He asks an excellent question. Could Pale Male actually be Pale Male II, or even the Pale Male III? It certainly is a question worth asking, and one that might have an unpopular answer.
Manhattan hawk watchers have seen hawks replace mates in under 24 hours. There were fast replacements of partners at both the St. John the Divine and Washington Square Park nests in recent years. So, a quick switch of hawks is certainly possible.
Most New York City nests, which are usually characterized as long-term monogamous triumphs, have actually had a good number of mate changes due to the mortality of partners. So, Corey's question is a good one. Could a look alike have replaced the original Pale Male? Maybe during the off-season, when a missing hawk would have gone unnoticed?
Corey brings up Pale Male’s unusually long lifespan, the ratio of his mates to himself (8:1), to cast doubt, then questions if Pale Male, who hasn’t been banded, really has enough unique plumage markers to determine if he’s the same bird that appeared in Central Park in 1991?
Corey also implied something I’ve always been concerned about, which is “Can those who believe in the myth of Pale Male also be good observers of him?”
So, could Corey be right? Maybe.
First let’s look at Pale Male’s plumage. Unfortunately, Corey quotes from Marie Winn’s book to find a description of how Pale Male looked in the “old days”. Marie loves to spin a good story, sometimes at the sake of accuracy. So I think it would be best not to use her anthropomorphically entitled Red-tails in Love, as scientific source material. If you want to compare the plumage of Pale Male, year over year, one can use the footage of Pale Male from Frederic Lilien’s 2004 Nature episode and compare it to photographs and footage from today. I believe the DVD is on Netflix! (But even doing this leave a huge gap for the first decade of Pale Male's life.)
(In the early nineties, Pale Male arrived and was lighter than the hawks in the guidebooks, so he was dubbed Pale Male by Marie Winn. However, Pale Male’s light color is not that unusual for a mid-Atlantic hawk. His light coloring is fairly common. It is part of the myth of Pale Male that his coloring is rare.)
Both from this older era and today, the plumage is very consistent to my eyes. Light scalloped feathers (with a oak leaf like patterns) on his lower breast and light head color, which is almost golden in the right light, are consistent in both periods. But even day-to-day, Pale Male has lots of different looks depending on the temperature or the lighting. He doesn’t have any truly unique field marks.
Secondly, the passing of so many mates is hard to explain, but how all of these hawks got into trouble isn’t just rat poison. Pale Male could just have some great luck. But other issues come into play too. New York City seems to have greater death by rodenticides in females, especially before nesting. There have been lots of necropsies where females bleed out via their ovaries. Could males have it easier in NYC?
Thirdly, we have Pale Male’s long life span. Pale Male should be living a long life, in one of the richest zip codes in America. He lives in a very safe area, with a great food supply.
So, is Corey right? He builds a good case, but it isn’t solid. Maybe enough evidence to win a civil trail, but certainly not enough to win a criminal case.
But I do know one thing, if this discussion upsets you, then you’re not someone who should be sitting on the jury. Maybe you’re too attached to the myth of Pale Male to judge fairly.
On Saturday afternoon, two hawks spent at least an hour circling around Central Park West north of 80th Street. Then one landed on the roof of the Beresford Apartments' SE Tower, while the other landed on the SW Tower. It wasn't clear if it was Octavia and Pale Male or another pair of hawks. They certainly were not in the standard perches.
However, on Sunday afternoon, it was clear Pale Male was in the oval window of the SE Tower, and Octavia was perched just below the oval window of the NE Tower.
Had I just misidentified the hawks on Saturday, or was Pale Male protecting the building after interlopers landed on the building the day before?
On Labor Day, Octavia, Pale Male's current mate was perched on the north side of 2 East 70th Street. The location gave her a good view up Fifth Avenue.
I always thought 72nd Street was the "line in the sand" between the 5th Avenue and the Sheep Meadow pair, but the borders are turning out to be more complicated. Octavia is regularly south of 72nd Street, and the Sheep Meadow fledglings regularly go north of 72nd Street on either side of Bethesda Fountain.
It's ironic, given that I'm Red/Green Colorblind, that my two good birds of the day on Saturday were a Red-tailed Hawk and Green Heron.
The Red-tailed Hawk was the same bird I saw Friday. It was again perched on a window railing of 2 East 70th Street.
The Green Heron was in a shallow area of the The Pond north of Gapstow bridge. These mudflat areas are import to wading birds, but they're constantly being removed by the Central Park Conservancy. The original landscaping of the park had water bodies with clean sculpted edges, which removed the transitional areas of marsh and mud needed by many birds. Luckily, natural erosion does a great job of bringing these mudflats back!
At about 6:56 on the video is a great shot of the Green Heron "licking its lips".
