Two red-tailed hawks were released into Central Park on Saturday afternoon, returning to their natural habitats for the first time in months after recovering from bouts with rat poison.
The two hawks—six-month-old siblings, one female and one male—ingested the poison in July and have been in rehabilitation under the guidance of Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation, a Long Island-based nonprofit. Their release came amid a brewing debate over the unintended effects of rat poison on the Upper West Side.
At least three Upper West Side hawks have died after ingesting rat poison, likely after eating rats that were dying of the slow-acting poison. WINORR president Bob Horvath said Saturday that he was still concerned about the possibility of the young hawks being re-poisoned, noting that while “there are no guarantees, the park is cooperating and removed whatever they could.”
The birds were released at the Ramble in Central Park, at 79th Street. Their father, Pale Male, is a famously territorial hawk who presides over Central Park at 72nd Street from the east side to the west side. His former mate, Zena, has been missing since mid-September, and her disappearance has frustrated hawk activists who oppose the use of rat poison.
Hovarth said that WINORR deals with eight to 10 cases per year of hawks ingesting rat poison, and that the number of cases has been rising because of an increasing hawk population. He believes that rat poison is a danger to all animals that live in urban habitats.
“There are unexpected effects of it,” Horvath said. “The rat poison isn’t meant to do this, but there’s a secondary threat when it’s being used.”
WINORR estimated that the female hawk released Saturday had poison in her system five days longer than her brother.
“She was flat-out unresponsive,” Horvath said. “She was a day away from dying.”
But on Saturday, the two hawks were healthy and ready to fly. Rob Mastrianni, an urban ranger for the city parks department, held them while Horvath painted their claws with pink nail polish, a temporary marker that will identify them until they migrate. Soon after, the hawks flew into the trees, eliciting applause from an audience that included birdwatchers and several passersby.
Annabella Cannarella, a birdwatcher of 20 years, called them “beautiful and patient” creatures. Cannarella, who lives on the Upper East Side, has observed all of Pale Male’s 19 offspring—the first of which were born in 1995—and this is the first case of rat poisoning she has seen in the family.
“These square black boxes,” she said, referring to the rat traps, “are a clear and present danger to them.” She added that the 22-year-old Pale Male, who has never been poisoned, is “the luckiest hawk in the world.”
Pat Dubren, another local birdwatcher, said that “several of us were moved to tears” while watching the release. Dubren was with the female hawk shortly before she was captured and taken for treatment.
“I was alone with her behind the Met in the rain, and when I came back from the bathroom, Ranger Rob was there,” Dubren said. “The bird didn’t even resist, it was so sick—so this is great.”