Friday, June 22, 2007

The grounded fledgling affair

Little Miss Fledgling on Midsummer's Day - June 21, 2007

Junior and Charlotte keeping watch -June 21, 2007
Dear Readers,

I don't often go out on a limb and take positions in the various struggles and disputes that go on in the hawkwatching world. Of course I'm not talking about clearcut issues like the taking down of Pale Male & Lola's nest in December 2004. I was out there loudly protesting in my red bird suit, if you recall, along with everybody else.

In the recent episode involving Junior and Charlotte's fledgling who ran into trouble on his first day out of the nest, finally landing on a busy street near the Zigfield Theater on West 55th St., , there was a lot of acrimonious squabbling about this and that:

1.Should the young bird have been just put back in the park?
2. Was it right to take the bird to a rehab facility to check it out?
3. Was a good rehabber chosen for the task?
4. Did the rehabber do the right things once the bird was in his care?
5. Did the rehabber return the bird to Central Park in a timely fashion?

I stayed out of the frey for quite a while, accepting that the course of action taken was sensible and reasonable. My answers, as posted on this page, were No to #1, Yes, to #2 and 3. Then I went out on a limb.

For question #4 I was critical of a photo published in the Daily News, of Bobby Horvath holding the young hawk in his hand. It seemed unnecessary handling by a human. Most experts warn against habituating temporarily captive birds to humans. I really didn't have enough evidence for my criticism there, and I shouldn't have commented on this.

As for question #5:

I definitely went out on a limb with my answer to that question. No, I wrote, the rehabber should have returned the bird much sooner, as soon as it was clear that the fledgling was uninjured. I've received several letters defending Bobby Horvath's decision to keep the bird for a longer period. For instance:


Thanks for a wonderful web site. One of the points that was made for keeping the fledgling for an interminably long time was to get the bird mature enough to be more capable of flying, and this is a legitimate reason to keep the fledgling in a person's care. Maybe this was correct after all.

Long live the hawks!

Richard Weinberg

Good point. I probably shouldn't have rushed to conclusions so quickly.

STILL...I can't help wondering about the big Press Conference that was held in the park on Tuesday to celebrate the bird's release. The Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe, was there. The Urban Park Rangers were there. The press with their photographers and reporters were there. A number of hawkwatchers had been invited to attend. The question nagging at me is this: Doesn't it take at least several days to organize an event like this?, to write the press release, send it out, clear the Commissioner's schedule, etc. etc. It seems to me at least possible that the bird's return to the park was delayed by a few days in order to accomodate the park's desire for good publicity and photo ops.

Since everything had a happy ending you might say "So what? The Parks Department and the Rangers deserve some good publicity. A great park! etc. etc." But nobody could have been sure, earlier this week, that there would be a happy ending. Many of us worried that after a week the parents might not take care of a fledgling, and no one seems to have evidence that this is never so.I haven't heard of any precedents to this incident.

Bobby Horvath, the rehabilitator, probably did not have a choice about this. He needed permission from the park to release the bird there. He probably had to accept a delay of a few days. And so I apologize to Bobby Horvath. I shouldn't have suggested that the delay was his responsibility. Basing my opinion on the present situation in the park where parents and fledgling are getting along perfectly, I'd say that everything Horvath did was well done.

Somehow I don't think I'm going to have to apologize to the Parks Department...