Tuesday, February 10, 2015

urban birds of prey

Maryville great horned owl. Photo by Jason Dykes.

A few thoughts on the great horned owls nesting in downtown Maryville and birds of prey that choose to live in the city.

Sometimes parent birds choose poor nest sites because there's no more suitable nesting territories available, or, perhaps, they are young parents that make a poor choice. If so, they learn their lesson. 

Predators like coyotes, foxes and raccoons have become very common in our cities. Why? There's food available: mice, rats, pigeons, chunky sweet starlings, to name a few.

And, with greater frequency, birds of prey are choosing to live in cities also. Peregrine falcons can be found in several large U.S. cities, many also have very popular peregrine cams watching their nesting activities. 

New York City's Pale Male
The most famous urban-dwelling bird of prey in the world is Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk hatched in 1990, that took up residence on ritzy Fifth Avenue across from Central Park in New York City in 1991. The next year, he found a mate and they successfully raised a clutch, feeding the young nestlings city pigeons and rats, with hundreds of people watching from the park.

Pale Male became famous, raising the awareness of raptors and their role in the environment. He became a goodwill ambassador for all hawkdom. A fan club grew around him. There was a book written about him: "Red-tails in Love" (1998) by Marie Winn, which I have read. There was also a PBS Nature documentary, "Pale Male" (2004) which I have seen multiple times.

Guess what? Pale Male is still there at 927 Fifth Avenue, in the heart of one of the world's largest cities, with hundreds of people watching and taking photos for over two decades. He is the most documented red-tailed hawk in history with oodles of photos online. The most recent photo I could find was taken eight days ago: click February 2, 2015

Audubon magazine: March-April 2005
Since 1992, he and his mates have raised dozens of young redtails with hundreds of people watching his activities every day. Although he has had several mates over the years, 25-year-old Pale Male thrives in "The city that never sleeps." Perhaps he knows that a Fifth Avenue aerie is pretty posh digs, apartments there rent for millions. 

Who, could have predicted his success? No one. But it's not for us to prophesy the future. Nature itself makes these choices.

Today there are several redtails living in and around Central Park in the Big Apple. Pale Male was a pioneer.  

Perhaps I am comparing apples to oranges, but I don't think so; more like Winesaps to Granny Smiths. Great horned owls are not red-tailed hawks, but Maryville is not New York City.

If you truly, truly, truly know the nest has been abandoned, then you attempt a rescue. But you simply cannot under any circumstances assume the nest will fail and do a rescue. That is kidnapping. It's cruel and illegal even if it is done with some witnesses applauding.  

Can birds of prey survive in cities with people watching? Yes. Should people tamper with their nests, i.e. Mother Nature? No. 

Besides, their nests are federally protected. It's against the law to tamper.

Thank you, Janet Lee.

For more recent photos click Pale Male