After six years in which he and his then-mate Lola produced eggs every year, only to have to abandon them in early summer long after they should have hatched, Pale Male suddenly switched to classic red-tailed-hawk fathering behavior on Thursday. He brought captured Central Park prey to his new mate, Ginger, at their fabled East Side penthouse on New York's Fifth Avenue.
Ginger was seen early Thursday morning by Rik Davis, a photographer and faithful Pale Male watcher. Davis said Ginger seemed suddenly excited, standing on the edge of the high nest above morning rush hour traffic as she kept poking her head down into the nest to attend to something.
Then, at about 4:40 p.m., Davis saw the signs he knew so well from the successful Pale Male hatchings and fledgings he witnessed between the mid-1990s and 2004: Pale Male turned up with some hapless small animal just snatched from his rich larder, Central Park, placed it on the edge of the nest and flew off.
Ginger immediately started tearing small pieces of flesh off it and feeding them to something down in the nest, out of sight of Davis' telescope down below on the edge of the model boat pond.
It could only mean one thing, said Davis. He immediately phoned this reporter, who immediately coordinated with a camera crew in midtown Manhattan and arrived at the happy scene in less than an hour.
This reporter looked through one of Davis' telescopes and saw this feeding behavior for himself.
Word was already spreading fast to Pale Male watchers on several continents, including Belgian filmmaker Frederic Lilien, whose documentary, "The Legend of Pale Male," has won a best-in-festival award in Canada and opened to admiring reviews in New York and other American cities.
Soon after we arrived, so did Marie Winn, whose bestselling book, "Red Tails in Love," is still a perennial favorite. It has inspired at least three children's books about the adaptable, innovative, young male red-tailed hawk that turned up in New York's Central Park in 1991, barely a yearling. The bird impressed ornithologists across the country by becoming the first -- or at least one of the first -- red tails to nest, not in a tree or on a cliff, but on a building.
In December 2004, the board of the classy Fifth Avenue building, with breathtaking -- and expensive -- views across the park, took down the by-then-large nest of twigs and branches in which Pale Male and his previous mates had raised many youngsters over the years.
Little did they know.
The uproar of complaint that followed immediately came by letter and email from around the world, including from soldiers on duty in Iraq, who expressed disbelief that the well-to-do landlords could be so cruel to these birds who had so won the hearts and imaginations and sheer delight of countless thousands at the bit of wilderness in their midst.
Apparently, people in the building had complained about the droppings, including a few half-eaten animals that sometimes appeared in the bushes near the front door. They also objected to all the people with binoculars and telescopes at the model boat pond across the street who looked up at their windows.
But Mary Tyler Moore, an occupant of the building, appeared among the placard-carrying demonstrators out front. And soon, after negotiations that, at times, seemed to rival the Paris peace talks, an agreement was announced between the building and the local Audubon society to return the nest and try to welcome back Pale Male and Lola.
Pale Male: New York's Favorite Red-Tailed Hawk
A very expensive metal frame cradle was designed and built and placed on the arch above the central top-floor window where the previous nest had been built, anchored by anti-pigeon spikes.
The next spring, Pale Male and Lola did indeed build a new nest of twigs and branches in the cradle and laid eggs. But for six barren years, no eggs hatched.
Theories abounded. Perhaps he was too old, or perhaps he and his mate had eaten too many poisoned rats from the park and been rendered sterile, or perhaps the new nest allowed too much cold air to circulate under the eggs.
All that changed Thursday in the late afternoon when word suddenly went out that this pioneer hawk, still completely wild, whose children and grandchildren now nest across the city, was apparently getting ready to help show another clutch of awkward, young chicks how to look over the edge of their nest at a wide world, and learn to fly.