Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pale Male 's bath

Pale Male taking a bath at the Azalea Pond yesterday - April 22, 2008
Photo by Barrie Raik
At about 7:30 a.m. yesterday a group of about twenty-five birdwatchers, led by Steve Quinn of the American Museum of Natural History, had the rare privilege of watching Pale Male take a nice long bath in the Gill, the little stream that runs into the Azalea Pond. For most of us it was the first time we'd seen a red-tailed hawk bathing.

Meanwhile, at the nest on Fifth Avenue, there are no signs of eggs hatching. Many continue to hope that somehow there will still be a good outcome. But there is no doubt that the prognosis for success is poor now. Too many days have passed.

For those of you who are saddened by the nest's likely failure, it might help to remember that the outcome is very different from the human and the hawk perspective. Though it's hard to make pronouncements about the emotional life of birds, all evidence indicates that they lack the human sense of a past and future, and thus are not likely to grieve at the absence of a hatch. We, of course, remember the joys of the past, those happy days when we followed growing chicks in the Fifth Avenue nest, watching them develop from downy white fuzzballs to large, capable fledglings, all within the space of a few months. Now we can see that our future is to be deprived of these pleasures once again.

It's unlikely that Pale Male and Lola will feel regret or sadness that the eggs didn't hatch, at least not in the way we understand those words They'll continue to sit on the eggs for a few weeks longer--maybe as many as three or four -- following their instincts to incubate as long as there are unhatched eggs in the nest. Finally they'll abandon the nest, a behavior no doubt triggered by a normal decrease in hormones. They'll go about their normal lives in Central Park unaware of their loss, just as they are unaware of their fame. They'll never know that people come to Central Park especially to catch sight of them.

I wish you had all seen Pale Male bathing in the Gill yesterday. It was an image that will stay with everyone who saw it. The sight of this big, healthy, beautiful and powerful bird splashing and bobbing almost comically in the water might have put things into a more cheerful perspective. This is a great bird and we've been amazingly lucky to have had our occasional looks into his secret life.

Another photo of Pale Male bathing. taken on 4/22/08 by Barrie Raik