This blurry photo from the New York Times shows them after landing.
Now in spite of my absence from this blog, I’ve had more to do over the past seven weeks than sit riveted to my computer screen, watching the antics of two growing chicks, waiting for the momentous day when they’d spread their wings and soar into the wind. But busy as I am, life has been made wondrous by this unexpected gift, this intimate view of a world unknown to me.
Hatched in a nest on the twelfth floor of NYU’s Bobst Library (on the south side of New York’s Washington Square Park), the two chicks were dubbed Boo and Scout by New York Times readers (homage to characters in the novel To Kill A Mockingbird). They’ve attracted a huge group of webcam watchers and park birders, along with a very lively online chatroom. And no wonder. Viewed up close, their young lives were filled with adventures, some of them gut-churning to a squeamish urbanite (mama Rosie’s delivery of fresh rat meat, the “kids” slurping down the entrails, spaghetti-like). Yet all of them inspired gratitude for our privileged view of hawk parents raising their young. Lots of mishaps; we fretted over the tangle with the plastic bag that got twisted around Scout’s leg (until she somehow dislodged it). Courtesy of an online FAQ, we learned more than we might have wished about the anatomy and chemistry of “slicing” (as bird defecation is called), leading one observer to describe their less-than-pristine ledge as a “poop deck” and another to name their tale a “life of slice.”
Yet the fullness of life in these small, struggling creatures was a constant source of wonder. How quickly the hawk pair grew from fluff-ball chicks to spikey-headed young ones, complete with the solemn eyes, little hooked beaks and tiny talons of their species. Slowly — whether through instinct, DNA or some form of proto-consciousness — they appeared to sense that their floppy appendages were purposeful things, growing feathers that lifted them into the wind. Then came “jump-flapping” — a precise description of the young hawks’ exercise routine and flying practice. Scout (the larger of the two) flapped so hard and high that we often thought the wind would sweep her away. Days passed, an anxious fledge-watch started in the park and online, the nest looked like a public health disaster in the making and the young ones edged out of the webcam’s view, to a tidier corner of the ledge.
And then they flew. It was still light, shortly after 8 p.m. Monday evening when Scout took off for her first flight of about two hundred metres, landing on an eighth-floor ledge of NYU’s Silver Centre at the northeast corner of the park. About twenty minutes later, Boo joined her. It’s uncommon for hawks to fledge in dwindling daylight, even less so for a pair of siblings. They did it their way — a pair of sassy New York raptors who preferred to fledge from one tall building to another, avoiding those weird green trees. In our human way, we’d like to think they wanted to stay close to each other, and the presence of their poppa Bobby on the new ledge seemed to confirm this.
So many of us were touched by this experience. In a short time, the birds changed — but so did we. They changed us. They brought us into a world made new, a world seen through fresh eyes, one that offered the grace of delight. So much about flying speaks to us of liberation — a rite of passage, a spiritual journey, a brave step into the unknown. It’s no surprise that one online hawk-watcher compared fledging to a bar-mitzvah, another to a graduation. I find it a lovely coincidence that the chicks hatched during Easter week, the great feast of life reborn; that seven weeks later, the baby hawks fledged at the time of Pentecost, the celebration of earth’s renewal through the Spirit who “…over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” (Thank you, Gerard Manley Hopkins).
For 2012, I’d add a soundtrack: the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia.
Blessings as you fly, Boo and Scout. Godspeed.
A video of the fledging can be found at http://urbanhawks.blogs.com/urban_hawks/2012/05/washington-square-fledges.html For more information and spectacular photos, visit http://rogerpaw.blogspot.ca/