The Birdman of Central Park

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Pale Male

Pale Male, the most famous of the red-tailed hawks beloved by Kennedy, sits on a New York City balcony. hide caption

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Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy was featured in the 2002 documentary Pale Male. hide caption

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For more than a decade, the rare site of red-tailed hawks nesting among the high-rises buildings along New York's Central Park has mesmerized city-dwellers. Perhaps none of the birdwatchers understood the majestic creatures better than Charles Kennedy, an amateur naturalist who died recently at age 67. NPR's Margot Adler has a remembrance.

One of the birds, first seen in 1991, was a much lighter color than most red-tailed hawks. The distinctive appearance earned him the name Pale Male among hawk watchers.

In a 1998 interview, Kennedy said, "I have a very real sense that he knows who I am, not because I do anything remarkable. It's because I'm here all the time. And he has astounding visual skills that allow him to live. And if he has such skills, then why wouldn't he recognize me in his background too, and dozens of others of us?"

Kennedy and the red-tailed hawks were the subject of an award-winning documentary, Pale Male and a book, Red-Tales in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn.

Like many of the other residents and tourists who flocked to see the hawks, and followed their every movement through binoculars, Kennedy was awed at being so close to a predator. For Kennedy it was "an immense envy of how it moves, how it looks. We dream of flying. We watch flying. We try and broad jump like we are flying. And he has that power... the power of death, I guess... The power of having a fistful of knives."



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