What happened to Rosie, Washington Square’s Beloved Red-Tailed Hawk? Missing Since Last Fall

Rosie and the Arch 2012
Rosie and the Arch 2012
Rosie and the Arch 2012

In early 2011, Washington Square Park became home for the first time to two Red-tailed hawks. Their names were Bobby and Violet. They set up house on a ledge at Bobst Library on Washington Square South, which was also, curiously enough, right outside (controversial) NYU President John Sexton’s office. The 12th floor nest caught the attention of The New York Times which began covering the two hawks arrival in earnest, setting up a 24 hour web cam monitoring them and the nest via a camera placed inside the office window.

People from all over the world eagerly watched the hawks, the arrival of eggs, Bobby and Violet switching off turns sitting on the nest, the hatching of one egg, bringing back “food”/prey, and later the plastic bag in the nest — eek!, first child (an only child) Pip’s development and first flights. The Times even conducted an online poll to name Bobby and Violet’s child which is where the name Pip came from. Bobby and Violet’s names, the story goes, were chosen by an NYU professor – Bobby for Bobst Library, Violet for NYU colors – with approval by John Sexton.

Web cam viewers and those who viewed the female hawk up close saw that Violet had a tight band on her leg. It had been placed there by the Department of Environmental Conservation(DEC) to track her; it was believed she originated in Baltimore. (I don’t remember now how they knew this.) There was talk of an intervention on the ledge to remove it by rehabilitators. But NYU, after consulting with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation(DEC), controversially nixed the idea. It was all quite tense – and high profile.

Bobby and Violet Nest 2011
Bobby and Violet Nest 2011

As months went by, the band on Violet’s leg began causing her trouble, and, on Christmas Eve, December 24, in 2011, she was caught in the park to be treated by Bobby and Cathy Horvath, the same rehabilitators who had advised catching her earlier. They had high hopes for her recovery. But, alas, Violet died on December 29th, 2011. It was heart breaking.

Rosie Arrives

A new gal moved into the area quickly on December 25th. She was named Rosie, after an online New York Times poll was conducted to choose her name. Rosie was distinguished by very bright red markings on her back tail feathers. While I felt an allegiance to Violet (and was a little confused by some hawk watchers immediate concern about future off-spring in the nest), Rosie was special as well.

Rosie and Bobby did not become “official” as a couple until February 2012. The hawk world. Who can figure it out? Like, how did Rosie know there was a vacuum so quickly and when did Bobby know Violet was gone for good?

Children of Bobby and Rosie later included Boo and Scout, utilizing the same 12th floor Bobst Library nest. I lost track a little after that. The hawks have a few NYC blogs, and, at times, I have found that hawk people can be a little intense so I have not covered this as much here.

But, I have wanted to address the disappearance of Rosie, the beloved hawk as she went missing at some point around this time last year.

Young hawk summer heat 2012 (while park under construction)
Young hawk child of Rosie & Bobby summer heat 2012 (while park under construction)

What Happened to Rosie? If she Died, Was Rodenticide Poisoning the Cause?

Rosie has not been seen at the park since early fall 2014 – it appears that sometime in October, possibly November was the last sighting.

Even if she died, somewhere – in a city, it is hard to miss a hawk. They are large, unless someone who discovered her dead body didn’t think it was something to bring attention to.

I asked Jeannie, host of the Washington Square hawk chat room, about the disappearance of Rosie. She wrote via email, “I wish we knew [what happened to her]. They mate for life so we know Rosie just didn’t leave. Maybe the rat poison got her. Pale Male has had 8 mates. Some were found poisoned and some just were never found.”

Many New York City parks put rat poison down, and, as a result, many hawks and other birds die from eating poisoned prey. This is called “secondary poisoning.” (There was a really sad story of three baby hawks dying at Riverside Park in 2008.)

2011. Rat poison no longer IN park but nearby at NYU buildings
2011. Rat poison no longer IN Wash Sq Park but nearby at NYU buildings

For awhile at Washington Square, rodenticide bait stations were removed during the nesting season and then placed back in the park again. This was still problematic.

