New York City’s Resident Raptor

By S. Grant on Thursday, October 30, 2014
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“When I bestride him I soar, I am a hawk.” —William Shakespeare, Henry V

In A Nutshell

Pale Male is a red-tailed hawk that has lived in New York City for 24 years. He’s managed to survive in the dangerous and poisoned rat–infested environment while seven of his mates have died or disappeared. His hardiness, beauty, and uniqueness have made him a local icon and arguably the most well-known hawk in the world.

The Whole Bushel

Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk, could choose to live in any number of forests, grasslands, or even in suburbia, yet for 24 years he’s made his home in one of the world’s biggest and most bustling cities: New York. And this city bird didn’t settle for an ordinary tree or signpost on which to build his nest. Instead, he took up residence on top of one of the grandest high-rises in Manhattan, where the rich and famous, like Mary Tyler Moore, reside. Living at that height, Pale Male has an ideal vantage point to hunt for prey in the nearby Central Park.

While other birds such as crows, pigeons, and even the occasional peregrine falcon also live in the Big Apple, they barely get a second glance, whereas Pale Male has become a local celebrity. He was first seen soaring above Manhattan in the 1990s and immediately caught the attention of residents. Marie Winn, a bird-watcher and author, dubbed him “Pale Male” because of his unusually light coloring. The name caught on, and after two decades, many New Yorkers still keep one eye to the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of this bold bird. His story is so unique that it was the subject of an hour-long documentary, and there are now websites dedicated to tracking and reporting on his daily movements and his long and varying love life.

Indeed, Pale Male’s love life is rather extensive, as he has had eight female partners since 1992. Still, he’s not a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type of bird but sticks with his chosen partner until she goes missing or dies. He’s managed to survive while his not-so-lucky companions have met unfortunate ends by eating poisoned rats, colliding with cars, or simply disappearing. He’s been with his current “spouse,” Octavia, since 2012.

In 2007, the Audubon Society reported that there were 32 breeding nests of red-tails throughout NYC and many more transient hawks passing through. This growth in raptor numbers is thanks in no small part to Pale Male, as he and his partners have hatched multiple sets of offspring over the years and have created something of a red-tailed dynasty within New York City.

At one point, Pale Male’s nest was disturbed after the owners of his high-rise chose to remove the pigeon spikes that were securing his nest. However, after a strong public outcry, which included protests from the Audubon Society, birders, and celebrities, the nest was re-secured. Today, Pale Male continues to live atop the 5th Avenue building and reigns as the tenacious patriarch over generations of urban-dwelling red-tailed hawks.

Show Me The Proof

PBS Nature: Pale Male
PaleMale.com