Pale Male

Pale Male by Julia Rothman

Pale Male (1990-2023) was a red-tailed hawk that resided in and near New York City’s Central Park from the 1990s until 2023. Birdwatcher and author Marie Winn gave him his name because of the unusually light coloring of his head. He was one of the first red-tailed hawks known to have nested on a building rather than in a tree and is known for establishing a dynasty of urban-dwelling red-tailed hawks.

Each spring, bird watchers set up telescopes alongside Central Park’s Model Boat Pond to observe his nest and chicks at 927 Fifth Avenue. Although it has been suggested that over the years that Pale Male could have died and been replaced by a similarly colored bird without the change being observed, there is no strong evidence to confirm or deny this possibility.

When he arrived in Central Park in 1991, as a first-year immature hawk, Pale Male tried to nest in a tree, but he was driven off by crows. He later roosted on a building on Fifth Avenue across the street from the park. Around early 1992, he found a mate, dubbed ‘First Love.’ First Love was injured later that year and removed to the Raptor Trust in New Jersey. During her absence, Pale Male took another mate, named Chocolate. After several unsuccessful spring nesting attempts, Pale Male and a mate, possibly Chocolate, hatched three eyasses in 1995 that survived to young adulthood and took up residence in Central Park. Chocolate died later that year from injuries from a collision with a car on the New Jersey Turnpike.

First Love returned to Central Park after being banded and released from the Raptor Trust. She and Pale Male reunited and raised several eyasses. Some birdwatchers waited several months to see the eyasses grow and then take their first flights. Pale Male brought food to his offspring about five times each day. In 1997, First Love died after eating a poisoned pigeon in Central Park.

Pale Male’s mate from 1998 to 2001 was a hawk known as Blue. The pair were observed to hatch about 11 eyasses in that period. Blue disappeared about the time of the September 11 attacks in 2001. In early 2002, Pale Male was first observed with a new mate, Lola. They raised seven eyasses between 2002 and 2004, building a nest on ornamental stonework above a top-story window on a residential housing cooperative at 927 Fifth Avenue (near 74th Street) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Although Pale Male and Lola collected sticks for a potential nest at a cooperative on the Upper West Side, the Beresford at 81st Street and Central Park West, in 2006, they never nested there. Lola disappeared in 2010 and was presumed dead.

A new mate appeared in early 2011. This new hawk, Lima (also called ‘Ginger,’ because of her dark feathers on her neck and chin), was only in her second year. She was a young adult, with still-yellow irises, indicating her exact age. Her first nesting attempt was in the winter and spring of 2011 using the existing nest. Two eyasses emerged towards the end of May 2011, producing the first baby hawks in this nest since 2004. Lima died in late 2012, presumably after eating a poisoned rat.

After Lima’s death, Pale Male took a new mate, dubbed Zena. The two fledged three offspring, two of which were poisoned, rescued, rehabilitated, and then released back into Central Park. In 2012 Zena disappeared and was presumed dead, and Pale Male took a new mate, called ‘Octavia’ due to her status as Pale Male’s eighth mate.

As of 2021, many observers believed that Pale Male was still alive at the age of 31. This would have made him one of the oldest known red-tailed hawks on record. It was suggested in 2015 that Pale Male could have died sometime over the years and been replaced without birdwatchers’ notice by another male hawk with similar coloring, but no substantive evidence has been provided for either fate.

In 2023, wildlife rehabilitator Bob Horvath reported that Pale Male had been found ‘sick and grounded in Central Park’ by an urban park ranger. Pale Male was transferred into Horvath’s custody and he immediately took the hawk to the vet. Blood work and x-rays were done and Horvath then took him to WINORR to provide supportive care while they waited for the test results. Pale Male died on the evening of May 16, 2023, at the age of 33.

In early 2004, the hawks’ nest and the anti-pigeon spikes that had long anchored it were removed by the board of the co-op. The removal caused an international outcry and a series of impassioned protests organized by New York City Audubon Society and the Central Park birding community. Mary Tyler Moore, a resident of the building and animal rights advocate, also participated in the protests. The building, various city agencies, and the Audubon Society agreed to seek a solution, and quickly came to an agreement to replace the spikes and to install a new ‘cradle’ for the nest.

Once the scaffolding was removed, the hawks started bringing twigs to the nest site. However, eggs laid by Lola in 2005 did not hatch, and in fact Pale Male and Lola did not hatch any new eyasses since the disturbance of their original nest. A panel of experts assembled by the Audubon Society reviewed the photos taken of the interior of the nest in 2008, and recommended the removal of stainless steel spikes seen protruding through the bowl of the nest. The spikes impeded the rolling of the eggs by the female during incubation. The Audubon Society obtained the support and approvals of municipal agencies and property owners to have the 92 spikes removed from the cradle supporting the nest.

Although news reports in early summer 2006 suggested that Pale Male and Lola had given up on their Fifth Avenue nest in favor of a location on the Beresford apartments across the park on Central Park West, this was not the case. The hawks regularly perched on the Beresford, collected sticks, and may have roosted there at night, but they continued to return to the Fifth Avenue location during nesting season.

A 2007 study commissioned by the Audubon Society reported that pairs of red-tails were spotted breeding in nests at 32 locations throughout the city, and hawk watchers say they have spotted dozens of unattached red-tails across the five boroughs. Since 2010, there have typically been about ten active red-tailed hawk nests in Manhattan per year. For example, in 2014, there were at least eleven red-tailed nests reported in Manhattan, of which ten were known to have fledged baby hawks. In 2021 there were ten nests reported, but only five were confirmed to fledge at least a young bird.


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