CENTRAL PARK — The young red-tailed hawk recently captured after attacking trained pigeons in a Hamilton Heights apartment was released back into the wild on Tuesday afternoon.
Staffers from the Wild Bird Fund, a nonprofit that provides emergency care for wild birds in the city, released the 1.67-pound female hawk at the Arthur Ross Pinetum located near the 85th Street Transverse just before 2 p.m. Tuesday.
The bird flew triumphantly from an empty paper towel box and landed on a nearby tree branch.
“We have to make sure they are no other hawks around when we release her because though she is quite big, she’s still young and could get attacked,” said Wild Bird Fund director Rita McMahon, who picked the pinetum for the release because it was a quiet and open area.
Mc Mahon added that the hawk — who they dubbed "Leclerc" after the pigeon-loving Hamitlon Heights birder Rene Leclerc who captured her on Monday and turned her in to the rescue group when she tried to make a meal of his pets — was probably less than two years old since her tail had not yet turned red.
They originally thought the bird was male.
The hawk had been "very angry and animated" during the day and a half she was kept in a cage during her recovery at the Wild Bird Fund on 87 Street and Columbus, volunteers at the center said.
"We fed her two mice and she is in great shape so it's safe to release her now," McMahon said.
The Wild Bird Fund gets about a dozen hawks per year and volunteers from the nonprofit were excited to release the healthy raptor and watch as she flew away.
"It's an opportunity of a lifetime that I've been wanted to do for a long time," said 66-year-old Ron Eck who opened the brown cardboard to set the bird free in Central Park Tuesday.
McMahon said they did she did not know if the juvenile hawk, which had a 4-foot wingspan, was a native New Yorker or if she was just passing by the city while migrating south.
“Most hawks migrate between now and January, but not all of them. Some live in the city all year-long,” McMahon said.
Leclerc, 56, captured the hawk on Monday morning when the raptor divebombed the trained pigeons he keeps in two air conditioner units transformed into pigeon coops outside of his Hamilton Heights apartment.
Leclerc has been keeping about 15 pigeons in his two handmade dovecotes for about 25 years.
“I’ve always known him with birds," said William Burnes his longtime friend and neighbor who also lives in the building.
It is legal to feed and keep pigeons under New York City health codes, unless “it creates an unsanitary condition," in which case the city could issue a violation, according to the 311 website.
But Leclerc’s neighbors said the pigeon coops don't bother them.
"It’s not dirty or anything and I’ve never heard anyone complaining about it. I think most people don’t even notice it,” said Ela Vera, 21, who lives with her mother two floors below Leclerc.
“Rene takes all the precautions not to upset anyone, he’s a nice neighbor,” added Tom Kenny, 67, who lives on the fourth floor with his wife and daughter.