I have a confession:
When I first moved to New York City, and up until this weekend, I had a merely passing interest in Pale Male and the other raptor superstars of the five burroughs. Sure, they’re birds. They’re big birds. I’m pleased when I see them; I’m irate when they’re threatened by human activity.
But at the Olde Homestead, there have always been Red-tails (my youngest brother is named after them, sort of.) And in Ithaca, there have always been Red-tails. As far as I’m concerned, there have always been Red-tails, and there will always be Red-tails. Red-tails without end, amen.
Nevertheless, Pale Male and his rotating cast of lady friends are about the only Manhattan celebrities I know anything about, and so a few years ago I gave the Inimitable MIL* a copy of Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park. To my not particularly great surprise, when we came to visit I discovered that the book had migrated to the guest bedroom. So I read it.
At once, I saw that my historical perspective on the birdlife of Central Park was lacking. This country gal had no idea exactly how ground-breaking Pale Male’s early nesting attempts were. Marie Winn does a good job communicating the excitement, although the lack of strict chronology and a single attempt to forge into the disreputable realms of Salinger pastiche were distracting; she also balances her main storyline sure-handedly with vignettes of the other birds in the park, as well as insects, plants, and people. Given her infectious enthusiasm, it’s no surprise that Winn now has an excellent nature blog of her own.
Besides the fact that Red-tails, and Red-tail nests, and Red-tail triumphs and Red-tail tragedy are now old hat to jaded Manhattanites, much has changed in the park. Screech Owls were once not there, now they are; Gadwalls have gone beyond increasing to increased; and Mississippi Kites have been added to the park’s fly-over hawk list. Perhaps they might be the next city-nesting superstars?
*she is unto mother-in-laws like House Sparrows are to Sparrows – almost like one but not, in technical point of fact, actually one at all. Also, ubiquitous.