Pale Male – The Red-Tailed Hawk That Owns Central Park

“Pale Male” looking handsome

Pale Male (hatched circa 1990) is a well known New York City Red-tailed Hawk who has made his home since the early 1990s near Central Park. Birdwatcher and author Marie Winn gave him his name because of the unusually light coloring of his head. He is one of the first Red-tailed Hawks known to have nested on a building rather than in a tree and is famous for establishing a dynasty of urban-dwelling Red-tailed Hawks. Each spring birders set up telescopes at the Model Boat Pond to observe his nest and chicks at 927 Fifth Avenue.

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. In 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, called Chocolate by birdwatchers. After several unsuccessful spring nesting attempts, Pale Male and a mate, possibly Chocolate, hatched 3 eyasses in 1995. The eyasses survived to young adulthood and took up residence in Central Park. Chocolate died later that year from injuries from a collison 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 eyases. People in the park waited months to see the eyasses grow and then take their first flights. Pale Male was a good father, bringing food to his offspring about five times each day. In 1997, First Love died after eating a poisoned pigeon in Central Park.

Show Off!

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 terrorist attack in 2001.

In early 2002, Pale Male was first observed with a new mate, Lola. They raised 7 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 (at East 74th Street) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Lola disappeared in December 2010 and is presumed dead.

A new mate appeared in early January 2011. This new hawk, with the moniker “Ginger”, because of her dark feathers on her neck and chin, is only in her second year. She is a young adult, with still-yellow irises, indicating her exact age. This will be her first nesting attempt, in the winter and spring of 2011 using the existing nest. Ginger exhibited behavior consistent with incubation of eggs in mid-April 2011 and two eyasses emerged towards the end of May 2011, producing the first baby hawks in this nest since 2004.

Pale Male’s latest mate, Lima (also known as Ginger), died on Saturday, February 25, 2012, presumably from a poisoned rat.

It’s a bird! It’s a ….

In Pop Culture

“Pale Male,” a one hour documentary by filmmaker Frederic Lilien, aired on NATURE – WNET in 2004. A feature documentary called The Legend of Pale Male by Frederic Lilien was completed in April 2009.

Alt-Country singer Steve Earle references Pale Male in his song “Down Here Below”, from the 2007 albumWashington Square Serenade.

Pale Male (or at least a puppet of him) has made several appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien where he played various instruments with The Max Weinberg 7

At least three children’s illustrated books about Pale Male have been published, including:
The Tale of Pale Male: a True Story, by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt, 2007);
City Hawk: the Story of Pale Male, by Meghan McCarthy (Simon & Schuster, 2007); and
Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City, by Janet Schulman (Knopf, 2008)

Pale Male is the mascot of P.S. 6, an elementary school at the Upper East Side, Manhattan.