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Pale male red-tailed hawk who nested above NYC’s Fifth Avenue for 30 years dies at 33


NEW YORK (AP) — Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk who brought a touch of game to posh Manhattan when it nested above Fifth Avenue for three decades, has passed away.

Pale Male died late Tuesday after being found sick and placed under house arrest in Central Park, wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath posted on Facebook. The hawk was believed to be 33 years old.

Horvath posted that he picked up Pale Male and took him to his rehab vet, who did blood work and x-rays. The hawk later ate a small meal, but remained weak and lethargic, Horvath said. “We hoped for some improvement, but unfortunately it was not to be,” he said.

Pale Male, so named for its whitish plumage, was first spotted in Central Park as a juvenile in 1991 and began nesting on Fifth Avenue across from the park in 1993.

Bird enthusiasts gathered at the park to watch Pale Male and its succession of mates hatch and raise their young each spring.

Birdwatchers were outraged in 2004 when Pale Male’s nest with then-mate Lola was ripped off the ledge on the 12th floor of a posh apartment building that included actor Mary Tyler Moore and CNN anchor Paula Zahn. Moore publicly opposed the removal of the nest.

The co-op board, which had voted to remove the nest as a threat, quickly backtracked and restored a row of anti-pigeon pins the hawks had used to anchor their nest, even adding a new metal “cradle” to the ledge. Pale Male and Lola rebuilt their nest.

As his legend grew, Pale Male was the subject of a 2009 documentary, “The Legend of Pale Male”, and at least three illustrated children’s books.

Horvath wrote in his post that Pale Male inspired bird lovers and photographers around the world. Some started bird photography professionally, he wrote, but “most were just locals or tourists just wanting a chance to catch a glimpse of this famous hawk.”

David Barrett, who runs birding Twitter accounts including Manhattan Bird Alert, said that for much of the Pale Man’s life he was “not only the most famous red-tailed hawk in the world, but probably the most famous bird in the world, a that people knew by name.”

Barrett said the hawk’s fame “shows that even in an intensely urban place like Manhattan, there are a lot of people who have a love for wildlife and feel a connection to it.”

It’s hard to know with 100% certainty that the hawk that died Tuesday was a pale male, as the pale male was never ringed.

Around 2021, some observers began to wonder if Pale Male had died and been replaced in the Fifth Avenue nest by another hawk that resembled him.

No eggs were observed in the nest in recent breeding seasons, which Barrett says points to the likelihood that the male hawk was, in fact, an older pale male, no longer interested in reproduction.

When the pale male lived past 30, his life was one of the longest ever recorded for a red-tailed hawk. He outlived several friends, including Chocolate, Blue, Lola, and Lima. His most recent mate was Octavia.

He is survived by an unknown number of descendants.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.