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Pale Male's Upper East Side Nest Blocked by Co-Op's Scaffolding

By Emily Frost | August 27, 2013 7:13am
 The nest has been surrounded by scaffolding. 
Scaffolding Surrounds Pale Male's Nest
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UPPER EAST SIDE — The Fifth Avenue ledge where red-tailed hawk Pale Male has built his nest for the past two decades was recently covered in scaffolding, making it difficult for the beloved bird to access its regular perch.

The tony co-op at 927 Fifth Ave. put up the scaffolding last week to make façade repairs — completely surrounding the 12th-story nest of twigs and branches that Pale Male and mate Octavia have used to raise their young.

It sparked concerns among some of the neighborhood's most devoted hawk watchers that the birds will be displaced.

But the building's co-op board — which voted in 2004 to dismantle the nest and evict Pale Male — is taking a more sensitive approach to the hawks this time around and approached the New York City Audubon Society to find a way to do the work with the least impact on the birds, said Glenn Phillips, the society's executive director.

The building's workers are focusing on the area near the nest first and hope to finish the entire project by December, before Pale Male and Octavia need the nest to lay their eggs next year, Phillips said. Red-tailed hawks don't roost in their nests — rather "the nest is just a nursery," primarily used in springtime, Phillips said.

“The nest is not used from now until sometime after January when [the hawks] will start to refresh it for next season," Phillips said. "Occasionally, they may stop at it during the off-season."

But local hawk watchers said they have frequently seen the hawk couple in the nest over the past month, well after their offspring departed. 

"My disgust comes from the fact that there is no one to look out for the hawks' nest to make sure all the work being done on the building does not affect the nest," said Lincoln Karim, who chronicles the famed hawk's movements on his blog palemale.com and said he photographed Pale Male and Octavia in the nest Aug. 20, shortly before the scaffolding went up.

"How much more can happen with our beloved friends?"

Hawk watcher Jean Shum added that the historically contentious relationship between the co-op and the hawks makes the bird-watching community anxious. She said in an email that Pale Male usually begins preparing his nest in the late fall, before mating season begins in January.

The building's management company, Brown Harris Stevens Residential Management, and the city's Department of Buildings did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Phillips, with the Audubon Society, said the scaffolding around Pale Male's nest shouldn't cause alarm, and he praised the co-op board for being "very, very cooperative."

"It is natural and normal for red-tailed hawks to deal with disturbances to the nest, whether it is on a building, a cliff or a tree," he said. 

Still, Phillips acknowledged that with projects like this, "There’s always a risk. There’s no guarantee."

"This is the real world," he added. "Even the smallest thing — a plastic bag caught on the nest — could convince them that there’s some threat," and keep the family away from what Phillips described as the nearly "perfect" nesting spot.

The location, atop a decorative arch near the top of the 12-story building, built in 1925, "commands a view of the most prime hunting grounds in all of Central Park" and is "quite unreachable" to humans, cats, raccoons and other potential predators, Phillips said.

"You can’t beat it," he said.