Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thoughts about the Fifth Ave. nest and a PS

[Written late Wednesday night]

As Pale Male and Lola continue their faithful vigil high above Fifth Avenue, their admirers in the world below are beginning to accept the reality of another season without eggs hatching. For those whose reality requires confirmation by the NY Times, that article by Tom Lueck [the NY Times special Pale Male reporter] is imminent, perhaps as soon as today. A note came recently from Mai Stewart that puts everything into a lovely perspective:

I was so eager and hopeful, along with everyone else, for babies this year, but now I find I have another surprising feeling -- one of great gratitude for even having had the opportunity to see what we've seen of PM/Lola and of everything they give us -- their great beauty, their great spirit, their great adaptability, the amazing way they've taken to NYC, and, of course, the joy of eyasses past.

I'm not a scientist so I don't know what the odds are for next year, but I know I'll keep hoping and looking forward each year, until something occurs definitively to rule out the possibility of PM/Lola having more offspring.

Meanwhile, chicks are popping out at other NYC nests.

There are THREE chicks at the new nest in Riverside Park [at 79th Street.]

There are an unknown number of chicks in Rosie and Hawkeye's nest at Fordham University. The parents are feeding, but the nest is too deep to see chicks' heads yet .

And more coming.

To get further details and up-to-the-minute hawk news, check out Bruce Yolton's blog - HTTP://

PS I'm leaving in a few hours for a brief trip to the Czech Republic. I'll be back next Tuesday.

PPS It's Thursday morning now and here's the NY Times Article, just as it was delivered to my doorstep minutes ago:

Reprise: The Fifth Avenue Ballad of Pale Male and Lola

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Pale Male and Lola were at home in their Fifth Avenue aerie on Wednesday, but there will be no little ones in their nest this year.

Published: May 1, 2008

April is the cruelest month.

Or so it was, again, for Pale Male and Lola, the renowned red-tailed hawks of Central Park. For the fourth year, the pair spent part of March and all of April tending eggs that Lola laid in a 12th-floor nest on the facade of an opulent Fifth Avenue co-op that fronts the park.

And for the fourth time, for reasons that have mystified raptor biologists and ardent Central Park hawk watchers, the eggs failed to hatch, New York City Audubon reported on Wednesday. With the arrival of May, the eggs’ incubation period has clearly passed.

“I don’t want to talk about disappointment,” said Glenn Phillips, the executive director of New York City Audubon. Instead, he said, he preferred to celebrate the life and times of Pale Male, who is believed to have first arrived in Central Park in 1991 and who has come to symbolize the resiliency of wildlife adapting to urban environments.

“He reminds us of the value of wildlife in New York City,” Mr. Phillips said.

Pale Male built his first nest in 1993 at its current location — atop a 12th-floor ledge at 927 Fifth Avenue, at 74th Street — and has adapted to his urban environment with remarkable ease. From 1995 to 2004, feeding on the park’s pigeons and rats, he attracted a succession of mates and sired 23 youngsters, according to Marie Winn, the author of “Red Tails in Love,” a 1998 book that chronicled the lives of red-tailed hawks in Manhattan.

Since then, with Pale Male’s progeny producing offspring of their own, and with other red tails migrating to the city from overcrowded rural territories, what New Yorkers once considered an exotic avian species has become a common sight. In a study commissioned last year by Audubon, pairs of red tails were spotted breeding in nests at 32 locations throughout the city, and hawk watchers say they have spotted hundreds of unattached red tails across the five boroughs.

But Pale Male and Lola have failed to reproduce since 2004. That was when the residents of the co-op that Pale Male had selected for his nest had it removed. The response was an outcry. Mary Tyler Moore, then a resident of the building, railed publicly against the co-op board, and protests stopped traffic along Fifth Avenue.

The co-op relented, and commissioned a steel cradle for the hawks, which was installed on the same 12th-floor ledge so they could rebuild the nest. By the time Lola was ready to lay eggs in March 2005, the nest had been restored, but the eggs she laid that year did not hatch. Nor did they hatch in 2006, 2007 and this year.

Increasingly, suspicion came to center on the steel cradle, which some experts believed was interfering with Lola’s attempts to hatch her eggs. In January, Audubon and city parks officials, with the approval of the co-op, dispatched workers to remove 92 spikes that protruded through the nest, helping to hold it in place. The spikes may have prevented Lola from rolling her eggs over, a critical part of incubation.

Apparently, if the spikes were a problem, they were not the only one. “We knew from the beginning that modifications to the cradle would address only one of several possible issues,” Mr. Phillips said. “It was the only one we could deal with.”

Now some of the city’s hawk watchers are wondering whether Pale Male, who is believed to be 18 years old, is simply too old to produce offspring. Ms. Winn said some red-tailed hawks have been known to live for more than 30 years, but whether Pale Male has outlived his ability to fertilize eggs is unknown.

“It would be quite a coincidence if he became infertile at precisely the same time that his nest was interfered with,” she said. Besides, Pale Male showed little sign of slowing down during the breeding season in February and March, she said, when he could be seen copulating with Lola up to five times a day.

And if the problem is not Pale Male’s virility, but something about the nest, will they fly away?

“That would be an intellectual decision higher vertebrates might make, but not these hawks,” said John Blakeman, a biologist in Ohio who has been following Pale Male’s behavior for years. “Were I a betting raptor biologist, I would say 100 percent that this pair will be back next year.”

Adrian Benepe, the city parks commissioner, said on Wednesday that the hawks’ failure to reproduce had done little to detract from their public appeal.

“The courtship and drama of the failed reproduction have attracted human attention normally devoted to royalty and movie stars,” Mr. Benepe said. “The story of Pale Male and Lola will continue to convert urbane New Yorkers into nature lovers.”

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hatches happening elsewhere

Photo by Robert B Schmunk
who sends in an update on local nesting redtails:


You have probably noted postings on Lincoln Karim and Bruce Yolton's websites the past few days about red-tail hatches in Manhattan, but here's a summary:

Houston St. - Just hatched. Lincoln has posted pix showing one nestling and apparently a couple more eggs not yet hatched.

Riverside Park - May have hatched as early as Tue or Wed. I'm not sure that anyone has gotten pix of a nestling yet, although feedings have been observed. But Donna Browne has reported that a nearby resident took a telescope up to a rooftop Friday and was able to distinguish two babies.

Highbridge Park - Bruce reported on Thursday that the parents were standing on the edge of the nest and behaving like they had a new nestling within. I visited there today and caught a feeding at 4:00. Unfortunately, a paper or plastic bag woven into the edge of the nest blocked my view, but as the feeding went on for almost 15 minutes, I am inclined to say there is more than one nestling.

Inwood Hill Park - Both Bruce and I observed the female sitting very high in the nest today, but I lucked out in that at 5:30, a nestling sat up and stretched its neck to look back at mama. See attached pic (which came out rather fuzzy as I juggled binoculars and camera). Even at 300 feet, its little beak is visible. Given that this nestling was able to poke its head up as high as it did, I believe that it's a week old andso Inwood claims the first Manhattan hatch this year.

Elsewhere, the Cathedral nest is now moving into its hatch window.I don't know the status at CCNY or Seventh Ave.