Pale Male, Central Park's Red-Tailed Hawk, Dies at 32 — or Was He Already Dead?

Eva Hagan - Author

May 19 2023, Published 8:44 p.m. ET

Pale Male the hawk perches on a balcony
Source: Getty Images

Famous red-tailed hawk Pale Male perches on a neighboring balcony overlooking Central Park after having his nest removed by building management on Dec. 13, 2004 in New York City.

After over 30 years, Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk who lived in Central Park and on the concrete ledges of Manhattan’s finest apartments, has died.

Pale Male, named for his light feathers, was New York City’s celebrity bird. He was an icon for city birdwatchers, but more importantly, he had become many city dwellers’ connection to wildlife.

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However, news about his death has brought speculation as to whether a hawk could live that long, and if Pale Male actually died years ago.

Protesters hold signs and a photo of Pale Male the hawk near NYC's Central Park
Source: Getty Images

Protesters are shown near where famous red-tailed hawk Pale Male is perched in Central Park after having his nest removed by building management Dec. 13, 2004 in New York City.

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The history of Pale Male:

On Monday, May 15, 2023, a red-tailed hawk was found near Fifth Avenue, appearing weak and ill. He was taken to a vet by wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath. But after no improvement, the hawk, believed to be Pale Male, died late Tuesday, AP News reported.

According to The New York Times, as many birders and non-birders alike mourn Pale Male, others believe Pale Male actually died years ago. If it was Pale Male who died this week, that means he lived to be 32 years old.

People taking photos around Kerbs boathouse in Central Park.
Source: iStock
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In the wild, most red-tailed hawks live an average of 20 years, which has added doubts to Pale Male’s proclaimed longevity.

The first sightings of Pale Male happened in the early 1990s, but he rose to fame in 2004 when he was evicted from his nest on the facade of 927 Fifth Avenue, per The New York Times.

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However, not long after he was evicted, a citywide protest involving New York City Audubon, local residents, and even a national television appearance from actress Mary Tyler Moore led to the nest’s reinstallation.

After securing his spot in one of New York City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Pale Male became a wildlife spectacle in the concrete jungle, per CBS News.

Many bird watchers have watched Pale Male closely for years and confidently attest that it was him. However, others say it would be a miracle if so.

There have been several hypotheses for how it could have been the same bird the whole time. Gabriel Willow, a freelance naturalist who leads Central Park bird walks, told The New York Times it could have been Pale Male’s diet, which consisted mostly of baby birds instead of just rats, as rats are often full of poison in the city.

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Senior woman birdwatching with binoculars.
Source: iStock

However, Willow also added later, “It seems unlikely to me that the most famous red-tailed hawk of all time would also be the longest lived.”

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The city is also full of threats that don’t exist in the wild, such as eating rat poison, flying into buildings or windows, etc.

Therefore, many believe that the probability that Pale Male was able to not only sidestep them all but live over a decade longer seems unlikely, per The New York Times.

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'The Legend of Pale Male' documentary tells the red-tailed hawk's story.

Released in 2009, the documentary, The Legend of Pale Male, follows the love story of a city taken by a red-tailed hawk. In 1993, director Frederic Lilien was 23 and had just come to New York City from Belgium when he encountered Pale Male for the first time. For the next 15 years, the hawk that had chosen Manhattan as a home became his obsession, per IMDb.

Whether Pale Male died in 2023 or actually decades ago, The Legend of Pale Male shows that there is no doubt how valuable he was to the city.

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