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25 February 2006
Red-Tails in Love : PALE MALE'S STORY--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park

Red-Tails in Love : PALE MALE'S STORY--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie WinnI received a copy of Red-Tails in Love : PALE MALE'S STORY--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn as a Christmas gift this year, and it provided excellent, light, enjoyable bed-time reading for a couple of weeks thereafter.

My copy is an updated, 2005 edition of the original novel, which was published in 1999. This updated edition includes an extra epilogue, written in 1998, and a 2005 update, in addition to several appendices, maps and an annotated bibliography. In the appendices section, you'll find a few Central Park species lists including an edible plants list, a damsel- and dragonflies list, a 58-species butterflies list and a 190-species bird list (organized by typical first sighting dates, and indexed by sighting frequency).

If, like me, you are a person who does not automatically picture diverse and abundant wildlife when you think of New York City, this book will illustrate how narrow-minded we both are about urban flora and fauna. Winn's lighthearted story centers around the relationship of a band of Central Park birders, "The Regulars," and a now-famous family of red-tailed hawks returning to the park each spring. The patriarch of the hawk family was named "Pale Male" by Winn and other Central Park birders because of his unusually light-colored plumage. While the main threads of this true story concern themselves with the habits and behaviors of the hawks, I found Winn's descriptions of the ecology and sociology of the birders themselves to be one of the most endearing aspects of her storytelling. The Regulars appear to be a gregarious, open, passionate group of extremely likable bird fans that I'd like to meet. The Regulars, and 'less regular' birders alike, communicate wildlife sightings and discoveries both directly, through group activities, and indirectly, through a centralized public written record of observations called "The Bird Register" kept in or near the park for all to access. It's the Register, the physical documentation of "good birds," nesting activities, returning migrants, unusual behaviors, park maintenance affecting wildlife observation or safety, etc. that captures Winn's attention and inspired her tale.

Though it's a light story overall, Winn weaves together human and animal struggles, failures and victories, friendships and loss. Within the larger context of the story of Pale Male are meetings with celebrity apartment dwellers adjacent to the park, interactions with wildlife agencies and policies, protests, collaborations with park maintenance operations and small individual triumphs and grief.

I enjoyed the story of Pale Male and of Central Park's diverse wildlife thoroughly and I'd recommend it as excellent light reading to anyone, birder or not.

For additional information on the continuing story of the red-tailed hawks of Central Park, visit these websites maintained by Central Park birders and friends:

(Cross-posted on the Birding Gear Big Board.)

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