By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Park rangers will begin putting out food for a widowed red-tailed hawk and her babies on Thursday after the family's patriarch was found dead in Riverside Park, DNAinfo has learned.
The Parks Department will work with a wildlife rehabilitator to feed the hawks, and will likely use frozen rats — like the ones used to feed other injured hawks that the rehabilitator cares for, they said.
The department came under scathing criticism from raptor lovers who blamed the agency for putting rat poison near a dumpster not far from the hawk family's nest at the 79th Street Boat Basin.
Hawk lover Richard Beeson slammed the Parks Department move as "mindless" and called the raptor death "an entirely avoidable tragedy."
"Shame, shame, shame on the Parks Department," Beeson wrote in an email.
The official cause of the father hawk's death won't be clear until after the state Department of Environmental Conservation releases the results of his necropsy, but some hawk lovers fear he died after he ate a rat that had been poisoned by the Parks Department.
Hawk lovers warned that the father's death could spell doom for the young raptors he left behind, adding that his female mate must now care for the recently hatched hawks, known as eyasses, alone.
The red-tailed hawk mother will have to keep her babies warm and dry, while also providing a steady supply of food for their rapidly growing bodies. To do that, she'll have to leave the nest to hunt, exposing the newborns to the elements, experts said.
"It will be very difficult for her to keep them warm, protect them and hunt for the family by herself, so the outlook for the Riverside Park eyasses is very poor," wrote hawk watcher Bruce Yolton on his Urban Hawks blog.
It was not immediately clear how long the department planned to leave out food for the hawks. But Parks officials have taken steps to reduce their use of rat poison near hawk nests, saying they've tried to use alternative measures to reduce the rat population to lessen the need for poison in the future.
A spokesman said Parks will eliminate food waste that attracts rats by cleaning dumpster areas.
The agency will also put up signs near playgrounds to remind park-goers to throw away their litter, and plans to increase the effectiveness of mechanical rat traps by building boxes that contain several traps.
Leslie Day, a naturalist who lives near the hawk nest, praised the Parks Department, in particular the Riverside Park administrator John Herrold, with taking immediate action after she raised her concerns about the proximity of the poison.
"He was very upset and worried and he had an army of workers out there cleaning up the dumpster area and filling in the rat holes," Day said.
Day said Parks employees also cleaned up a bag of grass seed in a parking garage beneath the Boat Basin Cafe that had been attracting a "highway of rats."
But Day said she'd like to see the Parks Department take even stronger action, and completely eliminate the use of rat poison during the hawks' nesting season.