyed.

Then, Ms. Winn recalled, "It seemed crazy, but Junior just kept building." In short order, a new nest was in place on the same ledge, and Charlotte laid two more eggs. In early June, those eggs produced Big, a female, and Little, her brother, both of which survived. (Young female red-tails are normally heftier than males.)

Although no one can guarantee that the two eggs in the Trump Parc nest will hatch this year, Mr. Blakeman said their prospects are excellent. Junior and Charlotte have fortified their nest against the wind, he said, and hawks that reproduce one year do so the next.

"I fully expect it to be a successful year," Mr. Blakeman said.