Seen from the front, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue is a lovely, forever unfinished hulk of stone.
A lovely, perpetually unfinished hulk.
But for now I’m more enamored of the Cathedral’s less commonly appreciated back.
St. John the Divine, as seen from Morningside Drive
Because on the shoulders of a long-suffering saint (well, aren’t they all?) high on the back of the Cathedral is one of the most picturesque hawk nests in the city.
Nest resting on the shoulders of a saint.
There a red-tailed hawk often perches atop the saint’s head and gazes east over Morningside Park and Harlem Valley, as it did a week ago when I showed the nest to Kelly Rypkema, biologist and host of Nature in a New York Minute. (Thanks, Kelly, for letting me use your camera that day!)
Red-tailed hawk on saint’s head. (Thanks to Kelly Rypkema for letting me use her camera!)
Esau and I visited the nest again last Thursday as a light March snow fell.
Hawk and saint in the snow.
A pair of hawks has been nesting and raising young here since 2006. Robert of Morningside Hawks gives a fine history of the nest. For two years, the female, known as Isolde, nested with a male known as, you guessed it, Tristan. When Tristan died in 2008, a male called Norman, for (possibly ecclesiastical) reasons beyond my ken, paired with Isolde. According to Morningside Hawk’s history, the pair has successfully fledged a total of nine babies since 2008.
Another view of hawk and saint.
Sadly, Norman is rumored to have died during Hurricane Sandy. But in the past month, I’ve watched two hawks at a time bring twigs to the nest. I never learned to identify Isolde or Norman as individuals, so I can’t tell you which hawks I’m seeing. I assume one is Isolde, and the other a new male. Whoever they are, I’m thrilled that nest-building is going on apace.
In fact, NYC’s upper Manhattan hawks have been incredibly active over the past month. I watched a pair copulate on a building at 109th Street and Broadway, and have been seeing at least one raptor almost every day, whether in Riverside Park, Central Park, or outside my window. Red-tails are by far the most frequently sighted.
Red-tail at 106th and Riverside Drive.
But I’ve been lucky enough to spot my first Merlin zooming north along Riverside Drive, and two peregrine falcons, one a mature male perched on a water tower, the other a juvenile perched on a school.
So look up, New Yorkers.
Raptors are all around us, perched on water towers and tree limbs, soaring overhead and swooping low, mating on high-rises and nesting on bridges. Keep your eyes open, and LOOK UP.
A Riverside red-tail.