Bird Intelligence -- The Hawk
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In 1992, New York City acquired a new celebrity -- an avian innovator that would eventually become the most-photographed and controversial red-tailed hawk on the planet.

"Pale Male" (dubbed for his light-colored plumage) abandoned forests for an urban jungle, choosing to nest above a doorway on 920 Fifth Avenue across from Central Park where he could prey upon rats and pigeons and drop the carcases onto the doorstep of one of New York's most distinguished addresses, within easy sight of the famed American Museum of Natural History.


Equally interesting was the new behavior produced in humans.  When the building superintendent removed the nest, outraged protesters insisted it be replaced -- turning it into a beloved tourist landmark.

Over 15 years, this tenacious bird has attracted many mates -- First Love, Chocolate, First Love (returning, after a stint in rehab), Blue and finally -- Lola.  He has helped raise dozens of chicks -- some of whom have also taken up residence as permanent New Yorkers. In spite of many challanges and setbacks, he never reconsidered his choice to become an urban hawk.

Pale Male has carved a place in history as a pioneer who tested the uneasy interface between humans and birds on his own terms -- and won.

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Some observations from Dave at a raptor center in the U.K. about the Harris Hawk:

The Harris Hawk hunts in pairs or triplets, one chasing, say, a rabbit to the others who wait in ambush. That shows intelligence and planning, that can be modified to suit circumstances, over mere repeated observation and action.  I will say that they were the only birds of prey at the centre that "played", pouncing on leaves blowing by in the wind. Play is essential for learning coordination skills etc. as a youngster, but most birds (and most people unfortunately) seem to drop it when they mature.

A joke that went aound the centre was that owls had four brain cells: one for hunting, one for eating, one for sex and one for sleeping.


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