NEW YORK -- Laurel Fox could not stop watching them. Since discovering the pair of red-tailed hawks nesting in a spire of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, she has been enraptured.
Fox, an occupational therapist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Morningside Heights, across the street from the cathedral, was amazed five weeks ago when she first saw the male alight on a nest guarded by his mate on the northern edge of St. John's roof. Avid bird-watchers told her it was the third time they knew of that red-tailed hawks had tried to nest in a city building.
She was touched when she saw him bring his mate a bright green twig and insert it, like a ribbon, in the side of the brown nest.
But later, when she went out to her usual spot on a terrace on the hospital's ninth floor to watch the birds, her heart sank. The nest was empty, and the male hawk was sprawled on the cathedral roof.
The next day, Fox and Charles Kennedy, a bird expert, returned to check on the pair. As they watched, the female hawk appeared in the sky and descended to the roof, where she found her mate, which was dead.
"She hopped up next to him and looked at him and then kind of raised her wings up, which is quite a sight to see," Fox said. "She bent down, but didn't touch him. Then she repeated it, and then she just flew back up to the nest. The tentative way she approached him looked like someone trying to figure something out. It was very poignant."
The cause of the bird's death has not yet been determined. Cathedral workers helped remove the male hawk, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals delivered it to Ward B. Stone, head of wildlife pathology for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for an autopsy.
"We will consider everything, including West Nile and other infectious and parasitic diseases, as well as poisons," said Stone, noting that the hawk might have eaten an animal that was poisoned. "We've had a red-tailed hawk die recently from Avitrol, a kind of poison people use to kill pigeons, and we've also had red-tailed die in New York from West Nile."
Bird experts say they are concerned that without the male, the female hawk may not be able to tend to any eggs.
"There is no male to bring her food, and so we don't know what's going to happen now," said Geoffrey Nulle, a Morningside Heights resident and avid bird-watcher who was one of the first people to see the birds. "It's possible that she may find another male. It's possible that she'll just abandon the nest and try again next year with another male. We just don't know."