Pale Male: he’s not hard to spot if you don’t let the busy-ness of the elm branches fool you and scan for the anomalous shape toward the top, right of center. Thus may the formerly unnoticed, in the moment of its perception, become unmistakable, singular, iconic.
Hatched in 1990, Pale Male has been the mayor of Central Park since he fledged. Observers by the score has he: ornithologist and amateur; he may be the most closely watched and documented New Yorker, ever, glimpsed en passant by multitudes of tourists, travelers and natives. For some of the latter, myself included, he has come to represent a kind of distillation of the city spirit itself, embodied in feathers, muscle and bone – tenous, yet durable.
How many pigeons have he and his several mates: First Love, Chocolate, Blue, Lola, Lima, Paula, Zena, Octavia (since 2012), and their many eyasses consumed? How many squirrels, rats and assorted others?
How has Pale Male survived? The outside limit on red tailed hawks is said to be twenty-five. And that’s absent regular doses of rodenticide, carbon monoxide, and New York’s ever shifting mix of airborne toxic.
See those pencil towers visible behind the trees? They were undreamed when Pale Male started swooping. You couldn’t build a structure that narrow that high back then – the engineering hadn’t been conceived yet.
Maybe some of Pale Male’s descendants will take up residence atop those aeries. If they do, someone should warn the migratory birds who pass through The Pond, the artificially constructed micro-wilderness just inside the Park’s southeast corner. But for all the many languages in New York, few bipeds speak duck. Or finch. And what good would it do, since the red tailed hawk’s prey rarely sees it coming.
I spot Pale Male about one in every ten times I’m up in his neighborhood along Museum Mile, south of Carnegie Hill. His form transmits a visceral thrill always. I’m caught between dropping my jaw and running for a burrow. Or somehow rising up to join him.