On Tuesday night, wildlife rehabilitator Bob Horvath announced that New York City's beloved Pale Male, widely known as the most-famous red-tailed hawk in the world, had died. "I'm sorry to have to report the end of an era that Pale Male passed away tonight in our care," Horvath wrote in a Facebook post. According to Horvath, on Monday morning, a New York City park ranger found Pale Male "sick and grounded in Central Park." Horvath took Pale Male to the vet, and then to his home, where he passed. The cause of his death is still unknown.
"He lived at least 30 years in a challenging environment that NYC poses and there will never be another hawk as well known and loved as he was," Horvath wrote of Pale Male.
But did he live "at least 30 years"? Was it Pale Male who died on Tuesday, or a similarly colored pale red-tailed hawk, perhaps one of his many offspring?
In 2015, Corey Finger, a New York City birder and writer for the website 10,000 Birds, made a shocking claim: It's time, Finger wrote, "that the birding community, particularly the New York City birding community, acknowledge the inevitable: Pale Male is dead."
Finger ticked off several reasons that it would be sensible to assume that the hawk known as Pale Male was not the original Pale Male—includinghis longevity in a perilous urban environment, which almost outstripped the age of the oldest known hawk held in captivity. "Seriously, what are the odds that the world's most famous hawk would also become the world's oldest? Or even approach that record?" Finger wrote.
A few years later, in 2019, Horvath continued to be a Pale Male truther. "He's defied all the odds, but there's enough pictorial documentation that, in my opinion, it's not an imposter,” he told the Audubon Society.
On Wednesday, shortly after news of Pale Male's demise broke, Finger maintained his belief that Pale Male had died years ago. "I have to think that it’s been more than one bird. It just seems so incredibly unlikely that the most famous red-tailed hawk ever was also the most long-lived. It just seems completely outlandish," he told Hell Gate. When asked if he had definitive proof to back up his claim, he had this to say: "I would say the folks making the extraordinary claim need to provide the evidence."
Hell Gate reached out to Horvath to ask him if there are plans to determine the age of the deceased Pale Male. "There are no tests to determine exact age available," Horvath replied, via Facebook messenger. "I believe there was only 1 Pale Male despite the controversy." When asked if there are funeral arrangements being planned for Pale Male, he shared that he is waiting to hear from the NYC Parks Department.
Regardless of when he died, Pale Male's remarkable life was marked by both fame and tragedy. Arriving in New York City in 1991 as a beady-eyed adolescent, he soon learned of the challenges of urban living. His first mate, dubbed First Love, was injured and forced to relocate to New Jersey. His second mate, a hawk named Chocolate, was hit by a car on the New Jersey Turnpike, and died from her injuries. Resilient even in heartbreak, he soon reunited with First Love and raised a thriving family, only to then experience the horror of First Love dying after she ate a poisoned pigeon. A series of mates followed First Love (Pale Male loved love); another, named Lima, also tragically had her life cut short after eating a poisoned rat.
But true worldwide fame didn't come until his partnership with a bird named Lola, nesting atop a luxury apartment building on Fifth Avenue (who wouldn't want that address?). After the co-op objected to the lovebirds' nest and all of the bird poop that resulted from having red-tailed hawks as neighbors, and moved to have it removed, outcry and protests ensued, led by building resident and animal lover Mary Tyler Moore; after heated negotiations, Pale Male and Lola eventually emerged triumphant.
RIP to Pale Male, who maybe died years ago but is definitely now dead.