Red-Tailed Hawks in NYC

Picture this: you’re walking in a New York City park on a sunny summer day, and suddenly a big shadow moves over and past you. You look up and see a large, heavy-bodied bird as it slowly glides over the trees and out of sight. You may catch a glimpse of a burnt orange-colored tail. Or perhaps not. But the bird was obviously too thick and compact to be a heron or egret, and too colorful to be a crow, the other likely suspects you’ve already seen flying by this morning. And then you hear Blue Jays shrieking. Aha! You were lucky enough to have been in the company of a Red-tailed Hawk.
 
Odds are there’s a story behind that bird, and that you can find out about that bird’s parents, its past and perhaps even the nest it’s returning to with that squirrel you didn’t see clutched in its talons. We’re lucky enough to be living in a city where we don’t have to rely on serendipity to experience and enjoy these magnificent creatures.
Pale Male and Lola on Their Fifth-Avenue Nest. Photo: Rik Davis
Pale Male and Lola on Their Fifth-Avenue Nest. Photo: Rik Davis
Pale Male and the Rise of Red-tailed Hawks in NYC
In the past 30 years, Red-tailed Hawks have made themselves at home in New York City. Some are resident, some are just passing through. But each spring, in each borough, many pairs will begin nesting. The most famous nest in the city remains on Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, that of the extraordinary Pale Male, hatched in 1990. 
 
Pale Male not only pre-dates the internet, which is amazing in itself, but was one of the first Red-tailed Hawks ever to have been observed nesting on a building. This celebrated raptor’s story has been told in print (Marie Winn’s excellent Red-tails in Love is the place to start) and film (The Legend of Pale Male) and his ongoing exploits (and those of his mate and offspring) are faithfully chronicled and illustrated on blogs across the web such as D. Bruce Yolton’s Urban Hawks blog.

Red-tailed Hawk Chick in New York City. Photo: <a href=\"http://www.fotoportmann.com/\" target=\"_blank\" >François Portmann</a> "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Red-tailed Hawk Chick in New York City. Photo: <a href="http://www.fotoportmann.com/" target="_blank" >François Portmann</a>


Notable Red-tail Nests Since Pale Male
In the years since Pale Male put his mark on the city and history, numerous other Red-tailed Hawks have taken to raising their young in similarly unlikely locations. Some have drawn very large crowds. In spring 2011, “Bobby and Violet” and their offspring “Pip” gained legions of fans across the nation when their nest at New York University was captured via webcam and streamed worldwide. Though both Violet and Bobby have since died, Red-tailed Hawks continue to nest in the same spot. A pair dubbed "Mama and Papa" nested for many years on a fire escape in Queens. In recent years the trials and tribulations of a pair nesting near the East Village’s Tompkins Square Park has been followed assiduously by its human neighbors. 
 
Each area of the City has its own nesting red-tails—from a pair nesting atop the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Unisphere in Queens to a duo in the lights of a Randall’s Island sports field. The web continues to be a great place to become acquainted with and learn more about these raptors. Just search “Red-tailed Hawk New York City” to find current blogs and webcams.
A Red-tailed Hawk at rest in New York City. Photo: <a href="http://www.fotoportmann.com/" target="_blank" >François Portmann</a>
A Red-tailed Hawk at rest in New York City. Photo: François Portmann
How to Help Our Urban Red-Tailed Hawks
While Red-tailed Hawks have claimed New York City as their permanent residence, they do so at great risk: Buildings and glass, cars, and curious humans can all be hazards. Most of all, however, red-tails are victims of poisoning from ingesting poisoned rats and pigeons. Learn how to help protect birds of prey from rodenticide poisoning.
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