Cathedral Hawk Nest History

Fledge 2 - The Fencewalker

(First posted 2012-11-08. Last updated 2019-09-18.)

The table and notes below detail the nesting chronology for the red-tailed hawks at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine from 2006 through 2019.

As of the end of the 2019 nesting season, there had been 31 or 32 known hatches at the cathedral nest, and 28 young hawks had fledged (flown from) the nest. What happened to most of the young birds after they "left home" is unknown and cannot be known. We do know that four or five fledglings suffered injury or sickness soon after leaving the nest and were rescued and taken to wildlife rehabilitation. Two of these rescues had to be euthanized, one was committed to a wildlife sanctuary, and the other one or two were eventually released.

From 2006 through 2014, the nest was located in an alcove behind the large statue of St. Andrew on the apse wall. In 2015, the hawks moved the nest to the turret above the statue of St. Peter.

Year Adults 1st Hatch Nestlings Fledges Notes
2006 Isolde & Tristan Apr. 27? 2 (3?) June 12
June 16
1, 2, 3
2007 Isolde & Tristan Apr. 27 3 June 12 (46d)
June 15
June 15
2008 Isolde & Norman May 4 2 June 15 (42d)
June 15
4, 5
2009 Isolde & Norman 6
2010 Isolde & Norman Apr. 18 3 June 4 (46d) 7
2011 Isolde & Norman Apr. 26 3 June 12/13 (47d)
June 12/13
June 16
2012 Isolde & Norman Apr. 17 3 June 3 (47d)
June 6
June 8
2013 Isolde & Norman (?) Apr. 21 3 June 1/8 (41d/48d)
June 5 (45d)
June 9
8, 9
2014 Isolde (?) & Norman Apr. 22 3 June 4 (43d)
June 7
June 9
10, 11
2015 Madeleine & Norman June 15-20? 1 12, 13, 14
2016 Madeleine & Norman Apr. 18 3 May 27 (39d)
May 30
June 2
15, 16
2017 Madeleine & Norman May 17 3 July 2/3 (46d)
July 2/3
July 5
2018 Madeleine & Wyatt 18, 19
2019 Madeleine & Wyatt May 4 2 June 19 (46d)
June 19/20
20, 21, 22

The date given for first hatch is usually the first reported observation of either feeding behavior or other activity by the adult(s) that suggested that there was a baby hawk in the nest. This may be a day or two after actual hatch. In one extreme case (2015), the first clue of the baby hawk's presence may not have been detected until 7-10 days after hatch. It is possible that the first evidence of a nestling in 2016 was also a few days late.

First flight (fledging) of a baby hawk from the cathedral nest has usually been about 45 days after first signs of a hatch.


1 A previous nest on the cathedral was reported in the April 2, 2000, New York Times, but a week later the newspaper reported that the male hawk had died. No further info is known about that nest site except that it was visible from St. Luke's hospital.

2 Stick collecting and possible nest building at the nest site on St. Andrew's shoulders was photographed in 2004. However, a nest by Central Park's North Meadow (approx. 3/4 mile away) successfully fledged three babies in 2004. The 2006 cathedral nest may have originated as a "secondary nest" for the Central Park hawks.

3 Regular observations by photographers of the 2006 nest did not begin until mid-May. Two photos posted on the Urban Hawks blog strongly suggest that there were three nestlings. If so, the third was spotted May 27, about four weeks after hatch, but was never seen thereafter.

4 Tristan is presumed to have died Feb. 21, 2008, after suffering a wing injury and becoming grounded the day of a snowstorm. Norman was first observed on Feb. 25.

5 One 2008 fledgling suffered lead poisoning a few days after leaving the nest — possibly from ingesting material from repair/replacement then occurring on the cathedral apse roof — and was taken to wildlife rehabbers. It was considered unreleasable and subsequently turned over to a wildlife sanctuary.

6 No nesting activity was seen at the cathedral location in 2009, and other hawks were often seen in the area in late March. Did Isolde and Norman not use the site because of stress from the renovation scaffolding which remained in place until early May? Did they try to nest somewhere else? Both were seen sitting together atop the hospital chimney on April 19 for over a half hour, suggesting they had no eggs or nestlings to worry about.

