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Birders Alarmed Over Hawk's Nest Removal Near Tompkins Square Park

By Lisha Arino | February 11, 2015 2:52pm
  Local birders grew concerned after nests built by two red-tailed hawks were removed.
Hawk's Nest Removal
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EAST VILLAGE — Neighborhood bird watchers are up in arms after the owner of a condo near Tompkins Square Park removed a hawk's nest from the building twice in the past few days.

Birders have spent weeks watching the neighborhood’s two red-tailed hawks build a nest on top of a seventh-floor air conditioner at the Christodora House, where the raptors laid eggs last year. But last Friday, they noticed the nest had been removed and replaced by a strip of metal spikes, according to Urban Hawks, which first reported the issue.

The raptors — nicknamed Christo and Dora by local birders — spent the next few days rebuilding the nest around the spikes, but by Monday afternoon it was removed again, birders said.

"Today, the birds made attempts to take sticks to the nest again, but the sticks were removed," photographer Laura Goggin wrote on her blog Tuesday. "At one point near the end of the day, both birds circled over Avenue B and screamed. I wanted to scream, too!"

Property manager Debora Angelico said the nests were removed so that the air conditioning unit could be repaired. The owner of the seventh-floor condo ordered the repair, she said, but only after months of research, which included outreach to the Audubon Society, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the condominium board, she said.

“It’s not like [the owner] did it haphazardly. He actually took a few months to make sure he could do that,” she said, declining to give his name. “He didn’t want to do any damage.” 

Although some the birders expressed concern that nest removal was illegal under federal laws protecting birds, Angelico said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told the owner he was allowed to remove the nest from September through April because the raptors do not mate at that time. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman said federal law only protects migratory bird nests if they are occupied, unless they belong to endangered or threatened birds, bald eagles or golden eagles.

State law, he said in a statement, only protects the bird, its young and eggs, not nest material.

“Under state law, unless the species is State-listed as an endangered or threatened species (red-tailed hawks are not), no permit would be needed to destroy the nest," wrote in a statement. "No state or federal permit would be needed by anyone removing a nest that did not contain breeding adults, eggs or young birds.”

The removal, Angelico said, may benefit the hawks.

She said the building plans to start a two-year renovation in April that would wrap the building in scaffolding and netting as workers remove sections of the facade brick by brick to install waterproofing material.

“The building is ready to take on a big facade renovation so it was probably the best time to remove it so that [the hawks] would have time to build it somewhere else,” Angelico said. She said management would reach out to experts if the birds continued to return.

Wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath of the nonprofit Wildlife In Need of Rescue & Rehabilitation, who has worked with the city’s raptors in the past, said the construction and human activity would likely discourage the hawks from nesting on the building.

But until construction begins, he said, it will be difficult to convince them to move elsewhere.

“[Workers] can go up there once a week and keep removing the sticks and [the birds will] just keep bringing them back,” Horvath said, explaining that the hawks would give up on breeding for the season if the nest wasn’t ready within the next four to six weeks.

“There’s nothing to stop them,” he added. “The hope is that they’ll do it just someplace else.”

Horvath said Christo and Dora will likely stay in the area, but roost on neighboring buildings instead.

“They’re not going to leave the neighborhood,” he said.