- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

They say America is a religious country, and after a month of nonstop Christmas who can doubt it? Sometimes it’s fair to wonder, though, just what religion is being celebrated. Take, for example, the Church of Pale Male.

In case you haven’t heard, Pale Male is a red-tailed hawk who took up residence amidst the cornices of an exclusive Manhattan apartment building overlooking Central Park about a decade ago. Since then, in consort with various female hawks — the latest of which has been dubbed Lola — he had spawned several new generations of hawks, and his nest had grown into a 400-pound, 8-foot by 3-foot behemoth, a sort of Trump Towers of the hawk world.

But the co-op’s residents, who include Fox News anchorwoman Paula Zahn, were growing irritated. Pale Male had a nasty habit of attacking and devouring the local pigeons and rats, then dropping their bloody remains on the sidewalk below. Yuck, declared a majority of the residents, shocked by nature’s refusal to abide by civilized standards.

So the co-op board, headed by Miss Zahn’s husband, quietly voted to remove the nest in early December. When news of the decision got out, however, the environmental faithful were outraged. It was as if Joseph and Mary had been turned away from the inn. So they picketed the co-op, brandishing placards recommending, among other things, that passersby “Honk for Hawks.” The high priests of the Audubon Society demanded a sitdown with the co-op board to explain its sins. Editorials noted the saintly characteristics of the animal world as opposed to the greedy world of wealthy co-op owners.

In the end, the co-op’s board saw the light and reversed itself. Pale Male’s nest was retrieved from the garbage bags and carefully reconstructed 19 stories above ground. An architect was even hired to design guard rails that would prevent the hawks from tossing coagulated corpses and other sacrificial detritus over the side to the pavement below.

Whether Pale Male and Lola, last seen making lazy circles over Central Park, will actually return remains to be seen. It’s widely suspected the co-op’s change of heart was less than sincere, and that the board knew that once the nest was destroyed, even temporarily, the hawks would move on forever. This isn’t like 1993, when an earlier move to evict Pale Male was nipped in the bud by threats of lawsuits under a 1918 treaty — the first of the environmental gospels — to protect migratory species.

Now, Pale Male and Lola are doubtless magnificent creatures. And nobody seems to mind the depletion of New York City’s pigeons and rats. Animal rights belong only to those species humans deem worthy. Indeed, the Peregrine falcon, once thought near extinction, was recently taken off the Endangered Species list thanks partly to the efforts of private groups to “plant” them on urban skyscrapers, which mimic their usual cliff-side roosts, where they have a virtually endless supply of less worthy creatures on which to dine.

But let’s not worry about Pale Male. He can easily find a more hospitable skyscraper somewhere in Manhattan, if he chooses. And the hawk world as a whole is doing just fine, partly because an earlier member of the Audubon Society, wealthy society matron Rosalie Edge, in the 1920s personally endowed a sanctuary in Pennsylvania along a flyway used by migrating raptors. (The Audubon Society, then mostly interested in songbirds, refused her request for help.)

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is still a favorite with birders, who pay $7 to watch hawks and eagles soar south every fall along the Kittatiny Ridge.

As for the residents of the co-op, many will no doubt assuage their sense of regret, even guilt, by making ever more lavish donations to various environmental groups that argue man is little more than a dangerous intruder in the Garden of Eden. They will be particularly eager to safeguard far-off places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the horrors of oil drilling. But secretly they will probably be happy they are no longer forced to confront the harsh realities of nature, a k a the food chain, on their very doorstep.

Tom Bray is a Detroit News columnist.

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