The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Birds' Nest Will Be Saved, if Co-op Architect Says Yes
By THOMAS J. LUECK
December 14, 2004


A baronial Fifth Avenue co-op building at the center of an uproar over its destruction of a red-tailed hawks' nest last week agreed yesterday to try to help the hawks rebuild in the same spot overlooking Central Park - if an architect approves.

"We had a very constructive meeting," said John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society, who, along with three Audubon colleagues and city and state officials, met for 90 minutes with the president of the co-op's board, its management agent and a building engineer.

"It's a much better situation today than it was yesterday," said Mary Tyler Moore, a resident of the co-op, at 927 Fifth Avenue, who has joined bird lovers and naturalists from across the nation in protesting the hawks' eviction.

Still, the negotiations yesterday, part of which took place on the roof of the 74th Street co-op as the most famous of the Fifth Avenue hawks, Pale Male, circled overhead, provided only a first step toward ending a conflict that some say requires speedy resolution.

"Good progress doesn't sound good enough to me," said Marie Winn, a Manhattan author whose 1998 book on Pale Male and his offspring was the basis of a public television documentary. (Channel 13 in Manhattan said yesterday that it had scheduled a rebroadcast of the film tonight at 8.)

Ms. Winn was among more than 100 protesters who gathered opposite the co-op building yesterday afternoon, as they have for days - chanting, encouraging drivers to honk their horns and creating a ruckus rarely seen along one of Manhattan's most elegant residential streets.

"I have suspected all along that what the co-op wants is to stall just long enough so the hawks will leave," she said. "And that could happen any day."

The saga of Pale Male and his mate, Lola, who have fed happily on pigeons and rats in Central Park, reproduced prodigiously from their roost above a 12th-story cornice, and ultimately captivated the attention of much of the city, came amid unavoidable questions of what the hawks themselves will choose to do.

"We haven't been able to talk to the hawks, and they may have their own plans," said Adrian Benepe, the city's commissioner of parks, who attended the meeting yesterday at 927 Fifth Avenue. Nonetheless, he said the negotiations had yielded "good progress from the point of view that the building really isn't legally obligated to do anything."

Besides Ms. Moore, residents of the co-op include the newscaster Paula Zahn, whose husband, Richard Cohen, is president of the board; Bruce Wasserstein, the Wall Street dealmaker; and several other executives at the highest levels of finance.

Before the hawks' nest was taken down last Tuesday, some residents had complained that the birds left the bloody carcasses of their prey on the roof and sidewalk, and their nest created a safety hazard as parts of it fell to the sidewalk, threatening pedestrians.

The nest was built in 1993 by Pale Male, who foraged twigs and small branches from Central Park and assembled them on a network of metal spikes that had been placed on the 12th-floor cornice to discourage pigeons. The spikes, which were also removed last week, had the unintended effect of holding a red-tailed hawk nest measuring eight feet across in place for a decade.

Mr. Flicker said a central question addressed at the meeting yesterday was whether the spikes would be restored so Pale Male and Lola could rebuild in the same place, or whether a new platform or box would be constructed and provide a sturdy base for a new nest on the co-op's roof.

The Audubon Society officials insisted that the spikes be restored, and that anything else would be inadequate. Their position on the arcane question of how to provide a safe habitat for red-tailed hawks at the center of large city was buttressed by experts.

The neoclassical 12th-floor cornice adopted by Pale Male, despite its ornate acanthus leaf detailing, made it "a classic red-tail cliff site," which resembled the hawks' habitat in the Western states and was far more attractive than tree limbs or a wood platform, said John A. Blakeman, an Ohio biologist who has researched the habitats of hawks and falcons.

"They will absolutely reject a box," he said.

According to Mr. Benepe and Mr. Flicker, Mr. Cohen seemed agreeable to returning the metal spikes to the cornice. They said participants in the meeting saw clearly that the hawks were trying to rebuild, since they had left several twigs and branches on the cornice, even though the foraged material would be blown away in a strong wind.

But they said Mr. Cohen insisted on consulting the co-op's architect before making any commitment. No deadline was set, and no follow-up meeting was scheduled.

"This needs to be done promptly," Mr. Flicker said. "The longer you wait, the longer the risk to the birds."

"We wanted them to say the spikes will go up," Mr. Flicker said, adding that he hoped hear the co-op's decision in the matter today.

Yesterday, Pale Male and Lola were a clear presence over the east side of Central Park, circling above the co-op and the park's picturesque model-boat pond and, in Lola's case, casually devouring a pigeon on a tree limb as dozens of bird enthusiasts looked on.

Ms. Moore, who has shed the retinue of agents, public relations specialists and others who normally surround celebrities in proclaiming her support for the hawks, emerged from 927 Fifth Avenue to answer questions from reporters.

"I just want to make sure that they take into consideration what the birds' instincts are going to be," she said.

"I don't object to anything," Ms. Moore added. "I don't care if they hang a nest from my living room window, that's fine."

"I just want those hawks to be back in their natural habitat and be peaceful."

Janon Fisher contributed reporting for this article.


SOURCE: The New York Times

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