The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

No Fighting the Co-op Board, Even With Talons
December 11, 2004

They gathered on Oct. 19 for a ritual known to thousands of New York co-op owners, the annual meeting. The board president, Richard Cohen, and his wife, the newscaster Paula Zahn, threw open their second-floor apartment overlooking Central Park for the occasion. Quickly, the discussion focused on a huge and untidy red-tailed hawk, known famously as Pale Male, which had been nesting on the building's facade for a decade.

The building, 927 Fifth Avenue, is among the city's most sumptuous - apartments behind the neo-Italian renaissance facade occupy entire floors, or two, and are worth well over $10 million. The roughly 10 people at the meeting included Robert A. Belfer, the founder of Belco Oil & Gas and a former director of the Enron Corporation; Dr. Robert Schwager, a plastic surgeon with offices on the ground floor; and Dr. Robert Levine, a Manhattan cardiologist who is married to Mary Tyler Moore.

Some shareholders had long complained about Pale Male and his mate, Lola, whose nest of twigs and small branches had grown to eight feet across a cornice outside the building's 12th floor.

The hawks were hardly hygienic, preying on pigeons and rats, sometimes dropping bloody carcasses on the roof or sidewalk. And bird watchers were constantly looking up with their cameras and high-powered binoculars.

The nest, board members said, had to go. There would be no vote among shareholders. Several people familiar with the discussions said it was Mr. Cohen who had headed the effort, even though his wife had once proclaimed her affection for the birds on television.

The building's management company, Brown Harris Stevens Property Management, had warned of a public backlash. "We told Richard it would be extremely controversial," said Noreen McKenna, a Brown Harris Stevens agent who serves as secretary to the board.

The story of Pale Male, how he came to live at one of Manhattan's most exclusive addresses and then was sent away, is one of wealth and fame meeting nature and instinct, of an obscure international treaty researched and clarified, and of anger among those who live in an elegant building where, Ms. Moore now says, relations have become frosty.

Pale Male had adopted Central Park as his home and feeding ground, had prospered for 11 years, siring 23 hawks, and no one knows whether he will rebuild a nest and stay, or simply fly away.

At the very least, his predicament serves as a reminder of an immutable force, perhaps peculiar to New York City: the power of a co-op board.

At the meeting, Dr. Levine stood up to object, but not on his own behalf.

"Dr. Levine was vocal," recalled Dr. Schwager, who described the Oct. 19 meeting. Neither he nor Dr. Levine is on the board. "He said, 'I can tell you categorically that Mary Tyler Moore is opposed to this.' "

Dr. Schwager joined in: "I said 'This will cause a major commotion in New York if you do this.' "

Both doctors were right.

Since workers removed the nest on Tuesday, dangling on a window-washing platform and shoving Pale Male's carefully foraged twigs into garbage bags, the building has been the focus of searing anger from those around the city and nation who saw the hawk as an emblem of raw nature and perseverance in a densely populated urban setting. Bird lovers have camped outside, held vigils and chanted in anger, occasionally joined by Ms. Moore.

Both Pale Male and Lola have been observed circling their cornice, and landing with bits of twigs and tree branches in what appeared to experts on the ground as a futile attempt to rebuild. Their nest-building may be stymied because metal spikes that held their previous nest in place have also been removed.

Mr. Cohen, a real estate developer, spoke publicly about the matter for the first time yesterday and defended the co-op, on the corner of East 74th Street. "Every year this became more problematic," he said of the nest, calling the decision the result of a consensus and flatly denying he had railroaded it through.

He called the eviction a "last resort" and said that board members believed the birds would thrive elsewhere, and quickly. "It takes a week to 10 days to rebuild a nest. Trees fall in nature. They lose nests. They are resilient animals."

SOURCE: The New York Times

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