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Riverside Park's New Hawk Couple Takes Soaring Relationship to Next Level

By Leslie Albrecht | February 16, 2012 7:06am
 Riverside Park's new red-tailed hawk couple get romantic on top of the Normandy Apartments on Riverside Drive and West 86th Street.
Riverside Park's new red-tailed hawk couple get romantic on top of the Normandy Apartments on Riverside Drive and West 86th Street.
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Jean Shum

UPPER WEST SIDE — Riverside Park's new red-tailed hawk couple is taking its relationship to the next level.

After a courtship during which the love birds perched side-by-side on lamp posts, the romantic raptors have been spotted mating.

Though their usual nest is in a tree next to the Hudson River, their favorite trysting spot seems to be high atop the 19-story Normandy Apartments on Riverside Drive and West 86th Street.

It's a heartwarming love story for watchers of the tragedy-prone female hawk who lost her mate to rat poison and was forced to raise her hatchlings solo last year.

Perhaps inspired by the stunning view from the high-rise love nest, the hawk pair has been seen mating regularly. Each bout of love-making lasts about five seconds, said hawk watcher Jean Shum.

She's taken several photos of the hawk couple in action on the north tower of the Normandy. 

The lady hawk is the one calling the shots in the relationship, said Bobby Horvath, a wildlife rehabilitator who helped feed the female after the father of her chicks died.

"The female runs the show," Horvath said.

"They're bigger and stronger. Biologically they have a clock and they're fertile for a certain period of time. They can have many practice sessions, but there's only a small window when she’s fertile, and she knows when the time is right."

In this case the power differential seems even more pronounced, perhaps because the female is several years older than her wingman. Hawk watchers say he appears to be a youngster embarking on his first relationship, while she's been around the nest a few times.

So far, the young male is following the standard hawk dating playbook. He's flown and perched side-by-side with the female. Recently he upped his game when he brought her a special present — a freshly killed pigeon.

Hawk watchers say the female didn't seem all that impressed with her mate's wooing strategy. The male has been spotted hovering above the female like a helicopter, wings spread wide, then zooming into steep dives.

But the female ignored her beau's peacock-esque displays, said hawk fan Kevin Sisco, who regularly visits Riverside Park to observe the amorous animals.

"When he was putting on this display, she wasn’t interested," Sisco said. "She didn’t even look, even though it was obvious he was there.

"Based on what I can see, she's totally in control of when and where they copulate."

When she's in the mood, the female soars to the top of the Normandy, perches on one of the two towers on top of the building, and waits for her man, Sisco said. The male follows her over, then sits down on the opposite tower.

After a few minutes, he'll fly to the female's tower. 

"If you weren't watching, you'd miss it, it's over so fast," Sisco said.

Though the fast and furious breeding might seem casual, it's hardly a fly-by-night enterprise. Hawks don't do casual sex. It means they're committed to each other and are trying to start a family together, said hawk watchers.

That means Riverside Park's female hawk could be laying a new set of eggs within the next several weeks. But Horvath pointed out that all that mating may not lead to a visit from the stork.

"It's very common for first time maters to fail," Horvath said.