When I was a kid I wanted to be a wildlife biologist when I grew up. I wanted to be like those people who live in the woods with packs of wolves or spend years out in the ocean following migrating pods of whales. But living in New York really put me at a disadvantage; how was I supposed to become a wildlife biologist if the only animals I saw were pigeons and squirrels? I thought it was very unfair. It took me a while to appreciate the wildlife that was, literally, in my own backyard. It happened because my neighbor who lived behind us had a bird feeder in his backyard. And from my tree-top attic bedroom window, I had the perfect view of the birds. I couldn’t go hiking in the woods or explore salt marshes like I wanted to, but I could watch the birds. I got myself a Peterson’s field guide and a pair of binoculars and became a bird watcher.
I don’t want to be a wildlife biologist anymore. I went to college where I actually started caring about people and stuff, so things changed. Sometimes I wish I was out in the woods tracking wolves instead of in this cubicle because I feel like there is still a part of me that is eternally ten years old, which is why I enjoyed Red Tails In Love so much. This endearing and funny book is about the first nesting pair of red-tailed hawks in NYC and the bird watching Regulars who followed them. Pale Male and his mate Lola made their nest on a windowsill of a 12th floor apartment in an exclusive 5th Ave residential building opposite Central Park (Mary Tyler Moore is a tenant, and she became one of the hawks’ biggest fans and advocates). Author Marie Winn and her band of birdwatchers chronicle the hawks’ every move – their mating rituals, hunting places, and their attempts to start a family in the middle of the city. When it’s not hawk watching season, Winn explores the park’s other bird visitors. A few sightings of a rare common loon caused great excitement among the Regulars, as did a nesting pair of killdeers and green herons.
Both my current self and my ten year old self love this book as it encourages people to appreciate the natural world around them, even if you live in New York City. Pale Male and Lola became quite famous because of this book. They starred in a PBS documentary and have their own website at www.palemale.com. However, in 2004 the owner of the apartment where the birds made their nest (who’s identity remains a mystery to do this day) removed the anti-pigeon spikes that anchored the nest. A wooden platform was built for the birds, and they did rebuild their nest but they have not hatched any new chicks since then.
Maybe its because I spend 40 hours a week in a cubicle, but when I have days off I need to spend as much time as possible out of doors. (Maybe this is my ten year old self yelling at my current self?) It was this driving force and the inspiration from this book that caused me to spend this past Saturday afternoon wandering aimlessly around the nature trails of Prospect Park, despite the high temperate reaching only 31 degrees. But in a way, it was perfect – it was bright, sunny and blustery and I was wrapped up in multiple layers of clothing. I saw the usual winter birds – cardinals, blue jays, dark eyed juncos and mourning doves. Its reassuring to know that wherever I am or whatever I do with my career, I can always go outside and watch the birds.
PS – Marie Winn keeps a Central Park Birding Blog: Marie Winn’s Central Park Nature News