Cathedral Hawk Nest History

Fledge 2 - The Fencewalker

(First posted 2012-11-08. Last updated 2020-06-09.)

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 2020.

During this time, the hawks have nested in two locations at the east end of the cathedral. In 2006-2014 (but skipping 2009) the nest was in an alcove behind the shoulders of the large statue of St. Andrew on the apse wall. In 2015-2020, the nest was in the turret above the large statue of St. Peter. There was also a failed nesting attempt somewhere at the cathedral in 2000.

As of the end of the 2020 nesting season, there had been 31 or 32 known hatches at the cathedral nest since 2006, 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.

The adult hawks nesting at the cathedral have not been the same pair over the duration that this history details. There have been at least two females (Isolde and Madeline) and at least three males (Tristan, Norman, and Wyatt).

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
17
2018 Madeleine & Wyatt 18, 19
2019 Madeleine & Wyatt May 4 2 June 19 (46d)
June 19/20
20, 21
2020 Madeleine (?) & Wyatt (?) 22,23,24

The date given for first hatch is based on 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 is likely to 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 observed 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 is usually about 45 days after first signs of a hatch.

Notes

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) was reported to have 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 was rescued a few days after leaving the nest and was diagnosed with lead poisoning — possibly due to ingesting material from repair/replacement then occurring on the cathedral apse roof. After a few months at rehabbers, it was deemed unreleasable and was 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 perched atop "Norman's chimney" at St. Luke's hospital 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. Despite promising signs, it 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 of the very nearby apartment building, red-tailed hawks returned to the cathedral in 2015. But likely due to increasingly cramped conditions in the St. Andrew's nest alcove, they shifted to a new nesting site about 30 feet away, in the turret above the statue of St. Peter. Stick collecting in that turret had been 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, while 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. Instead, it seened rather adventuresome and ambitious. It may have hatched a few 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 some head trauma and was taken to veterinary care and rehab. Unfortunately, this fledgling also suffered from lead poisoning. Its condition deteriorated while it was at the rehabbers, and eventually it had to euthanized.

22 An adult male red-tailed hawk was rescued close by in Morningside Park on March 14 but was reported to have died from injuries the following day. Although this may have been Wyatt, some evidence suggests the hawk may instead have been an interloper in the area.

23 Photos on May 22 and 23 of what is presumed to have been the female hawk show different throat feather coloring from that of Madeleine.

24 A brooding adult was observed in the nest on April 10 and as late as May 22. From May 23 on, no observations showed any hawk at the nest. Despite some very slight evidence of a possible hatch about May 10, it seems more likely that there was no hatch at all and the nesting failed.

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

8/30, St. John the Divine

The red-tailed hawk nesting season for 2019 looks to be over. Hawk sightings at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine continue, but they are just the resident adults. Thus the following photo of Mama Maddy taken two weeks ago...

Maddy on a Cross - 4617

Both she and the adult male have been seen about the area in the past two weeks, although not especially close together.

As for this year's baby hawks, my last sighting came on July 16, when the one non-injured kid was pecking on food atop the Cathedral School.

Dining atop a Chimney - 4107

As for the other, injured fledgling from this year's nest, I haven fortunately never heard further about its rehab.

Posted 8/31/2019 02:51:00 AM by Robert

7/15, St. John the Divine

Fledgling on a Lamp Post - 4040

Red-tail fledgling One revealed himself Monday evening by screeching for food and/or attention. I found him perched atop a lamp post on the middle walkway through the close on the south side of the cathedral.

But a few moments later, he (and I do mean "he" — the bird looks a bit smallish and so likely male) flew over to the pulpit in the center of the lawn.

Fledgling on a Pulpit - 4052

Where he stayed for quite a while, staring intently here and there, although mostly at things on the ground.

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If he hasn't made his first hunting attack yet, he's working himself up to it.

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Last view from over by the Peace Fountain.

Fledgling on a Pulpit - 4072
Posted 7/16/2019 01:15:00 AM by Robert

7/8, St. John the Divine

Mama and Gabriel - 3990

Although mama Maddy was perched in plain sight, it took obsessive chirping from a single robin to reveal the location of red-tailed hawk fledgling One at St. John's on Monday evening. The young bird had been lurking about the rooftop of the old orphanage building, but moved to a perch on the corner of the roof where it could be seen from the driveway below.

Hawk Fledgling on Eave -- 4028

But both fledgling and mama seemed to be done with the day. Both remained on their respective perches as long as I continued to watch.

