For all its reputation as a hyper-urbanized center, New York has a fair amount of green space. Central Park, obviously, is home to a wide range of bird species, but there are also smaller parks that each have their own populations. And raptors, in particular, seem happy to capitalize on the man-made cliffs of New York’s skyscrapers and bridges.
The first raptors that I was really aware of were the red-tailed hawks. In the ‘90s, a pair named Lola and Pale Male attained a certain celebrity status by living on an apartment building on Park Avenue and dropping fragments of half-eaten prey on the well-heeled occupants as they went in and out. Not long after that, Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side acquired its own red-tails, who were soon given names of their own: the first named pair were called Christo and Dora, named after the nearby Christodora House. They soon became the center of a feathered soap opera – when Dora was invalided off to a Long Island animal shelter after she injured her wing, Christo lost no time setting up house with a second female hawk, soon dubbed Nora (for ‘Not-Dora’). Then Dora came back, putting Christo at the center of a complicated love-triangle.
Christo and his lady friends aren’t the only red-tailed hawks on the Lower East Side by any means, although if the other birds have been named and identified, I haven’t heard about it. And the red-tails aren’t the only raptors present either. Cooper’s Hawks seem to be quite well-established in the neighborhood, and there’s a small, vividly-colored kestrel who visits from time to time.
Perhaps the most exciting newcomers to the LES are the peregrines. New York has had a small population of peregrine falcons for a number of years, mostly living on the tallest buildings and bridges. Late last year, however, we saw a pair of adult peregrines over the East River for the first time. Shortly after that, what looks to be a juvenile peregrine showed up and, apparently, decided to make the neighborhood its new home. Initially a cause for great excitement, it now appears almost regularly, circling in lazy spirals over the East River or swooping between tall apartment buildings, sending the local pigeons into paroxysms of justifiable panic.