A new documentary film trailer is giving the Audubon staff goose bumps—or “hawk bumps,” as one editor put it.
In The Legend of Pale Male director Frederic Lilien tells the true tale of Red-tailed hawk Pale Male and his mate, Lola, who take up residence on a swanky 5th Avenue co-op overlooking Central Park. New Yorkers became enthralled and obsessed with the pair, and then took to the streets to protest when the building demolished the birds’ nest.
Jesse Greenspan wrote about the ordeal for Audubon:
A vigil organized by New York City Audubon lasted from the time the nest and the pigeon spikes were taken down until they were restored three weeks later. Often braving frigid weather, a hardy group of protesters gathered in front of the building and held placards aloft: “Support Family Values,” “Honk 4 Hawks,” “What Lola Wants, Lola Gets,” and “Flip the Bird to Paula.” Protesters chanted “Shame on you!” and “Bring back the nest!” Passing motorists, bus drivers, cabbies, and even police officers honked their horns in support. Actress Mary Tyler Moore, who lives in the building and championed the birds' return, joined the Audubon vigil, lending the cause celebrity cachet. “This episode galvanized the public,” says Flicker. “These hawks are ambassadors for the wild.”
Meanwhile, Pale Male was becoming a media darling, soaring across the headlines in far-flung places around the world, including Saudi Arabia and India. The New York Times ran more than 10 stories on the hawks, including one on the front page, and dispatched multiple reporters to the scene. The paper even devoted space on its hallowed editorial page to a piece called “Squatters' Rights,” which read: “The hawks have gone out of their way to learn to live with us. The least the wealthy residents of 927 Fifth Avenue could have done was learn to live with the hawks.”
Already a book and movie star, Pale Male, in his latest adventure, received nearly nightly coverage on local and national newscasts. Numerous websites in addition to palemale.com (which received 2 million hits in three weeks) popped up. Audubon collected 10,381 signatures urging the building to put back the nest. As a result of a campaign waged by National Audubon and New York City Audubon, Cohen received almost 5,000 letters. “It's just a very heartfelt story about indomitable wilderness being able to find a home in such a populous spot like New York City,” says Marie Winn, who appeared at the Audubon vigil dressed as a cardinal. (“The store didn't have any red-tailed hawk costumes,” she explains, “so we had to make do with cardinals.”)
The mounting media pressure and the constant protests grew too much for Cohen, who met with Audubon and city and state officials. Finally he consented to Audubon's demands to restore the pigeon spikes. A building architect, a historic architect, city and building engineers, multiple ornithologists, a city biologist, and representatives from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission teamed up to design a plan in which the nest would hang on the wall about four inches above the facade of the building (to avoid causing damage). Moreover, guardrails were strategically positioned to catch anything that fell from the nest, and a layer of twigs was placed in the bottom of the nesting area to encourage the hawks to rebuild.
The Legend of Pale Male hits theaters November 24. Visit the documentary’s official website.