Celebrating Urban Birds, Uptown Story

A mama hawk in West Harlem. No big deal. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Yesterday was Global Big Day, an annual birding event that we have participated in each year since we became aware of it. We became aware when Seth began working with the Celebrate Urban Birds initiative, which was also when I started paying more attention to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s important work in citizen science. We have been featuring that work in these pages ever since, including non-bird citizen science. This story from uptown New York City gives a fresh perspective on a citizen non-scientist celebrating urban birds:

He Wasn’t a Bird Person. Then a Hawk Built a Nest on His Fire Escape.

Life, death, renewal and social media ensued.

Alba, at 2 weeks old. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Michael Palma Mir’s first encounter with the hawk was not auspicious. Around the first of March, he noticed it outside his West Harlem apartment.

In his 57 years living there, Mr. Palma Mir had never seen anything like this beautiful bird, a killer. He grabbed his camera and stuck his head out the window for a better shot.

The next thing he knew, it was right there. “It was three feet away from me and coming in real fast,” he said. “All I saw were the talons coming right at my head.” He yanked his head back inside and slammed the window, never expecting to see the bird again.

He was wrong.

The hawk returned, again and again, turning Mr. Palma Mir’s fire escape — six stories above a nonbucolic corner of upper Broadway — into a nest and a soap opera for social media.

The saga of Billy and Lilly, two red-tailed hawks that Mr. Palma Mir named after his parents, is one of regeneration and joy, with a tinge of sadness and some dead rat carcasses.

New Yorkers, who pay a premium to live untouched by nature, have a soft spot for predatory birds. In 2004, when a schmancy Fifth Avenue co-op planned to remove a nest belonging to the red-tailed hawks Pale Male and Lola, the birds became citywide celebrities, outshining even their defenders, who included Mary Tyler Moore.

Bird mania has only increased during the pandemic, said Sunny Corrao, an unofficial urban wildlife expert at the city parks department. The department counted 35 red-tailed hawk nests last year, though there may have been more. (The department asks people to report wildlife sightings at nyc.gov/wildlife.)

Read the whole story here.

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