Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park, by Marie Winn
There are a number of books that tell stories about nature. They describe birds and their behavior in ways that are accurate, but sadly boring. The reader is left thinking, “I guess you had to have been there.”
This book is different. Author Marie Winn writes with a gentle charm, leaving the reader smiling and content, yet yearning for more.
Winn starts with a lengthy prologue that sets the scene. I admit that I’m not overly fond of New York City, and I’ve never been to Central Park. Yet, after reading this book, I find myself eager to go and see for myself. In particular, I’d like to explore that portion of the park known as the Ramble, where one may spot migrating warblers in the elms and oaks and feed the birds at the Azalea Pond.
Then, with vivid yet complimentary descriptions, Winn introduces you to the Regulars, those knowledgeable and stalwart nature-lovers who visit Central Park day after day throughout the year, leaving their tracks in the form of sightings inscribed in the Register. I find I’d very much like to be friends with all of them.
You certainly do not need to be a bird-watcher to follow Winn’s prose. She was a beginner when she was taken under the wing of a veteran birder, and she explains everything as she goes. And birds are not the only topic. Butterflies, plants—in fact, every aspect of nature—combine to create the setting for this story.
The reader has covered over 40 thoroughly enjoyable pages by the time the main character arrives. Pale Male is a very lightly-shaded Red-tail Hawk, and the first to attempt nesting in the Park since its construction began in 1857. He and his successive mates are the focal point of the story—their courting and nesting in the middle of New York City, the impact they have on the city’s normally oblivious residents, and at last, their successfully fledged offspring. Yet I get the feeling that the story was just an excuse to write what is one of the best nature books I’ve ever read.
All is not sweetness and light—there is plenty of drama as well. Pale Male’s first attempt at raising a family, while he was still a brown-tailed youngster, ends in heartbreak. More heartbreak is to follow. Hazards abound. It isn’t easy raising a family in New York City, even if you aren’t a hawk more accustomed to open fields than skyscrapers.
I particularly appreciated Winn’s focus on the impact the hawks had on the city dwellers surrounding them. Some thought of the nest as a nuisance, while others engaged with nature for what was perhaps the first time in their lives. In the end, no one was left unaffected.
By the time you arrive at the Afterward on page 265, you have laughed and cried, gotten angry and rejoiced in relief. You are left with a sense of awe of the adaptability of wildlife to our urban environments. The presence of birds—and birders—in the middle of a sea of concrete and glass is a sign of hope and a tribute to the persistence of nature.