One of the books we came across at a Little Free Library somewhere in Phoenix was titled Red Tails in Love. We had no idea who Marie Winn the author was, are not fans of “love stories,” but do have a deep love and appreciation for raptors and so took a chance and brought it along with us in our box o’books for the next time we could catch up on some reading.
This is a quick and easy read but still introduces you into the world of Central Park Birders and the little dramas that play out among various avian species during different seasons. I have been to Central Park and remember it more for the teeming human life than the wildlife but this book makes it abundantly clear how much I missed in my several times visiting the area. We were all young and unobservant once. I am trying to make up for that now.
The central story of the book revolves around the fascinating life and loves of one Red-Tailed Hawk (Pale Male) who chose the facade of a very exclusive condo on the edge of Central Park to build a nest and life in. Through close and dedicated observations on their daily rounds the group of Central Park Birders chronicle the up and downs and intricacies of life as a raptor in and around Central Park.
Of course, with any close observation of a predator you will undoubtedly learn a bit about its prey and its competition. In this case we learn that Pale Male’s favorite meal are the Rock Doves (never call them Pigeons around serious birders) as well as any small mammals that he happens upon on open ground. We learn about the corvids who keep a close, vocal and harassing watch on our Hero as he goes about his daily duties. Other species get their time in the spotlight as well as one cannot help but see many types of birds even when you are looking for a specific one.
We learn about the banding of birds and how small the community of licensed bird rehabilitators and banders actually is. Much is made of the great lengths this intrepid group of birders will go to while trying to read the tiny numbers imprinted on a leg band on a bird hundreds of yards away to figure out which bird it is and bring some closure to the mysteries of its travels and life story. Another chapter tells the reader about the lengths one birder went to collect the pellet of a rarely seen owl who happened to roost in the park and get the pellet contents analyzed by a specialist to find out what the owl actually eats.
Along with the stories of the birders and their adventures the reader is introduced to some other characters whose focus is more on butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, or any of the hundreds of edible species of plants that can be found all over the park. There is an interesting Wildlife Almanac at the end of the book which lists a great many of those bird, butterfly, dragon and damselfly and plant (edible and otherwise) species and when in the year and where in the park you would have your best chance to encounter them.
For such a short book it gives a great introduction to the world of birding and close wildlife observation. The insight into the lives of several avian species going about their daily lives deep in the heart of a huge metropolis unseen or ignored by all but a small percentage of people who have the time and the inclination to care is but another plus.
I was glad I took a chance on this book and found that the next time I was relaxing in my hammock I could not help but to pull out my binoculars and spend some time in close observation of the habits of the main bird at that campsite. I don’t know what specific species of woodpeckers they were but it was fascinating to watch (and listen) as they tapped out love beats or pounded their war drums back and forth across our camp in the San Bernardino National Forest. On another day an iconic screech alerted us that Red Tail Hawks were in the area and, indeed, in front of the hills behind our camp two very distinctive Red Tail Hawks rode the updrafts and sliced and diced back and forth across the sky for about an hour until they drifted out of sight.
If you have ever been tempted to take up birding this book will seal the deal. If you don’t want another outdoor hobby you might not want to risk it 😉 The book is still in our possession but we will be sure to put it back into play at the next Little Free Library we visit.