By Erik Baard
This is a sad week for Red-tail Hawk lovers in New York City. Three red-tail hawk chicks, or eyas, have died in Riverside Park. There were the grandchildren of Pale Male, our most city’s most famous bird of prey.
Lola, Pale Male’s mate at Fifth Avenue, has had a “nest failure” for the fourth year — her eggs didn’t hatch. No one knows if this is because the nest was disturbed over three years ago, or if it’s simply that Pale Male has grown infertile with age — he’s over 17 years old, which is geriatric for his species.
I am happy to trumpet New York City’s ecological recovery, which for all its stumbles is real, but will never spare you reminders of the frangibility of this achievement. Even at the cost of sounding perhaps a bit too precious at times. In the Prospect Park photo above (click to enlarge), Steve Nanz captures that truth beautifully, all in the look the red-tail shoots back at his camera.
If a city is a complex machine in which we live, as many have said, then no indigenous species are braver in facing down the machine than our raptors. They patrol their skies, spiraling over the arrogance of our often-ghastly intrusions. They glorify our mundane constructions – nondescript ledges and garish corporate logos are reborn as aeries.
But a careless dusting of poison can contaminate the pigeons or rats we introduced into the food chain, and hawk nestlings die from food dropped from their mothers’ mouths. That might have happened at Riverside Park.
Cities are happenstance allies of global environmentalism because of their efficient energy and material usage. But we assault ourselves and co-inhabitants with asinine daily decisions and poorly conceived development.
Drill this into our next crop of candidates for city office: Habitat and human health are one in such tight quarters.