Keeping an eye on Hawks
Mention providenceraptors.com to most people and they might assume it’s the website for an expansion team in the NBA, but they would be wrong. It’s actually the site founded and maintained by Peter Green, a transplanted New Yorker who has found a bit of a calling in following the comings and goings of birds of prey.
“I live downtown and I have an excellent view of the city,” said the Providence graphic artist. “One day, I looked up and saw what looked like a pigeon on the Bank of America. Then I looked closer and realized it was a falcon eating a pigeon. Since then, I always keep my camera with me.”
Thus began Green’s love affair with urban raptors. He began to stalk the beautiful animals with his camera and follow their lives with avid interest. He is addicted to the falcon cam on the Audubon Society’s website, which has been broadcasting the daily lives of the peregrine falcon chicks that hatched out this spring in the specially built falcon box on the “Superman building” in downtown Providence.
Hawks in the city was no real surprise for Green. A red tailed hawk called Pale Male has been big news in New York City since 1990 or so. Pale Male made the news when the real estate company that managed the building he was nesting in on Central Park West attempted to evict the hawk.
“He would occasionally drop a carcass on someone walking by, or on one of the residents,” said Green. “But when they tried to get rid of it, it became big news for New York.”
Green, who gave a talk about the birds in Providence last week and has mounted exhibits of his feathered friends in various venues over the last four years, never expected that he would be part of a similar story in Providence.
“I was in the park across from Kennedy Plaza [Burnside Park] when nobody else was there and I saw these puddles of blood. I saw that it was a red tail hawk hunting in the park, mostly pigeons.”
The hawk apparently took little interest in Green as he went about rending pigeons into morsels. Green got his camera out and returned to the park daily.
“For two solid weeks, it was hunting every day,” said Green. “Then, to my surprise, it dumped a pigeon on the ground and came down and started eating it, not minding me at all. I came back every day. It was like having my own Pale Male.”
Green came to understand why the hawk didn’t mind having people in the park. People come to the park and feed the pigeons. They throw all this seed around and when the pigeons cluster around to feed, the hawk simply swoops down and grabs one for a quick meal.
“These people don’t realize it but they are actually feeding the hawks when they feed the pigeons,” said Green.
Green didn’t keep his good luck to himself and was amazed at the reactions of some of the people he spoke with, especially those folks who take pride in being “in the know” about things.
“I don’t know how those things start, but some people have told me that the hawks were brought to the city to control the pigeons,” he said. “They tell me that each bird cost $2,000 and the government is keeping quiet about it. It’s become an urban legend. Nobody has to buy a hawk to have it come to the city. They come here because the hunting is so good.”
Green has expanded his coverage of raptors to include owls, shrikes, kestrels, ospreys and any other raptor that comes to the greater Providence area. He has become a bit of an urban legend himself. A couple of years ago, a red tail hawk knocked itself silly by flying into a downtown store window. Someone called Green and he went down to handle the situation. He got the Department of Environmental Management to come and get the bird and take it away for a while to recuperate.
“It wasn’t that badly hurt,” said Green. “Just shaken up a bit.”
In the meantime, Green continues to take superior photographs of the birds that he displays on his website. He also sells the pictures and is available to share his considerable amount of urban raptor lore with groups and classes.
As a graduate of Tufts University and an accomplished graphic designer, Green does well enough in his downtown studio to support his raptor hobby, but every now and then he thinks about doing something else.
“I’ve been really impressed with the people who rehabilitate wild animals,” said Green. “I wouldn’t mind doing that myself.”
Visit www.asri.org for the falcon cam. Go to providenceraptors.com for more information about Green’s bird photography.