Starting in late July, hawk watching in New York City becomes much harder. Fledglings, who had been yelling for food, are now quiet having learned to hunt. Warm weather has the hawks relaxing and staying put, making them harder to spot. And everyone, young and old have dispersed to wider and wider areas. Gone are those nice spots the families came to for meals together at regular hours!
So on Saturday, I had my first hawk free day of the summer. I didn't pick up a single hawk on a trip through Central Park.
This Sunday, I did find two hawks however. Pale Male up at 86th and Fifth Avenue, and one of the Sheep Meadow fledglings at The Mall.
I got to see one of the fledglings for over two hours around the Obelisk (sometimes referred to Cleopatra's Needle), west of the Met. This was fun since there were lots of good looks at the bird.
However, the mystery of the day was a large adult Red-tailed Hawk, who wasn't Pale Male or Ocativa, who showed up nearby. This coupled with the rescue of a young hawk around the tennis courts at 96th Street last week had hawk watchers wondering.
Could the young hawk could have been from an unknown nest of the pair that tired to nest along CPW these last two years? And could the adult hawk we saw be the parent of this youngster, investigating the cries from Pale Male and Ocatavia's children, in case they were the parent's missing fledgling?
I don't think we'll ever know but it makes a great story!
Update: It looks like the youngster that was picked up at the tennis courts is most likely one of the Cathedral fledglings, which makes sense given their exposure to Frounce. So, this extra adult's appearance may have not explanation.
I got to see all of the Fifth Avenue fledglings on Sunday. One was west of the Met, and two were around the Cedar Hill area.
The two near Cedar Hill had a little tussle over some food with both of them ending up on a lawn.
All of the hawks looked well feed and the one who had been closing its right eye frequently yesterday was back to normal. All of them also seem to have mastered flying and soaring. They aren't hunters yet, but they're no longer newbies either.
After visiting the Sheep Meadow fledglings, it was off to see the Fifth Avenue fledglings. They were around Cedar Hill and nearby locations. Pale Male and Octavia flew overhead, but I ran into Pale Male much further north near the South Gate House of the Reservoir and the Met roof.
I saw all of the fledglings. One fledgling was closing its right eye a great deal. It was hard to tell if this was normal/minor or if something more serious was going on. I'm sure the hawk watchers at Fifth Avenue will be keeping track of this fledgling, just in case.
The last 5th Avenue fledgling finally got its act together and left the nest Tuesday morning. It appears to spent the day in a few trees near where it first landed. I continue to be amazed by differences in personalities in Red-tailed Hawk fledgings. They range from fearless and confident to shy and uncertain.
I spend a great deal of time on Friday, Saturday and Sunday hoping to see the last fledgling leave the nest. Given that its older siblings left last Wednesday, I was expecting it to go. But it certainly seem to be in no rush to go!
It's two siblings are doing great in the park and are being well fed by Pale Male and Octavia.
Three nests had fledges today, Fifth Avenue, St. John the Divine and Washington Square. For Washington Square it was the second fledge.
This evening, I got to see the first and second Washington Square Park fledglings. The first fledgling had made it to the safety of the NYU Pless Hall roof. The second and newest fledgling was doing its best to hide in a small tree west of the Bocce Court.
Both fledglings looked healthy. (You know you've watching hawks to long when you study video for signs of Frounce.) The second fledgling seemed to be having some trouble getting to higher branches, but that's not too unusual for a hawk's first day off the nest.
At Fifth Avenue, the hawk watchers are asking what happens at every nest, when will the eyasses (young hawks on the nest) fledge (fly off the nest). To answer this question requires some basic science, some behavioral science and lots of luck.
The basic science is that we know that generaly hawks fledge after 42-46 days. For some reason this can be longer for city nests, say 45-50 days. We're not sure why we have this variation. It could be that we can count hatches more accurately in the city or that building nests without the opportunity for branching activity by the eyasses prolong the period. Hawks also need to be physically mature to fledge. So hawk watchers look at feather growth but more importanly tail length to judge if a hawk is ready to go.
On the behavioral side, we look for lots of jump-flapping and movement around the nest. We also look at the temperment of the hawks. Like college age childern, some look like they are eager to move on and others look like they won't move out at all.
But in general, seeing a flege is about good luck and putting in the time to be in the right place at the right time.
After returning from my honeymoon, I went to the Fifth Avenue nest to find a wonderful crowd of onlookers enjoying the eyasses. There were three scopes and lots of viewers. It felt like the old days. Over the last few years, we've lost many of the "original bench". It was good to see a second generation fascinated by Pale Male.
This weekend was the first time I saw 927 Fifth Avenue nest without the scaffolding that has been up for weeks. Although there is still some scaffolding on the lower floors, it looks like most of the work has been done. The building management did a good job of protecting the nest, even with all of the cleaning work. It's height and shape matches pictures I took this summer.
Here are pictures of the nest, Pale Male on a building a few blocks north, and the pair on the Beresford Apartments north tower.