Saturday, March 29, 2014

PALE MALE. What's In a Name? Names Nurture Biophilia. And Biophilia Saves the Earth

 Photo courtesy of
Beautiful sweet faced Pale Male 

He was hatched in 1990.

And as a Brown-tail in 1991 he took a young mate, there was an attempted nest built on a baseball back stop which didn't hold eggs....they fell out, according to his chronicler the wonderful writer and naturalist Marie Winn, who also gave him his name.  The pair also attempted to nest in a tree where they were mobbed by Crows and both injured... 

Thus begins the saga of one of the first Red-tailed Hawks to give up nesting "in the wild"  and raise a family on a building. 

Yes, nests on buildings are somewhat similar to the nests of  Red-tailed Hawks who nest on cliffs due to the dearth of trees out West....  that I give you... but cliffs don't have people peeking out windows at you.  

 For whatever reason, Pale Male, is remarkably amiable to the presence of people within certain bounds.  And so it began.  And as it did, worldwide love and affection for him grew too. 

It may not have happened if "that hawk" that nested on 927 Fifth Avenue hadn't had a name.

I know, just what is this naming hawks mania I have? 

If you will forgive me a digression, back in the day, when I was training in biology,  I was terrific at it but... I had the bad habit of showing my enthusiasm for birds, or animals or fungi  or plants or insects or you name just about any live thing,  loosing control, laughing out of sheer discovery and possibly saying..."Wow!  Amazing!  and even, "Aww, they're soooo cute!"

I vividly remember on one of these occasions Dr. Gross, in his white lab coat and I in mine, turning to me at my microscope and saying quietly, "Yes they are cute but you can't say it."

"I can't say it?"


"Why not?"  

"Because scientists don't."

I lost all my air, I shrunk.  I mustn't show joy in the biological.

I loved live things all of them and secretly loved the behavior of individuals even more. Though I knew the anatomy of many creatures, what really fascinated me was their behavior.  What are they doing and WHY?  I liked the whole creature and I liked them alive.  I was a behaviorist but didn't know it yet.
And so began the scientist mask, the submersion of why many have a love of  biology in the first place.  

 What  I had been doing was expressing biophilia,  it strictly wasn't allowed back then. 

And still isn't by some aging often male scientists.  

Or in birding circles by others who trained in something else altogether but have turned bird watcher and desperately want to be thought of  as "scientific". 

I trained in science, I've worked on research studies, and my opinion is that all resident urban hawks should be named. 


The biggest reason to give resident urban hawks names is to nurture biophilia in people, particularly children, who have never or rarely had a chance to intimately know by watching and love an individual of a wild species.  

 Biophilia literally means love of  life.  As in love of living things or systems such as Pale Male not whoopee I'm glad to be alive today.  Though that certainly can enter into it at times and often does when watching him.

The word was coined by Eric Fromm, mid 20th century, for what he believed was a psychological  bent in humans toward living systems, i.e. other life besides one's own.

Then along came E. O. Wilson who grew up in the forests and fields of Arkansas, and at 14 knew enough about ants to categorically discover and recognize that the fire ant had invaded the United States.  

Nobody else had noticed yet.  

It was Edward O. Wilson who popularized the biophilia hypothesis, in his book Biophilia (1984), which suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.

Therefore extrapolate that further and to love/bond with Pale Male and to help others do so as well,  is to help save the Earth in it's infinite variety of creatures.

And Marie Winn giving Pale Male a name and she and all the other original Regulars standing by the Model Boat Pond with instruments of magnification, showing all comers the nest on 927 was a Biophilia Cadre on the hoof.  To say nothing of Marie, writing Red-tails in Love, which spread love for Pale Male all over the world.

Why Pale Male?  Of course he was one of the first urban hawks and he did have a talented connected group of New Yorkers watching him who were not shy about sharing him. They didn't secretly watch him for months and then let others know he existed only after they'd taken a million pictures. 

Not a chance.  They shared their discovery and their biophilia for him.

And lets face it, lest we forget Pale Male, isn't just any Red-tailed Hawk.  He is personable. He is recognizable because of his paleness.  He is human habituated.  He KNOWS people and lets them know it. 

He is WAY cool.

Plus we now know of course, as the research has been done, that most humans  have an affinity for the young of our species but also an affinity for the young of other mammals.  It is thought to have to do with large eyes, small features in proportion to head size and some say roundish heads as well.

As far as I know that research was only done on mammals but I think it crosses over to birds as well.

This is young Athena from Pepperberg's lab.  She also gives me that "Awww" feeling.  I don't know if that is because I'm into African Greys in the first place or because she in particular does it as she is only six months old.

 Photo courtesy of
Now look at Pale Male, rounded head, big eyes, small features (beak).

There is savvy in those eyes but there is still a definite "Awww" factor.  And with his personality who could resist?  Only those so self absorbed they don't "see".

And we help people "see" if we give an animal a personal name.

Simple as that.

Name the hawks.  Save the Earth.

Happy Hawking! 

P.S. For those who asked what the new nest site at  Fordham looked like in 2013....
 Go to Rich Fleisher's Flickr hawk photos at the following link-


Unknown said...

Marie Wynn opened my senses to Pale Male about the same time Diane Ackerman did to bats. From then on, life has been a biophiliac journey on foot ,in books, on nestcams , as a volunteer in a wildlife rehab clinic and all of this in the company of people with kindred sensibilities. I can't imagine having a life bereft of such discoveries. Why " Introduction to Wildlife " isn't a mandatory course in appropriate levels of childhood education and beyond never ceases to amaze me.

Donegal Browne said...

Dear Unknown,

Well said! Come to think of it, Marie Winn is the mother of many biophiliacs, and the grandmother to even more!
Though I'd been a biophiliac when it came to many creatures as long as I can remember, I hadn't had much truck with raptors until until the folks at 927 Fifth Ave had Pale Male's Nest destroyed and I discovered Marie being quoted in the New York Times. I put on my parka and was down on the sidewalk in front of 927 as fast as my feet could take me. Not only were Marie and the Regulars there along with many others, Lola perched just behind us in the trees and Pale Male was standing vigil on 927 as well. Come to think of it Pale Male's (and other urban hawk's) affection and connection for and with some humans makes them biophiliacs as well. Now that's a fascinating thought. And yes absolutely concerning Childhood Education, Wilson recommends it as well. Keep in touch Unknown and pass along some of your biolphiliac finds.

Unknown said...

ive said it all along-basically no one-certainly not the public gives a damn about 'that hawk'