In Love With A Hawk

CAROUSEL - The Early Show - Nov. 12, 2009 - Mark Todd, officer who took down Hasan in Ft. Hood shooting.
They are obsessed.

Day after day, year after year, they come to Manhattan's Central Park. Some of them quit their jobs, some travel from around the world and some even get up at 5 a.m., in a quest to learn how to be a better adult -- from a bird. Sunday Morning Correspondent Bill Geist reports.

They come to see a bold and daring red-tailed hawk that's been soaring amidst the skyscrapers of New York's Fifth Avenue for the past 10 years. Affectionately known to New Yorkers as Pale Male, he attracts the attention of fanatical bird-lovers and zealous paparazzi alike.

There is no denying that he is the most famous red-tailed hawk in the world. You can find his picture in all the papers and he has his own Web page. He is the subject of both a book, optioned by director Nora Ephron for a major motion picture, and an award-winning documentary narrated by Joanne Woodward.

New York is not short on rare birds but you would never think a hawk would have so much personality. As Marie Winn wrote in her best seller, "Red Tails in Love," "he had a feature so distinctive that he could always be identified - not just as a red-tailed hawk but as himself, a particular, individual bird."

Pale Male took up residence in Manhattan in the early 1990s. He is the first of his kind to move to the city, nesting on an ornate ledge outside an apartment building, across the street from Woody Allen's plush crib.

"This is a class bird," says Charles Kennedy, who is sort of the hawk's unofficial guardian. "He is doing everything right."

His penthouse has a spectacular park view in a building where apartments have been selling for $10-$15 million. Believe it or not, the board has turned down the likes of Barbara Streisand, but they can't get rid of Pale Male due to the Migration Bird Law.

Every spring, Pale Male raises a new batch of baby hawks and now he has a big family of over 20 kids, mostly soaring around Central Park.

He is a perfect father who builds homes for his children, catches pigeons and rodents to feed them and defends them from predators. And that's why Pale Male never fails to draw a crowd every day.

"He is a good dad. He just is," Kennedy says. "He is the one we always wanted."

But Pale Male is also a cool father, just like the sea turtle Squirt in "Finding Nemo." When giving his kids flying lessons, he entices them with lunch that he carries in his beak rather than delivering it to the nest.

Charming birds also have good luck when it comes to picking up girlfriends. Not one for monogamy, Pale Male is currently enjoying the company of a fourth mate, Lola.

The most exciting moment for his hawk watchers comes once the baby birds change colors and stretch their wings. That's when the watchers begin an intense vigil (at early morning hours and even on rainy days), hoping to witness the chicks' first jump.

Just as one of the fans says, "Anyone who gets up at 5 in the morning who doesn't have to be there has a little madness involved."

Truly, they are.

Lincoln Karim, who spends his vacation bird watching, has a unit resembling the Hubbell Space Telescope complete with cameras and TV monitors. Dr. Alexander Fisher, 97, has a terrace next to the bird's nest. He is such an avid hawk lover that as long as he sees the birds, his cheerful mood persists. And there is Fredric Lilian, who quit his job and traveled from Belgium to film Pale Male for six years in order to make his documentary.

"It's there that one day while (I am) eating my lunch, a bird of prey landed on a branch right above my head. That sight changed my life," he says.

The vigils can go on day after tantalizing day. Whenever the baby hawks are hopping, the watchers are hopping, too.

Waiting for the magic moment means a great deal to those fanatical fans. "In everybody's life, at one point you have to make that big jump," says Lilian. "And of course it was an image for me because I had to make that big jump myself. It's an inspiration."

And suddenly, the first chick makes a gigantic leap of faith. It happens so fast that the cameraman almost misses it. Seconds later, the second chick takes the plunge after finding himself alone in the nest. Both of them accomplish a rather ungraceful first landing.

The crowd of watchers bursts into incessant and joyful cheers. They hug each other and celebrate with champagne, rejoicing as if the plunges had been their own.

"Nature is in every one of us, whoever you are. It's somewhere inside of you and there is a connection," Lilian says. "What Pale Male is doing, where he is nesting, what he is accomplishing, really awakens that in people."