Pale Male, arguably the world’s most famous red-tailed hawk, soars yet again, in a new documentary, The Legend of Pale Male, about the bird, his list of lovers, and the people who fought for the birds’ right to keep their high-rise home overlooking New York’s Central Park.
The year is 1993. Frederic Lilien, a young, wandering Belgian arrives in the Big Apple looking for his life’s direction. When Lilien happens upon the red-tailed hawk that adorers soon dub Pale Male, a two-decade relationship begins. Lilien’s pursuit is suddenly obvious: To document the hawk’s tale and share it with the world. The relationship ebbs and flows over the course of the bird’s city life, from his first partner, First Love, and the fledging of their three chicks, to his subsequent mates and the perils of living in a concrete jungle rather than a real one—all of which Lilien experiences from behind the lens of a video camera.
The result is a lovely, heart-warming film that reaches beyond Pale Male, the 60-minute documentary that aired in 2002 as part of the PBS series Nature. Rather, The Legend of Pale Male introduces The Hawk Bench, a
home base near the Central Park Model Boat Pond where avid bird watchers gathered yearly to watch Pale Male’s adventures (some still do today). It lets viewers get to know the red-tailed hawks’ biggest fans, including Charles Kennedy and Dr. Fisher (the latter lent the motley crew his apartment—adjacent to the birds’ nest—for filming).
And it covers the fight Pale Male supporters put up when the residents of the building where he’d built his nest dismantled the birds’ home without warning. National Audubon Society and New York City Audubon—with the support of bird watchers who stood vigil outside the 5th Avenue building—got the nest replaced.
This isn’t a spin-off of Pale Male but rather a humorous, family-friendly adventure, one that proves the power of nature, especially when it happens in unexpected places. Simply put, it’s a smile-inducing treat for fans of Pale Male and bird lovers in general. The Legend of Pale Male, opened in New York and California in mid-December, and is now in select theaters across the country.