The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

New York Celebrities Evicted on Fifth Ave., Feathers and All
December 08, 2004

A nest constructed a decade ago by red-tailed hawks 12 stories above Central Park, creating an unlikely wildlife habitat that has delighted bird lovers from around the world, was removed yesterday, apparently by workers for its host co-op apartment building.

City officials and naturalists reacted with anger, even though there appeared to be little legal recourse for the nest's destruction.

Experts said that the fate of a family of uncommonly large and resilient birds, which have reproduced prolifically from the nest, had been thrown into doubt. So was that of the nest's most famous red-tailed resident, Pale Male, who arrived at the building in 1993 and, according to detailed records kept by several bird-watchers, has sired 23 youngsters.

"I am so outraged that they would do this without so much as a by your leave," said Mary Tyler Moore, who has lived for 15 years in the co-op at 927 Fifth Avenue, at 74th Street, where the nest was built in 1993 above a cornice in clear view of Central Park.

"These birds just kept coming back to the edge of the building, and people kept coming back to see them," said Ms. Moore, who recalled at first craning her neck outside one of her windows to look up at the bottom of the nest. In more recent years, she said, she has strolled frequently across Fifth Avenue to Central Park for a better view.

"This was something we like to talk about: a kinder, gentler world, and now it's gone," Ms. Moore said last night.

Exactly why the nest was destroyed was unclear. A man who answered a call to 927 Fifth Avenue's management office last night said no one was available for comment.

But Ms. Moore said other residents of the building had objected to large bird droppings and, occasionally, the carcasses of pigeons - which hawks prey upon - that landed on the sidewalk in front of their lobby. She said her husband had attended a recent co-op board meeting, and had been informed of its all-but-unanimous decision to remove the nest, even though he had objected to the move.

Adrian Benepe, the commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said his staff was unable yesterday to determine whether removing the nest violated any state or federal wildlife-protection laws, and would explore the matter again today.

"Our domain doesn't extend to the tops of people's roofs," Mr. Benepe said. "Regardless of legality, I am concerned about whether this was ethical, or the right thing to do."

The story of Pale Male and his offspring has been well documented. Marie Winn, whose 1998 book on the subject, "Red-Tails in Love," was the basis of a PBS documentary called "Pale Male," said yesterday that the nest had been removed once before, in 1993, the year it was built

She said the nest was built amid metal spikes that were placed on the 12th-floor cornice to discourage pigeons from roosting, and that the spikes had the unintended effect of providing a strong structure to brace a hawks' nest against the wind. After it was destroyed in 1993, Pale Male rebuilt, Ms. Winn said.

That experience, she said, might provide evidence that Pale Male will again rebuild.

But another of the bird's most ardent observers and proponents, Lincoln Karim, an engineer who has observed the nest for years with a telescope from Central Park, said he had seen workers take away the spikes yesterday.

Ms. Winn said the federal Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in the 1990's that the nest was covered by a treaty adopted in 1918 to protect migratory bird habitats and could not be destroyed.

But she said that more recent interpretations of the federal rules may allow people to interfere with migratory bird nests if they do so in the winter, when the nests are not used to raise offspring. Phone messages left for officials at the agency late yesterday were not answered.

The nesting season for Pale Male and his current mate, Lola, does not begin until January or later, and eggs are normally laid in the nest in March, Ms. Winn said.

But even now, Pale Male, Lola and other red-tailed hawks can be seen performing courtship rituals that involve flying in circles over Central Park.

Whether they will attempt to rebuild the nest at 927 Fifth Avenue remains in doubt, she said, particularly because its metal supports have been removed. Even if the nest is restored, she said, the experience of 1993 does not bode well for the prospect that more offspring would be hatched next year.

Ms. Winn said two years passed before Pale Male produced offspring after the last time the nest was destroyed.

Colin Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.

SOURCE: the New York Times

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