Wednesday, January 05, 2011


2009, Lola sits on the nest bathed in the golden light of late afternoon on Fifth Avenue.


Why am I reasonably sure that Pale Male doesn't know either? It isn't because he appears to be watching for her, but we'll get to the reason here in a minute. Let's start at the beginning of how I came to that conclusion.

I had an email today from Jane of Marietta, Georgia. It reads in part...

Just like many others, I’m sure, I’ve been concerned reading about Lola’s non-appearance in recent weeks. Is there any history or any information about this kind of disappearance in previous mates coming to a positive end?

Your blog reports there is still no sign of her, but that article about the young male in the AC shaft gives me a smidgen of hope for Lola (although she is older and wiser, so it’s just a smidgen of hope!)

Thank you for your updates on her – there are many of us out here who follow these wonderful animals!


Hi Jane,

I'm told that Lola is the first mate of Pale Male's that hasn't always taken a winter vacation. And the first few years she was mated to Pale Male it appeared she took one as well. Then a couple of years back she started staying with him through the winter.

That said, I am extremely worried because of the timing of Lola's disappearance. I would have thought if she'd just gone off to hunt a few voles or rabbits for a couple of weeks, as those aren't available in Central Park, she would have returned well before now.

The first observed copulations of Pale Male and Lola have ordinarily been the last week of January or the first week of February with courting occurring in the weeks of January before the observed copulations. We are in that window.

And beyond the timing, Pale Male does appear to be watching for her according to report. If he knew she was injured, we previously might well have seen a period of time where he was protecting her if she were grounded, bringing her food, or observed him actively looking for her which would appear more agitated than what he is doing now. That is if past experience of what the formels, Isolde, the Houston Female, and Rose did, can be transferred to a tiercel's expected behavior.

Without observations to the contrary, my assumption is, that the behavior would be similar. But, as I say, I don't know for sure.

Pale Male has had mates die before. Therefore he might be able to draw on previous experience and realize if he saw Lola's body that she was gone or wasn't going to be his mate anymore and he would stop watching for her return. We have no way of knowing the intricacies of his mind. But we do know that as the days pass without Lola's return, suddenly one day soon, another mate will appear at pale Male's side as if she'd always been there.

If you've read Marie Winn's marvelous book, Red-tails in Love, you may remember that in 1992 Pale Male and his mate First Love were mobbed by Crows, both hawks were injured and had to go to rehab. Pale Male was released within days, while First Love remained at the Raptor Trust from May until November 1992, when she was banded and released in New Jersey.

In the meantime Pale Male took a new mate in November of 1992, Chocolate. At some point in the later part of 1996, Chocolate was killed, her exact death date is unknown but her band was retrieved and in 1996 suddenly a banded female appeared on Pale Male's metaphorical arm. Eventually the band was read and guess what? First Love was back as Pale Male's mate once again.

The following year, October 12, 1997, First Love was found dead after eating a poisoned pigeon on the MET.

On October 15, 1997, only three days later, Pale Male was seen soaring with a different female Red-Tailed Hawk, whom he bonded with and was eventually named Blue.

Note that there are only three days between when First Love was found dead and Pale Male had a new mate. This is one of the reasons that I think he may have recognized First Love's body, knew she was dead, and knew he needed to accept a new mate.

Pale Male has been running other adult Red-tails out of the territory when he sees them. That tells me that likely he doesn't know what is going on with Lola and is waiting as long as he can for her to reappear before re-mating. Though if she doesn't reappear very very soon, he will start bonding with another hawk any day now.

What else can we learn from this chronology?

You asked for a smidgen of hope and here it is. Keep in mind that Lola is not banded. She could have been injured outside of NYC, rescued, and is now residing with an out of town wildlife rehabilitator who has no idea that the Red-tail who is being treated is Pale Male's famous mate, Lola. Therefore if she does not return, and her body is not found in the Park where someone might recognize her, even though Pale Male may turn up with a new mate tomorrow, it is possible that Lola could still be alive. And upon her release, she might wait in the wings for her chance to step back in as Pale Male's mate or she may decide that she too will choose a new mate and start raising young hawks in a nest without a cold updraft.

Best regards,


John Blakeman and long time reader Mai have been continuing their email conversation regarding Lola. Today's question is in regards to the strength of Red-tailed Hawk pair bonds-

Hi John --

As I viewed w/ great sadness Lincoln's pix of PM w/ food presumably waiting/looking for Lola on one of their regular perches -- I thought that there has certainly been a strong bond between them, which has caused me to wonder how quickly or easily that bond can or will be broken, if Lola doesn't reappear in time for this breeding season --

Will PM just wait and wait for Lola? How long before he takes another mate if Lola doesn't show up, assuming another female RT does? Is the instinct to reproduce stronger than the previous bonding?

I know you said that a new bonding could happen very quickly, but I've just been wondering about the strength of the previous bond, w/ Lola, how long such a bond generally lasts. And does it vary from RT to RT?

Hope this isn't too redundant -- Any thoughts or insights you can share would be greatly appreciated!

And the response from John Blakeman--


I, too, have been watching Lola's absence, and yes, I have a measure of concern.

There are only two possibilities. The more favorable one would be that the bird decided to head South for the winter, as many Red-tails do.

The other is that she's dead, from poison in food, or some injury.

