NYTimes.com Article: In Bryant Park, Hawks Are Circling and the Pigeons Are Nervous
- Subject: [cg] NYTimes.com Article: In Bryant Park, Hawks Are Circling and the Pigeons Are Nervous
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- Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2003 11:46:09 -0400 (EDT)
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Whatever you may think of Bryant Park's mix of corporate/public mix of public space management, you have to appreciate their organic pest management plan.
As a gardener who has had his arrugala and tulips massacred this spring by a mad, local pigeon lady's myrmidons, I find this plan of great personal interest,
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In Bryant Park, Hawks Are Circling and the Pigeons Are Nervous
April 17, 2003
By ROBERT F. WORTH
On Tuesday morning a man with a shaggy blond beard arrived
in Bryant Park and began shaking a dead chick in the air,
smiling giddily to himself. Passers-by steered clear.
Then, like a sign from the heavens, a large brown bird of
prey fluttered down and landed on the man's gloved hand.
"Oh my god, it's an eagle!" one woman shrieked. "No, it's a
Harris hawk," said the man, who was neither a wandering
lunatic nor a seer but a licensed falconer named Thomas
Cullen. He and his hawk were scaring - not eating -
pigeons, which have been flocking to the park in growing
numbers and treating it like a vast private outhouse.
"One of the main complaints we receive is people who get
hit by pigeon droppings in the park," said Jerome Barth,
operations director of the Bryant Park Restoration
Corporation. Poisoning pigeons in the park - what you might
call the Tom Lehrer solution - is illegal. So the founder
of the corporation, Daniel A. Biederman, did some research
and learned that city officials in London use falcons to
keep pigeons away from the Tower of London.
Mr. Biederman looked around to see if someone could do the
same thing in New York, and discovered Mr. Cullen, who
suggested a weeklong experiment that started on Monday. If
it succeeds, he will continue scaring pigeons on a more
permanent basis, with help from other falconers, Mr. Cullen
His modus operandi is simple. The hawks - which he uses for
hunting squirrels, rabbits and pheasants near his home in
Goshen, N.Y. - are trained to follow him like dogs.
Starting about 9 a.m., he walks slowly around the park's
rim, luring the bird with dead chicks to make sure it
trails him. The hawk could easily kill the slow-moving
pigeons, but is not trained to do so, he said.
"What we're trying to do," Mr. Cullen said, "is tie into
millions of years of evolution that says, if you're a prey
species, you really don't want to be under a predator."
He flicked his wrist to demonstrate, and the bird - its
name is Starbuck - flapped into the trees, with a jingle
from the bell attached to one of its talons. Instantly, a
dozen pigeons scattered to the park's far side. When the
hawk grows tired or disoriented, Mr. Cullen takes it back
to a van parked on 40th Street to rest and brings out
another one from a white metal crate. If the project
continues next week, he will use trained falcons as well.
The hawks are not the only birds of prey in the area: a
peregrine falcon nests under the M in the MetLife building,
not far from the park's northeast corner. But that bird
usually hunts only once a day, leaving the pigeons in peace
the rest of the time, Mr. Cullen said. The idea behind his
program is to terrify the pigeons on such a regular basis
that they eventually stop roosting and feeding in Bryant
Park. "We're trying to build their stress level," he said,
"until they don't find it favorable to stay here."
The hawks find their new urban environment a little
stressful, too. At lunchtime one of them unexpectedly
disappeared high above the park. To find it, Mr. Cullen
brought out a scary-looking device that receives radio
signals from transmitters attached to the birds' talons.
"Is he looking for some nuclear or biological device?" one
man asked, glancing nervously at the spiny metal receiver.
The receiver traced the bird, and eventually Bill Ponder,
another falconer who was helping out, retrieved the bird
from the roof of a nearby 14-story building with the
assistance of a friendly superintendent.
It is too early to say for sure if the anti-pigeon program
is working, Mr. Cullen said, since the idea is to alter the
pigeons' behavior for the long term. It is certainly
keeping the pigeons far from the hawk. And it is delighting
the throngs of people who walk through the park or eat
lunch there. Almost every time the hawk came down from the
trees and landed on Mr. Cullen's hand, a group would form
to admire its rust-colored shoulders, white tail and alert
Mr. Cullen would explain what he was doing, and say a few
words about hawks. In open country, they can recognize prey
or another raptor from miles away. Unlike falcons, they
strike their prey on the ground. They kill like pythons,
choking their prey with strong talons, not with their
The crowd listened raptly. "We don't get many wildlife
lectures in Bryant Park," said Linda Durtschi, 41, a legal
secretary who works nearby.
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