President's Perch: Collaboration for a Kestrel

Post-rescue, a fledgling American Kestrel rests on an Upper West Side rooftop. Photo: Tim Healy


This column appears in the fall 2021 issue of The Urban Audubon.

By NYC Audubon Board President Karen Benfield

The text from a friend included a photo of a fluffy fledgling sitting on pavement: “A friend just found this kestrel alone on West 112th.” Some parents from Bank Street School across the street had placed a thoughtful sign near him (see photo below).

I walked uptown to check on it. Lacking the flying ability to return to the safety of a rooftop, the fledgling explored a small alleyway under a building entrance, hopped up the stairs, and tried to scale some scaffolding.

I called NYC Audubon bird transporter MaryJane Boland, who suggested keeping an eye on it for a bit. She connected me to Wild Bird Fund’s compassionate leader, Rita McMahon. “If you can get the bird to a rooftop,” Rita advised, “it will reunite with the parents who are certainly close by.”

The fledgling American Kestrel, under careful surveillance. Photo: Karen Benfield

But the adventurous kestrel attempted to fly, landing in the middle of Broadway as lanes of cabs hurtled toward it. Human intervention was required.

Once the kestrel was safely scooped up and in a paper bag, NYC Audubon Young Conservationists Tim Healy and Ryan Zucker joined the effort to locate an accessible rooftop.

Sarah Piel and her husband Douglas McAlinden strolled by and joined the project. They called their building superintendent, Daniel Cortes, who readily invited the American Kestrel and its entourage to a rooftop at the end of the block.

Young Conservationist Council Member Ryan Zucker shepherds the young kestrel to safety. Photo: Karen Benfield

Ryan and Tim handled the release, playing baby kestrel begging calls from their phones. This soon attracted the interest of the parents. The fledgling hopped out of the bag. There was one close call when he flew across to an adjacent building and missed the ledge, landing on the brick exterior wall. The kestrel clung there and then, using beak, wings, and talons, slowly climbed to safety. Within moments his mother flew in and fed him; the bystanders cheered and hugged.

Helping birds navigate our built environment depends on all of this: collaboration, good will, connection. At NYC Audubon it is how we change laws, how we protect habitat, how we educate. Read about another wonderful collaboration in this issue: the bird-friendly retrofit at the World Trade Center’s Liberty Park.

The architect of so many of our partnerships, Executive Director Kathryn Heintz, has announced that she will be retiring at year-end. We owe our financial stability through the pandemic, as well as much growth and extended reach, to Kathryn’s ability to look at our work as a kestrel might—from above. We will miss her vision and tireless drive and the ways in which she has championed our work in New York City. There will be much more about Kathryn in our next issue. We are truly grateful for her magnificent leadership.

Safe and Sound. Photo: Tim Healy