The greater probability is the latter. The bird spent the last two or three winters in Central Park, and did well. She's experienced and has no hunger motivations to leave for warmer climes for the winter. But it's still not impossible. She might have lofted high up on a warm thermal (but there haven't been any of these since November) and loosely joined some other Red-tails migrating down from Quebec, upstate New York, or New England. There's a small chance that she's somewhere in the South, asking the question, "Didn't I come down here for some moderate winter weather? Last time I'm doing this, as this is as cold and snowy as NYC." If she's in the South, she picked a bad year to fly there.

But if she did, she'll be seen in February or March, or even in late January.

But I think the far greater possibility is that she's somehow met her demise; again, either by poisoning from a tainted rat, or some wing injury after bouncing off a wire. Red-tails occasionally electrocute themselves by touching opposite wings against hot electrical wires when landing or taking off from utility poles.

If such is the case, if Lola is no more, a new formel (female) will show up when the days start to discernibly lengthen, even as early as mid-January. There is a giant population of "floaters," young, un-mated adults eager to step into an established territory such as Pale Male's.

The resulting pair-bonding, between Pale Male and new mate, can happen in hours, if not just in a day or two. With that, a new mate might appear in January, and except for a different feather pattern, could appear to be Lola once again.


John A. Blakeman

LOLA UPDATE--JUST IN!!!!--Hawkwatcher Emma Cale plus Lincoln Karim of, report that Pale Male is tolerating and even interacting with an adult Red-tailed Hawk in his territory. Emma also says that the new hawk, though she appears to have a red tail, also has lighter eyes than a hawk of four years would have. It sounds like the visitor is likely young- perhaps only three years old.

I was awakened yesterday morning at dawn by an incredible cacophony of Crow caws, right outside the house. As they sounded like they meant business, I carefully peered out from behind a window curtain, just in time to see a Cooper's Hawk heading quickly west with a murder of Crows accelerating her departure from the rear. Within minutes the feeding area was full of sparrows, juncos, finches, chickadees, and even the Downy Woodpecker. Though crows can predate the nests of smaller birds, they can come in awfully handy when those birds want to frequent the feeders on a very cold winter's morning and a stealth raptor is hanging out in the bushes.

No, I haven't forgotten the Mystery Hawk or the china manhandling possum they'll show up soon when we haven't got late breaking Pale Male news.

Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

For awhile I was reading some peregrine websites. There have been some nasty battles, even to the death, when a peregrine is away temporarily from his or her mate, and another "moves in" and then the first returns. Does that happen with redtails?

sally said...

The thought of Lola in a rehabbers care is more comforting than assuming she is dead. Thank you for that thought! I guess I am happy for Pale that he may have a new mate. It will be interesting to read the hawkwatchers reports of this new interaction and possible nesting...will the new mate even use the existing nest?? Wonder what Blakeman thinks of that.

Donegal Browne said...

There are so many nearly unbelievable events regarding Pale Male and his mates that are perfectly true, we should keep in mind Ben's remark, Never under estimate a Red-tail.

That nest site evidentally has met the criteria for best spot for all the females since it was first used as they've never changed sites since.

Actually as some have suspicions that the cradle is allowing cold to chill the eggs causing the failures perhaps an alternative would be an excellent option but I can't imagine them doing it. If the failures aren't biological with the parents themselves, whatever is causing the problem isn't registering for them. They are being "fooled" somehow. 927 is perfect in so many ways, and was so successful for so long and remember they'd have to have another option within the territory. Having looked at Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte's troubles with various nest sites around Central Park, good sites are very very rare.

I'll pass your question along to John Blakeman.

Donegal Browne said...

Not that I've seen or heard about.
With Pale Male and Lola, I have never seen an intruder actually set a toe on their nest. They're on the job and keep an eye on the mate’s location in the park and the park mate keeps an eye on the territory and mate on nest as well. Once I saw Pale Male signal Lola by flying back and forth in front of the nest as he wanted to take care of the problem himself. There are times where Lola will take off like a rocket from the nest after an intruder and PM will hot wing in and stand over the eggs.

Very occasionally when there are eggs they will both go after the intruder or intruders.

I can't confirm their exact criteria for who takes on which intruders but it appears that Pale Male takes on the males and Lola takes on the larger females as she is larger. There have been cases in which the territory was entered by a pair of Red-tails. It appears in that case that they take quick turns fighting them off, with one adult on the nest a straddle the eggs.

On one occasion, Lola was on the eggs and Pale Male was on the nest doing a check in when a Red-tailed Hawk suddenly appeared on the edge of the roof of 927. Pale Male saw the hawk, flew up, landed about 2 feet from the visitor on the roof. Pale then just turned toward the second hawk, puffed himself up in a menacing stance and glared. The visitor then looked completely startled and flew off as fast as his wings could carry him. Pale didn’t even bother to chase him .

Anonymous said...

I live on the 19th floor on CPS, and a hawk lands occasionally on the gainsborough bldg next door. On Dec 8th, at around 7am I was awoken by the sound of a screeching bird. That never happened before.. Out my window there was a crow flying around in circles above a hawk (I thought it was pale male).. and nose diving into the back of the hawk. The hawk you could see was trying to catch the bird, claws reaching out, but the crow was on top.. and they sort of twisted in the air.. and the crow did it again.. nose diving into the back.. then the crow landed on the bldg right next to my window.. and looked quite disheveled. I know the date, because I sent my friends emails saying pale male is having a bad day. I also filmed it with my iphone, and you can see the hawk, and it fly away after sitting sort of panting on top of the roof. Now hearing this, I wonder if it was lola.