Ruffled Feathers

Three Takes of the Condor,
the Peacock & an Angry Hawk

In Cotabambas, Peru, the condor may soar majestically above the giant Andes mountain chain, but on the ground, the species still faces the threat of extinction.
In New York City, another beautiful bird, a peacock, went for a ride above the canyons of Manhattan, but has returned safely to the Central Park Zoo.
And in Pendlenton, Oregon, an angry hawk shares something with your typical cab driver: they all hate bikers.
Every year, Peruvians celebrate the Yawar Fiesta, a remnant of the colonial struggle between the Spanish invaders and the Andean culture. It involves the taunting of young bulls and up to four condors. And, of course, lots of people drinking chichi, the fermented maize juice that is the preferred alcoholic beverage of the region.
The brutal fiesta, named after the word for blood in a combination of Quechua, the ancient Inca language, and Spanish, is starting to take a toll on the difficult-to-breed creature, the earth’s largest flying bird, with a wingspan that can easily reach 10ft. They’re supposed to be released after the fiesta, but there’s been disturbing reports that some are forced to drink chichi and flung from a cliff.
The national symbol for many South American nations besides Peru, a condor can live up to 70 years but is a finicky animal. A recent long-term program to save from extinction the Californian species, a cousin of the Andean one, turned out to become one of the most expensive conservation projects in U.S. history.
Initiatives such as Peru’s Condor Working Group aim at raising public awareness about the fate of the estimated 6,000 still left roaming the wild, most in Argentina and Chile. Such efforts must also address the fact that condors are scavengers and traditionally feed off on rotting flesh. That’s no longer an option due to sanitation concerns related to the people sharing the same habitat with them.
Where should a spectacularly well-groomed bird to go, once out for a stroll? New York City’s Fifth Ave., of course. That’s where a still unnamed peacock was sighted and photographed and filmed and Tweeted last week, perched atop a window ledge, ready for his close-up.
The green and blue feathery wonder also had a chance to make the Tuesday evening news around the world. He may not be at the brink of extinction, but why let such a rare photo-op go wasted?
Not of the ostentatious kind, if that even applies to a peacock, he sat there pretty but never spread his wings. Some even saw him peeking inside the window of the condo that, this being Manhattan and all, has recently made the top real estate news itself, with a $22 million tag apartment sale.
When the time came, the peacock that went for a ride flapped his wings and flew back to Central Park, where it currently resides, just in time for supper at the zoo.

But neither a majestic South American giant, nor a classy multicolored East Sider have anything on a bird of prey bent on teaching many a bike rider a lesson not soon to be forgotten.
Apparently, a Pendleton bike lane is a bit too close to comfort for what some said is a Swainson hawk, and he may be guarding a nest at a nearby cottonwood tree. (This being Oregon, people are usually well versed on names of birds and trees.)
Regardless, when this bird dive-bombs you, you may feel as if you were hit with a baseball bat, according to the ever so colorful imagery of the residents. It’s really serious business.
The impact of the claws of a speeding hawk is strong enough to pierce a bicycle helmet, for starters. You may put together what it’d be like to be hit in some unprotected part of your body. Injuries of this kind can have a lasting effect.
But even if you are not, the birds are indeed protected, so it’s not that you have the right to retaliate. A rider tried then to reason with the hawk, in good and plain English as he told the local media, to no avail. It didn’t take long until he was himself running for his life.
Bird watchers, who’re no fools themselves and only agreed to observe the action from inside the protection of a gas-guzzling car, environmentally-sound concerns be damned, issued the calming word: the hawk will, well, calm down as soon as the eggs hatch.
Asked whether they knew when that will happen, or if they’d care to check the nest to make sure, one of them looked straight to his interlocutor and fired away: why? Don’t you think I’d rather keep this par of eyes exactly as they are now?

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