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East Village Now a Haven For Hawks

By Patrick Hedlund | January 26, 2011 1:17pm

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — The East Village is becoming hot real estate for a new class of upwardly mobile New Yorkers who love the neighborhood's abundant dining options — red-tailed hawks.

The recent rescue of a young hawk from an East Village building, as well as numerous sightings of the birds throughout the neighborhood, has convinced experts that the area has become a popular destination for the beloved raptors.

"Every year, the population is growing and growing," said Bobby Horvath, a Long Island-based wildlife rehabilitator, who helped rescue a fledgling red-tail hawk that got stuck in a building's air shaft on East 3rd Street earlier this month.

In the last month alone, Horvath has swooped in to save another hawk that became trapped inside the New York Times building, and yet another that got caught in an air shaft on the Upper East Side.

"It's in indicative of an increase in population," Horvath added. "The sheer number of calls that we're receiving shows that their numbers are just growing by leaps and bounds."

With its well-documented rat problem and plenty of pigeons, the East Village provides a smorgasbord for the hawks, experts said.

Green spaces like Tompkins Square Park, where red-tailed hawks have been seen regularly for years, offer even more in the way of meals due their the natural wildlife.

"To me it seems that there are even more birds this winter," said Francois Portmann, a photographer and East Village resident who started documenting hawks after observing them in Central and Tompkins Square Parks. "It looks like they're busy again [searching for mates] right now."

About three years ago, a nest of red-tailed hawks showed up on top of an air-conditioning unit on East Houston Street. Horvath was summoned there after the hatchlings fell onto the street below.

More recently, he took in a red-tail found injured in Stuyvesant Square Park, which neighbors said is a regular haunt for the hawks.

Because it's extremely difficult to tell by sight if any or all of these hawks are related, neither Horvath nor Portmann could say for sure where they hail from.

But Horvath does believe the trend could be attributed to the birds simply becoming more comfortable in the urban environment.

"If you look up any day," he said, "you can find (a hawk) in the city easier than you can on Long Island these days."

In fact, neighborhoods like the East Village may provide even better opportunities for the hawks — only about a quarter of which survive their first year — because of the wealth of food options. Horvath explained that hawks are expected to hunt for themselves once out of the nest, meaning that rat-ridden streets are sometimes their best option.

However, rodent poison and pigeon bacteria can severely hurt the birds, so it's hard to say whether city streets are just as habitable as rural areas, Portmann added. Birdwatchers mourned the loss of the beloved Upper East Side red-tailed hawk, Lola, who partnered with Pale Male for nine years, after she went missing in December.

"The problem with the urban situation is they sometimes build [nests] on ledges that have no anchors for the nest," he said, referencing the situation with the hawks on East Houston Street.

Nonetheless, Portmann has seen hawks everywhere from the Marble Cemetery on East 2nd Street to Seward Park on the Lower East Side to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

As for the young red-tail Horvath rescued on East 3rd Street a few weeks back, it is still on the mend and has to be force fed to stay alive. If the hawk does eventually start eating on its own, he said, he will release it back into the wild sometime during the spring or summer.

"They're a very resilient bird," he noted. "They make good patients because they are so hardy."

Horvath believes there is likely a nest hidden somewhere in the East Village that's producing the hawks seen soaring above the streets, and that locals should expect to see more in the future.

"In my opinion," he said, "I think it's still growing."