The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

News Update: Pale Male
December 09, 2004

A day after his nest was removed from the facade of a Fifth Avenue co-op building, the intrepid red-tailed hawk known as Pale Male tried to rebuild yesterday, carrying mounds of twigs from Central Park in what experts said might be a futile attempt to reclaim his home of 11 years.

"This looks like a Sisyphean task," said Adrian Benepe, the city's parks commissioner, who was one of dozens of people who stopped by the edge of the park at East 74th Street yesterday to watch Pale Male and his mate, Lola. Despite the hawks' instinctive nest building, he said, their twigs would probably blow away because a network of steel spikes that held the previous nest in place had also been removed.

With the fate of the red-tailed hawks uncertain, federal officials said yesterday that the co-op at 927 Fifth Avenue, where Pale Male has occupied a 12th floor cornice since 1993, was authorized to remove the nest, despite the angry recriminations from naturalists and bird watchers.

A lawyer for the co-op, Aaron Shmulewitz, said in an interview that the nest had been taken away on the advice of the building's engineer, who concluded that it violated city health and safety laws. But a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings, Ilyse Fink, responded with skepticism.

"They are trying to use city regulations as a rationale," Ms. Fink said. "If there was a valid public safety concern, we wouldn't say, 'Take the nest down.' We'd say, 'Make it safe.' "

Late yesterday, about 25 people gathered across Fifth Avenue from the co-op building for a vigil called by the local chapter of the Audubon Society. They called on its residents to return the hawks' nest to its roost.

"We have gotten a tremendous amount of e-mails from people who want to see the nest brought back," said E. J. McAdams, executive director of the group, New York City Audubon. "We thought this was the most expedient thing to do," he said, adding that the group had "very little success getting through" to the co-op's board or residents.

"Pale Male is an ambassador of the wild in New York City," Mr. McAdams said. "We would like to see the building have a change of heart."

When he arrived at the building in 1993 and built his nest, Pale Male brought an unlikely wildlife habitat that attracted bird lovers from around the world. The sight of a brightly colored hawk with wings that span more than four feet presiding over a nine-foot-wide nest in the middle of Manhattan was one hard to duplicate.

And Pale Male became a celebrity. The subject of a book and public television documentary, he sired 23 youngsters from the nest that was removed on Tuesday, and became "the most famous red-tailed hawk in the world," Mr. Benepe said.

But some residents of the building have long been known to consider the huge hawks, which prey on pigeons and rats, a nuisance. Mr. Shmulewitz said yesterday that the hawks had brought "torn and bleeding animal carcasses" to the building's roof and sidewalk.

Until recently, the nest was protected by a federal treaty, first enacted in 1918 and administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which prevented the destruction of nests in migratory bird habitats. But Terri Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said yesterday that the agency had issued a clarification of the rules in 2003 that allows the destruction of migratory bird nests if it is done during a season when the nests are not being used to hatch or raise offspring.

Ms. Edwards said a representative of the building had contacted her agency and obtained permission before the nest was removed on Tuesday.

Pale Male's fate is a matter of intense speculation by ornithologists and bird watchers.

"He will try to rebuild, but as things keep sliding off the cornice, he will be unsuccessful," said Nancy Clum, assistant curator of ornithology at the Bronx Zoo.

"He may stay in the area, in a tree or on another building, or he may just pick up and leave," she said.

Mr. McAdams said the chances were good that Pale Male would remain as close as possible.

"Red-tailed hawks have a great fidelity to the nest," he said. "He has been very successful in that nest over the last 10 years, and he will want to stay as close as possible."

Mr. Benepe said he would be happy to see Pale Male pick a tree in Central Park for his new nest, but added that the prospect was not good because red-tailed hawks prefer the stability of building facades to tree limbs, which sway in the wind. He said he would encourage building owners in Manhattan to provide platforms that might be claimed by Pale Male or other red-tailed hawks in search of a safe place.

Janon Fisher contributed reporting for this article.

SOURCE: the New York Times

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