Spring spruce-up came early for Pale Male and Lola, the red-tailed hawk pair nesting on the façade of 927 Fifth Avenue. On January 29th, scaffold workers, directed by New York City Audubon, made adjustments to the nest cradle mounted atop a 12th floor cornice of the building. Although the work done required only a few hours, it could be critical to the birds’ ability to produce chicks this spring and in the years to come.
The beloved red-tailed hawk pair, have had no success breeding chicks since re-establishing their nest on the cradle in spring 2005. Prior to that date Pale Male and his mate produced chicks each year from 1995 through 2004 – a total of 26 hatchlings, of which 19 survived to fledge – making Pale Male one of the most successful red-tailed hawks ever documented. Concerned by the correlation of lack of propagation and construction of the cradle, NYC Audubon enlisted four red-tailed hawk experts around the country to study the situation and present conclusions.
At the panel’s request, NYC Audubon arranged for two wildlife photographers, Jeff Kollbrunner and Donegal Browne, to take photos of the interior of the nest from the building’s roof. Those Jan. 4 pictures showed that stainless steel pigeon spikes extend above the nest material, posing a serious threat to successful embryo development during the 5-6 week egg incubation period. Birds must roll their eggs so that fluids within the egg are gently distributed and the tissues don’t stick together and form a dense mass. The erect spikes appear to impede this critical step and also to interfere with the hen’s ability to make proper contact of the eggs to her brood patch, keeping the eggs consistently warm. An observer reported that the hen’s brood patch appeared to be rubbed raw this past nesting season.
Braced with that evidence and the panel’s recommendation to remove the spikes beneath the nest bowl, NYC Audubon worked with various city authorities and the building’s coop board to obtain permission to remove the spikes from the nest cradle. NYC Audubon is especially grateful to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who helped obtain needed permits, and to board member Sandy Fiebelkorn, who worked tirelessly for months to coordinate the whole process. The task was time-critical; early February marks the start of copulation.
There is no guarantee that this improvement of the birds’ habitat will mean chicks in mid-April, as the recent lack of reproductive success may have other causes. However, as one NYC Parks & Recreation official said, “I’m hawkish about what we’re doing.”