MANHATTAN — A day after a marathon mating spree with famous red-tailed hawk Pale Male, his partner, a healthy-looking Lima, was found dead in Central Park, a photographer who has been tracking the duo reported.
But Pale Male didn't carry the flame for long — he has already been spotted with a new mate.
Lincoln Karim said he saw the celebrity hawk and Lima mate four times on Saturday in a tree at Central Park's Cedar Hill. On Sunday evening he found Lima' lifeless body under that very tree, he wrote on his blog dedicated to tracking Pale Male.
"There were no visible signs of violence, and her body was very stiff and cold," Karim wrote. He then scooped her up so he could take her to a pathology lab for a necropsy.
Karim said that Lima was not acting unusual before her death, but wants to analyze a rat she coughed up to see if had been poisoned.
"This was not some ordinary bird, some random animal, some wild creature, some un-named thing," Karim wrote. "This was my friend and more so she was my most important family — my family by choice."
Hawk watcher Jean Shum wrote in an email, "Lima has graced us with her beauty and her presence, calling her a "wonderful mother to her two kids and a great companion to Pale Male."
As fans came Monday to lay flowers down on the tree where Lima was found dead, "Pale male was above us," Shum said. "He circled cedar hill and at times suspended himself in the air as though he was searching for something. That broke our hearts."
Pale Male made headlines in 2004 when he and his mate at the time, Lola, earned the enmity of the tony Fifth Avenue co-op where they were nesting. When the board of 927 Fifth Ave., at 74th Street, tried to evict the squatting raptors, they incurred the wrath of animal lovers across the world and ended up renovating the birds' pad.
Lola went missing at the end of 2010, and Pale Male watchers said he then took up with a lady hawk called Pearl, Pale Beauty or Paula. He then took up with Lima last spring, who some birders called Ginger. Pale Male has already attracted a new mate, Karim said.
"It's not mourning, it's mother nature," said bird expert Bobby Horvath, who runs Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation. "It's breeding season right now and his hormones are telling him to find another mate."
Hawks often copulate several times a day during this time of year, experts said. Some Pale Male fans have seen the hawk engage in more than a dozen mating sessions in one day.
Horvath said it was important not to jump to any conclusions about Lima's death until test results come back.
"The death is very bizarre," Horvath said. "[Karim] saw the bird the night before and then it dropped like a rock."
He added: "Wild animals often mask their illnesses and sickness for as long as possible. If they appear weak, they'll fall prey."
Animals that are poisoned often exhibit odd behavior days before they die, Horvath noted. It often takes a poisoned rat three to seven days to die, and it could take longer for an animal that eats a poisoned rat, he said.
"It's a slow process," Horvath said. "It's not immediate."
Poisoned birds sometimes are also found with blood in their mouths — which Lima didn't have, he said.
A test would be able to uncover if the hawk ate a poisoned rat and could even pinpoint what kind of poison it ingested, Horvath said.
"But until it's determined, I'd rather let the lab do the testing," he said.