By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Just five months old, and he's already living on his own.
A motherless baby hawk rescued from the streets of the Bronx was released into the wild Wednesday as a group of awestruck first graders watched at the north end of Central Park.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe did the honors, holding the red-tailed hawk for a few moments with heavily padded gloves, then freeing the raptor for his first solo flight in the wild since he was rescued by Good Samaritans three months ago.
The hawk soared directly over the heads of children from the Dalton School and P.S. 83, glided out of the park and disappeared into the wilds of the city, aka a Harlem alley.
Now, it's up to nature whether he'll survive. Bird expert Bobby Horvath, who nursed the hawk back to health after he was found at 149th Street and Melrose Avenue, said the young bird had a 50-50 chance of surviving.
"There are no guarantees," said Horvath, a New York City firefighter who rehabilitates wild birds in his off hours.
"All we do is offer them a second chance. Now it's up to that bird to make it. That's the hard part. You never know how they're going to survive in the wild. They could live two days, they could live 20 years."
Though several red-tailed hawks nest in the city, New York isn't exactly the ideal spot to raise a raptor family. The birds face many threats in the urban environment. Rescuers believe the baby hawk fell out of a nest that was built on an air conditioning unit. His mother was hit and killed by a car, Horvath said.
After the baby hawk was discovered in the Bronx, Horvath took over for his parents, teaching him how to interact with other hawks and training the young raptor to eat prey such as mice and rats. Horvath runs a nonprofit called Wildlife In Need Of Rescue and Rehabilitation out of his North Massapequa house.
After three months of rehab, the young hawk became "very antsy" in his cage and Horvath knew it was time to set him free. Horvath didn't name the hawk, but Benepe dubbed him "Stormy" in honor of the city's recent foul weather.
After Stormy was released, Horvath and a park ranger treated the students from Dalton School and P.S. 83 to a wild bird show. Kids oohed and aahhed over a screech owl named Sundance and an orange-eyed eagle owl.
Horvath also brought out peregrine falcon, a kestrel named Griffin, and Diana, a red-tailed hawk who was shot by a homeowner years ago.
Seven-year-old Davide Maurillo of the Dalton School said watching Stormy's release into the wild was his favorite part of the show.
"It was really cool and pretty," said Maurillo. "I really liked it when he flew into the crack in the building."