Brooklyn is buzzing with the latest boost to its tough reputation: over the past week, not one but two baby falcons have been rescued from pigeons in Greenpoint, Williamsburg’s slightly less hipster-infested, more ethnic neighboring nabe. (And, not entirely coincidentally, a major setting of my novel-in-progress, Sister Rat, a story of urban wildlife gone wrong.)
The story has legs for obvious reasons: falcons are charismatic megafauna, baby falcons are adorable big-eyed big-headed charismatic megafauna, the food chain role-reversal makes this the avian equivalent of Man Bites Dog, and frankly it’s too damn hot out to do any hard-hitting investigative journalism unless Bloomberg gets spotted frolicking with a woman not his wife under an illegally opened fire hydrant. But there are a couple of key points that this story raises that I find interesting.
1. Despite their hard-bitten reputation, New Yorkers really love them some wildlife. Even the rats and the pigeons, while we will cheerfully and futilely attempt to exterminate them, earn grudging respect for their tenacity. Anything out of the ordinary (a turkey in Battery Park, a coyote on the lam in Manhattan, an alligator in the sewer) will promptly earn a nickname and a fan club. This is of course a sign of our innate if scrappy good character and a hopeful indicator for those who want to make cities more habitatiferous. However….
2. Love is not enough. Despite widely publicized success stories (and they deserve their wide publicity, don’t get me wrong) of city-nesting raptors, urban environments make the already fraught and hazardous fledging process even harder, introducing all sorts of novel (in evolutionary terms) dangers like cars and windows. And animal lovers. It’s a catch-22, because while being in the actual street is clearly untenable for a young falcon, being chased down and handled by a Good Samaritan is stressful in and of itself, however necessary. (Figuring out how necessary it is to rescue a given bird from its present circumstances is another matter, and apparently one most people aren’t very adept at.) Given that very real, anthropogenic hazards faced by raptors and other wildlife in the city every day, it’s kind of ironic (and not in the Williamsburg ‘I’m wearing someone else’s bar mitzvah t-shirt!’ way) that the primary villains in the coverage of the incident are the pigeons.