Cathedral Hawk Nest History

Fledge 2 - The Fencewalker

(First posted 2012-11-08. Last updated 2022-04-26.)

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 2021.

During this time, the hawks have nested in two locations at the east end of the cathedral. During 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. From 2015 through 2021, the nest has been in the turret above the nearby large statue of St. Peter. Previously, there was a failed nesting attempt reported "somewhere" at the cathedral in 2000.

As of the end of the 2021 nesting season, there had been 31 or 32 known hatches at the cathedral nests 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.

Since the nest site shifted from the alcove behind St. Andrew to the turret above St. Peter, successful hatches and fledge of baby hawks has plunged. The exposed (to weather) location of the latter location seems a like explanation for some/much of the decline, but there may also been a change in fertility when a new male hawk appeared in 2018.

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, Madeleine, ...) and at least three males (Tristan, Norman, 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 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
2021 (?) & (?) 25,26
2022 27

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 was 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, 2020, 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, 2020, 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.

25 Observations of the adult hawks by this blog during 2021 were so limited that it was impossible to determine whether either was one of the hawks from 2020.

26 Brooding of eggs at the nest in 2021 was not observed until April 23, roughly the same week as some other nests in Manhattan reported first hatch. Hatch was thus expected roughly May 23, but observations of the nest on that date saw no hawks of any age in the nest. A third-hand observation from about May 10 suggests that the female may have had an injury.

27 The SJD nest appeared to be empty of a brooding mother on visits in early and mid April. It is possible that the 2021 male and a new female decided to re-locate to a new nest site on the Columbia campus.

Posted 12/25/2021 12:30:00 AM by Robert

5/26, St. John the Divine

Since the female red-tailed hawk at St. John the Divine apparently started brooding about April 23, it seemed hatch date would come this week. But three checks on the nest Monday and Wednesday revealed it to be empty. The only hawk sighted was a smallish-sized bird perched on Gabriel's horn Monday evening, presumably the male of the pair.

Subsequently we heard that another a hawkwatcher or two had not seen the female at the nest for possibly a couple weeks. The male has been seen around, and apparently also a year-old red-tail, possibly the same one that we observed in mid April.

There's been some debate about the recent female hawk history at St. John's, and not whether but how many have disappeared or died. Some photos last year suggested the female then was not Madeleine of 2015-2019, and one hawkwatcher theorized that brooding started late this year because the 2021 female was not the 2020 bird.

In any event, it looks like the St. John's nest has continued its relatively dismal history since the adult female (Isolde?) died of frounce in 2014 and since the nest site relocated to a roomier but weather-exposed spot in 2015.

Posted 5/26/2021 10:52:00 PM by Robert

4/30, St. John the Divine

Still Brooding - 6844

Brooding continues at the red-tailed hawk nest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Due to the late start, we're probably looking at another three and a half weeks before hatch.

Posted 4/30/2021 10:32:00 PM by Robert

4/30, Montefiore Square

Lilly in Her Nest - 6720

The red-tailed hawks that nested on a fire escape at Amsterdam and West 135th St. last year apparently moved west this season, nesting at Broadway and West 136th St., across from Montefiore Square.

Reports are that the first hatch there occurred on Thursday, April 22, and a second the following day. However, the second hatchling was reported dead on Tuesday, April 27.

Lilly in Her Nest - 6737

The mother hawk, named Lilly by the neighbors, was perched on the edge of the nest late Friday afternoon, preening and looking around.

The white fuzzy stuff visible on one side of the nest was apparently a pigeon carcass, or part of one. The surviving nestling was not visible while I was watching.

Lilly in Her Nest - 6759

Lilly took off for about 15 minutes, but returned and not long after started feeding the nestling.

The nest site is potentially dangerous when it comes time for the baby hawk to fledge. The only greenery nearby are some trees in the Broadway median and across the street in the parklet. The latter is fenced off and undergoing reconstruction. But this is a busy intersection and presumbably neighborhood folk are well aware of the nest. So if (a/the) fledgling lands awry, someone will be out there to block traffic.

Photographs of the nest, the adult hawks, and the two hatchlings and taken from adjoining apartment can be viewed on the website of photographer Michael Palma Mir.

Posted 4/30/2021 07:23:00 PM by Robert

4/23, St. John the Divine

Brooding? Finally? 6638

Despite reports from Wednesday of the yearling red-tail visiting and lurking near the St. John's red-tailed hawk nest, on Friday it seems that the resident adult hawks are active and at long last have started brooding.

Checking in on the nest on Friday about 6:00 p.m., there was finally the sighting of a hawk's head just sticking up above the nest, low enough to suggest the bird was brooding.

Although it seems bizarre that the hawks at St. John's have only started brooding egg(s) the same week as reports came in of other Manhattan nest having hatches, please recall that the the SJ nest has experienced multiple problems since it re-located to its current, exposed location six years ago. Any news of brooding (and also hatching and fledgling) is good.

Posted 4/24/2021 02:27:00 AM by Robert

4/19, St. John the Divine

The nesting situation for the red-tailed hawks at St. John the Divine gets ever more confusing.

Hawk Beside Nest - 6579

Approaching the nest late Monday afternoon, I could see a hawk perched just outside the nest. Getting close, it looked like the bird was comfortable being there.

Hawk Beside Nest - 6588

Looking around casually.

Hawk Beside Nest - 6603

But wait. What color is that bird's tail?

Take-Off - 6607

The hawk took off, circled around over Morningside Park twice and returned to the nest.

Landing - 6608

Yes, that is definitely a brown, striped tail. This is a year-old bird and not one of the cathedral adults.

Just Visiting - 6610

After another minute or so of looking around, the young hawk was back in the air and flying off toward central Harlem.

So where were the cathedral adult red-tails?

Posted 4/20/2021 01:24:00 AM by Robert

4/9, St. John the Divine

Yes, despite encroachment on their territory by two other hawk pairs, it looks like hawks are nesting the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 2021. However, even as hatch watch has begun at other Manhattan nest sites, it looks like the cathedral pair may not yet even have eggs in their nest.

Hawks Mating - 6536

Friday evening at 6:35 just after I reached the corner of Morningside Park at Manhattan Ave. and 111th St., I saw a hawk fly back and forth in front of the cathedral, then briefly perch on the roof above the nest. Then it flew up to the archangel statue, where the other hawk was at, and... mating ensued.

Often after such sessions, the male quickly departs, but this time he stuck around for a few minutes.

After the Event - 6543

Then he took off for a few minutes, but then he returned. Both hawks were still perched on the cathedral roof at 7:00.

Given the mating session and the extended absence from the nest, it seems the female is not yet brooding eggs. So if there is a hatch this year — and recall that the cathedral nest has failed more often than not the last few years — then it won't occur until at least mid-May, possibly a month after other Manhattan RT hawk hatches.

Posted 4/09/2021 11:41:00 PM by Robert