Over the last two years, rodenticide was replaced with “snap traps” (I am not sure what I think of them – this sounds horrible for obvious reasons). There are over two dozen of them, seemingly everywhere (too many). Now there are also black traps which look like rodenticide bait stations but labeled: No Rodenticide. Trap Only.

Prior to the Parks Department decision to remove the rodenticide, NYU’s Sustainability office was urging the agency to do so at the park — while turning a blind eye to the fact that NYU properties surrounding WSP have rodenticide placed all around them. Rosie could have been exposed anywhere to rodenticide.

Truly, the real answer is proper trash maintenance. It sounds almost too simple but that is the solution – and also a certain level of acceptance. This combined is the most eco-friendly and holistic yet effective approach.

trash can washington square park
Recent open, overflowing trash can at Washington Square Park

Earlier this Year, New Gal Hawk Appeared at the Park

A new gal hawk appeared in town in early February. Of course, that meant she needed a name. (And a lot has happened since then, a nest and eggs, and then two fledglings. Male and female hawks share the responsibility of finding “food” and sitting on the eggs.)

Previously, either The New York Times or NYU assisted with the naming of the park’s red-tailed hawks. But now, neither is involved and there are a few camps and sort of different names. I was asked not to write about aspects of the naming controversy. (Example of hawk world intensity.)

The chat room, which may also be active on Facebook now, apparently has 200 members; they voted on a new name which Jeannie said needed NYU “approval” (this I don’t quite understand). The name that was chosen – and “approved” – is Aurora. (Does this seem like going the route of Central Park and Pale Male with a mate with a high brow-sounding name like Octavia?) But this is at least a more democratic and inclusive process.

How are the other park hawks named?

Bobby atop park light
Bobby atop park light

After The New York Times disabled their WSP hawk video cam after two years, NYU took it on for one year, but, following the 2013 nest, the University turned it off. The New York Times, which once wrote an article about the hawks “consummating their union,” has pretty much eliminated coverage of the Greenwich Village hawks at present – and now with the demise of the City Room blog, we won’t see much at all unless something dramatic happens.

Thanks to Rosie

I assume we will not see Rosie again, too much time has passed. I wanted to take a moment to honor her and what she brought to the park after everyone was so sad about losing Violet. A thanks to Rosie with her feisty spirit and magnificent flash of red tail feathers for adding some extra zing and life at Washington Square Park. And let’s really move away in this city from utilizing rat poison. Hawks are not the only species impacted plus serious effects on our environment. It is impossible to know if that is how Rosie died, if she died for certain, but rodenticide poisoning is the most likely cause for her disappearance.

Below is a photo I took of Rosie and a squirrel in 2012. It was nerve wracking as I worried she was going to get the squirrel but the squirrel kept taunting her. (The one thing that I don’t love about the hawks being there is the impact on – death of – the park squirrels, pigeons and other beings.)

Rosie and Squirrel 2012
Rosie and Squirrel 2012

Bonus: On the symbolism of hawks

A friend of mine recently commented that people take on the properties of the animal that they advocate for or else they are drawn to those with whom they have corresponding qualities.

I looked up hawk in the book, Animal Spirit. The author, Ted Andrews, has written a very interesting book about animals, birds, wildlife that appear in your life; he refers to them as totems. He outlines a lot about red-tailed hawks; here is just a bit:

The red-tail is very symbolic. .. The ability to soar and glide upon the currents is part of what hawk can teach. .. It teaches how to fly to great heights while keeping your feet on the ground.

The red of the red-tailed hawk reflects a greater intensity of energy at play within your life. It reflects an intensity of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual forces.

Because of the strong energy (the intensified life-force) activated by this totem, an individual with it must be careful in how they express themselves.

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Photo #1 of Rosie: James Secko
Photo #2 Violet and Bobby in nest: Christopher James/NYU
Photo #3 Young hawk in park : Cathryn
Photo #4 Rodenticide sign: Cathryn
Photo #5 Trash can: Cathryn
Photo #6 Bobby atop light: Teri Tynes
Photo #7 Rosie and squirrel: Cathryn