Pale Male’s Babies in Peril

Historically we’ve been focused on the East Village Red-tailed Hawks, but the story unfolding in Central Park this past week, simultaneously unsettling and heartwarming, was something we could not ignore.

It started last Saturday, August 8th, when one of Pale Male’s offspring was discovered by hawk watcher Susan Gibson.  It was in a tree looking quite ill: its  eyes were half closed and it hadn’t moved for hours. Concerned, long time hawk watchers Jean Shum, Nabil Esphahani, and Ann Shanahan kept watch over the baby until nightfall.

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By Sunday morning, the bird looked even more exhausted and Ranger Rob (who was off duty) was called in to attempt a rescue.  Initially, the young hawk was too high in a tree to reach. Just as Rob approached, the hawk flew to an even higher window sill on The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

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There was no safe way to access it so the devoted rescuers had to do the hardest but most frequent activity when it comes to bird rescues…they had to wait. Luckily in this case, they didn’t wait long. Within an hour, the bird flew to the grass and Rob was able to safely catch it in a net. 

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Jean and Rob drove the hawk to WINORR, a wonderful wildlife rescue organization that has helped with countless rescue efforts in the past. 

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Although blood tests are inconclusive at this time, the hawk has been gaining strength and it is eating, which is a good sign. If When it recovers, it will be released where it was found in Central Park. 

Injuries and illness are common for young Red-Tailed Hawks this time of year as their parents feed them less to encourage independence. As the young are left to their own devices, they hunt poorly (often catching slower and sicker animals) and explore on their own (often getting stuck in places they shouldn’t be). 

On Tuesday, a second young hawk was spotted in a tree looking ill.  It was still there on Wednesday when heartbreaking news came in: a third young hawk was found dead near 77th St. and East Drive. Within the span of 4 days, all three of Pale Male and Octavia’s 2015 offspring were in peril.

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Again, a group of people watched the sick hawk until late Wednesday evening.  By Thursday, the hawk still hadn’t moved and a rescue was in order. Here is where the story gets interesting on the human side of the equation. The hawk was sitting in a very dense tree, no ladder could reach it.  Perhaps, with a cherry picker, a rescue would be possible. But who has one of those on hand? The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks Dept.) and the Central Park Conservancy (CPC) cut through the bureaucracy and BS one would expect in any large, human-run organization, and they got a CPC cherry picker to the scene quickly (so quickly, in fact, that I assumed I had an hour to get there to witness the rescue…how wrong I was, I ended up sprinting a mile to make it in time!).

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With the cherry picker in position, Rob and the folks from the Parks Dept and CPC discussed the best approach to take. As you can see in the video below, the thick foliage made it tough…

…and the bird flew to a nearby tree.  Because it still had the strength to fly, everyone decided to watch it for another day, and hope it would come down to a lower branch where it could be rescued.  I spent time with the group who stayed there vigilantly watching the hawk for hours and hours. While I was there, the hawk was alert a handful of times…

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But spent most of the day stagnantly resting in the tree, ignoring the world around it. 

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This is not normal behavior for a juvenile hawk at this age.  They should be practicing hunting, flying around, and exploring their environment (as we saw recently with the young hawk at the NYC Marble Cemetery).

By Friday morning, the hawk still hadn’t moved and probably hadn’t eaten for days, so Ranger Rob, Kevin Sisco, and some helpful park visitors (aaahh, the kindness of strangers!) worked together to stand up a giant ladder.

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But alas, good things are never easy, and the ladder was too precarious to climb.  And so the team was back to square one…and the waiting ensued. 

But this time, Caroline Greenleaf, who is the Director of Community Relations at Central Park, got the cherry picker to assist in a second rescue attempt.  As you can see in this video (shot by Nabil Esphahani) Ranger Rob got part of the net onto the baby.  It then ducked, stepped back, and again flew to a nearby tree.  

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It picked an even higher perch where a rescue wouldn’t be possible.

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As of this morning, the hawk has moved from that perch and hawk watchers are searching for it.  After so many hot days without eating, the bird is likely in worse shape.  

We will continue to update you as this story unfolds.  If you do spot the hawk in the park, please let us know ( twohawksnyc@gmail.com ) and we will put the word out. 

Many thanks to Ranger Rob, CPC, Parks Dept., Caroline Greenleaf, and all the hawk lovers who have helped these hawks.

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