Two Hawks - 4014

Sorry, but no recent news on the status of fledgling Two.

Posted 7/09/2019 01:57:00 AM by Robert

7/3, St. John the Divine

DSC_3919

Red-tail fledgling One at St. John's was easy to find on Wednesday, perched atop a gable of the Cathedral School, in the same general area where he has spent much of the past week.

Moments later he switched over to the other side of the school, perching atop a chimney.

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There he kept watching the sky and screeching occasionally, so I wondered if he was hungry and possibly catching sight of a parent.

But after several minutes, he parachuted down into the trees alongside Morningside Drive.

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If he was investigating a robin's nest or similar, I couldn't see any sign of it.

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Robins in the area were, of course, having a mass freak-out, with one or two taking a dive at the fledgling.

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After a bit, the fledgling began moving about, shifting up higher, but still looking around.

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Moving again, then again.

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And finally getting out of the trees and making a nice flight with a hair-pin turn. And returning to the school chimney.

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Posted 7/04/2019 12:06:00 AM by Robert

6/28, St. John the Divine

DSC_3906

Early Friday evening found red-tail fledgling One at St. John's perched quietly on one of the spires of St. James chapel, overlooking the biblical garden.

Hawkwatcher Melody was already watching and reported that he'd been perched atop the Cathedral School but had given up the spot after being harassed by robins. He returned there after I departed when both parents arrived and dinner was delivered.

Aside from a couple possible "squeeps" when I watched him on Thursday, it was noted that he's been a very quiet child.

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Posted 6/28/2019 11:52:00 PM by Robert

6/27, St. John the Divine

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Early Thursday evening, I was barely on cathedral grounds for a minute before spotting the red-tail fledgling One. He was atop a chimney of the Cathedral House, noshing on pigeon. And a good thing, too, because shortly later he took and alit in a spot where over the many years I have perhaps just once found a fledgling to be lurking.

The pigeon must have been in two parts, as the fledgling finished with whatever was on the right side of the chimney top, then picked up another that was toward the left.

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Perhaps he was moving off in order to get out of the hot sun, or perhaps small birds were harassing him. In any event, he flew over the roof of the old orphanage building. I found him perched on the cathedral wall behind the orphanage and overlooking the side door of the cathedral.

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He finished off what remained of the pigeon.

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Made a few cries. Possibly a parent was in sight, or maybe if was because there was definitely some harassment over here from sparrows and a grackle.

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Then sidled along the ledge that was a bit more protected, both from other birds and from the sun.

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Yes, that pigeon feather remained stuck to his beak for the rest of the time I was there.

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And after another 15 minutes or so, I headed out to get my own dinner.

The hawkwatching grapevine has reported that fledgling Two is doing well at rehab and could be ready for release "soon".

Posted 6/28/2019 12:15:00 AM by Robert

6/24, St. John the Divine

DSC_3768

Monday evening at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine found the un-injured red-tailed hawk fledgling exploring and practicing its moves. The finding, though, took a little while as it was mostly not visible from alongside Morningside Drive, and only spotting a departing adult provided a clue where it was at. It was lurking about the south side of the cathedral, perched on the buttress between the crossing and choir.

Within a minute it was in the air.

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And alighting on a finial at the east end of St. James chapel. Stuck the landing very nicely.

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It stayed there for a while, alternately watching activity on the ground and trying to maintain its balance on the pointed perch.

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Then it decided to spend a little more time practicing its landings, flying back and forth between that finial and one nearby.

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After which it dropped down to the roof of St. James chapel and was out of sight for about 10 minutes before re-appearing.

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And from there it flew over to the roof of Cathedral House in the center of the close.

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Posted 6/25/2019 12:14:00 AM by Robert

6/21, St. John the Divine

A quick check at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine late Friday afternoon again found hawk fledgling one lurking about the turret about the statue of St. James the Great. But it seemed very interested in something close by, and eventually I said "D'oh!", because mama was perched on a nearby ledge. Very nearby.

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To be honest, I've never spotted one of the cathedral hawks on that ledge in years of watching. But then, I had no particular reason to look there. One wonders what I may have missed.

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Although the fledgling edged over toward mama a couple times, he didn't try to join her.

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No food on offer over there. Mama is just having a good, long preen. A couple new tail feathers were just visible as she undergoes her summer molt, so maybe she's feeling extra itchy.

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When I left, the fledgling had settled down toward the middle of the turret and was having his own preen.

No word on the status of fledgling two. Will update when I receive any info.

Posted 6/22/2019 01:34:00 AM by Robert