7 Two 2010 nestlings died before fledging, one at about three weeks after hatch and the second at about five weeks.

8 A hawk found dead in Central Park's North Woods after Hurricane Sandy (Oct. 29-30, 2012) was thought to have been Norman. However, the 2013 male hawk looked like Norman. It is also possible that the deceased hawk was Isolde (see note 10). Or the deceased hawk may have been a "floater" who was in the area at the time.

9 The first 2013 fledge was very early and was plainly a nestling who fell out of or was bumped from the nest, landing directly below in an alcove between cathedral chapels. It stayed in the alcove for seven days before venturing out. Meanwhile an elder sibling made an actual flight from the nest.

10 A sick adult hawk was rescued from the cathedral grounds on June 4, 2014, and taken to wildlife rehabbers, but despite promising signs died of frounce on June 18. Due to the relatively small size of the bird, it was thought to be the male, but a necropsy by state wildlife officials revealed it was a female. As Isolde had not been not considered "small" by hawkwatchers, was this a different female and if so when did she replace Isolde? Or was Isolde the hawk killed in late 2012 by Hurricane Sandy (see note 8)?

11 One fledgling from the 2014 nest was rescued from the cathedral grounds on June 18, 10-14 days after leaving the nest, and found to be suffering from frounce, the same disease that killed its mother. Also, in mid-July a fledgling red-tail was rescued in northern Central Park and found to be underfed and underweight. Odds are that this hungry fledgling was one of the cathedral birds. Both of these fledglings were reported to have recovered and to have been released later in the year.

12 Despite construction nearby, red-tailed hawks returned to the cathedral in 2015 but likely due to increasingly cramped conditions in the St. Andrew's nest alcove shifted to a new nesting site about 30 feet away, in the turret above the statue of St. Peter. Stick collecting in that turret was previously observed during spring 2014. It is not known when the new female hawk, Madeleine, arrived except that it was before mid-February 2015.

13 The 2015 hatch was six to eight weeks late. There was apparently a failure of the first clutch of eggs, which were laid in late March and should have hatched by the first of May. Following a series of matings observed in early May, the female laid a second clutch. Hatch date is estimated. Feeding behavior was first noted June 25, but subsequent observations indicated that the single baby was so large that it must have hatched well in advance of that date.

14 No reports were received that the single 2015 baby hawk fledged the nest, nor was a fledgling ever reported in the area around the cathedral. The nestling was last reported seen on July 24, and an observer on Aug. 1 said the nest was empty and that there was no baby hawk in the area. Fledging had been expected roughly Aug. 5, so it is believed that the bird died in the nest at age roughly six weeks.

15 Although the first 2016 fledge appears to have left the nest early, it did not look overly young to have done so. In fact, it was rather adventuresome and ambitious. It probably hatched several days before the first observation of a feeding occurred, and so age-wise was entering the "fledging window".

16 On June 1, 2016, an injured fledgling red-tailed hawk was picked up by NYPD at or near Manhattan Ave. and 109th St., about 3-4 blocks from the cathedral nest. Presumably this was the first fledgling. Although X-rays indicated there were no broken bones, the fledge apparently suffered a spinal injury that paralyzed her legs. She was euthanized a week later as her condition continued to deteriorate.

17 The 2017 first clutch of eggs apparently laid about March 12 failed. Matings were observed early/mid-April and a second clutch laid about April 15.

18 The 2018 male has different throat feather coloring from the male of 2017 and prior years, i.e., his throat feathers were white. It is not known what happened to Norman.

19 Although it appeared in late March 2018 that the female had started brooding a clutch of eggs, in mid-April there were signs that there had been a nest failure. The hawks were observed mating on April 20, suggesting that they were making a second try. But thereafter there was no sign of the female brooding a second clutch of eggs.

20 Although the first sign of hatch in 2019 appears to have been late, it also seems to have been no more than that, just simply late. Other Manhattan nests started reported hatches beginning about April 20.

21 The second 2019 fledgling was found grounded the afternoon of June 20 in the cathedral service area just north of the nest. It had had some head trauma and so was taken to veterinary care and rehab. It is not known how it might have been injured or how long it had been there, although the nest was reported apparently empty several hours before.

22 Unfortunately, it turned out that the second fledgling also suffered from lead poisoning. Its condition deteriorated while it was at the rehabbers, and eventually it had to euthanized.

Posted 9/18/2019 01:30:00 AM by Robert

Edit Post

1 Comment:

On 7/13/2017 10:51 PM , Goggla said...

Thank you for keeping such detailed records over the years. It's really useful information and shows how difficult early life can be for these hawks.