The Concrete Jungle: Famous Animals of NYC
Outside of the expected pigeons, bodega cats, and sidewalk pooches, some truly colorful animal characters have captured the attention of New Yorkers over the years. From the city’s multiple zoos to high above Fifth Avenue, these are a few of the most famed feathered and furry residents of the city.
It’s only appropriate that “The World’s Most Famous Hawk” would be a New Yorker. This red-tailed hawk caught the nation’s attention in 2004 when his nest was moved by the building’s co-op board, and famous neighbors like Mary Tyler Moore called for the co-op board to reinstate Pale Male’s home, calling the nest removal “pointless and heartless.”
Returned to his perch, Pale Male’s newfound notoriety made him a national figure, appearing on television shows ranging from PBS’s Nature to Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show. In a city that’s no stranger to pigeons, this wild creature captured imaginations as somewhat out of the ordinary, but not out of place in this unpredictable metropolis.
After his brush with fame, Pale Male continued to quietly watch over the Upper East Side for several years. When he went missing several years later, birdwatchers assumed the inevitable: his time had come and gone. His memory lives on, however, as his progeny survive to this day at his old nest at 927 Fifth Avenue.
The confines of the Bronx Zoo, the city’s biggest and most prominent animal sanctuary, have hosted many remarkable creatures throughout the years. One of its most famous residents, however, got her start in the Central Park Zoo, where she gained fame before moving on to the northern borough’s more spacious confines.
Born in 1972, Pattycake was the first gorilla born in New York and wasted no time grabbing headlines. A “domestic dispute” between her parents (in reality, just an accident) broke her arm when she was just a few months old and made the daily newspapers. Treated at the Bronx Zoo for her injuries, she relocated there permanently in 1982 during renovations to the Central Park Zoo.
Activists utilized her fame to establish the Pattycake Fund in 2002, raising money to stop illegal gorilla poaching in Africa. By that time, Pattycake was the matriarch of a thriving family in the Bronx ape exhibit, where she lived until the healthy age of 40.
Jim, Phil, and Harry: Prominent Peacocks
New York’s pet owners are probably aware of St. John the Divine’s annual Blessing of the Animals, but the uninitiated on their first visit may be surprised to meet the Episcopal cathedral’s three feathered full-time residents.
Jim, Phil and Harry have roamed the Morningside Heights grounds of St. John’s since 2002. They even occupy a mini-cathedral of their own, a specially designed hutch whose silhouette could easily be mistaken for one of the Romanesque Revival building’s stained glass windows.
They continue a legacy carried on since the 1980s when the Bronx Zoo first donated peacock chicks to the church as a gift. Subsequent generations of the majestic birds have given St. John the Divine an ornamentation like no other church, and a uniquely New York twist on a 230+-year-old institution.