Hawk Cam | When Pip Leaves the Nest

Sometime very soon — perhaps in a few days, maybe a week — Pip the red-tailed hawk will take a few more practice flapping hops, face the great wide world and, on untested wings, soar off the ledge where she has spent the first six weeks of life.

There is a good chance that she will never return.

Pip, as you may know, is the child reality-Web-TV star of City Room’s Hawk Cam, whose fast-forward metamorphosis from cottony puff pile to gawky adolescent outside a 12th-floor window at New York University has unfolded before a global audience. (Pip’s sex remains unknown, but by falconers’ convention, unsexed raptors are referred to as female).

It has been quite a spectacle so far. We have watched Pip learn to eviscerate her own squirrels, defecate in projectile fashion and, on Tuesday, wrestle with her father, Bobby, in a sort of practice drill to hone her attack skills.

Many times a day, she does an exercise called “jump-flapping”: picture a human pogo dancer trying to fly. But as Pip’s tail grows out and the blood in her feathers dries, the big moment draws ever nearer.

It would be nice if we could promise you that it will be caught on camera. But alas. The Hawk Cam’s two cameras take in only the nest and a bit of ledge, and as Pip has gotten more adventurous, she has been spending more time farther out on the ledge and out of camera range. State wildlife officials worried that we could startle Pip right off the ledge if we tried to change the camera angle.

All of which has Pip’s legions of fans — who have started at least two blogs, penned poems, posted videos, sent us drawings, held fledge-date guessing contests on Facebook, and logged more than 147 million viewer-minutes on the Hawk Cam — already suffering from empty-nest syndrome.

Indeed, the Hawk Cam’s chatroom has in recent days often taken on the tone of a grief support group. “excitement mixed with sadness,” the chatroom regular Pip Pip Hooray wrote on Wednesday. “soon she’ll be leaving us. i will reeeeelly miss her!” Another regular, BirdManOfCT, has self-diagnosed PFD or “Pip Fledging Depression.”

Adding to the angst is that even though Pip is developing perfectly, her prognosis is, to put it mildly, grim. As few as 20 percent of hawks survive their first year in the wild, said John Blakeman, a raptor expert and breeder. Most fledglings starve to death during their first summer — Bobby and Pip’s mother, Violet, will leave dead rats in tree crotches for her for a few weeks, in part to keep her alive, and in part to keep her from boomeranging back to the nest. But by August or so, if Pip cannot find her own prey, she’s out of luck.

Such are the ways of the wild.

Pip’s first landing will most likely be in a tree in Washington Square Park below the nest. Having never done it before, she may need a few tries. She might find herself hanging upside down from a branch.

Once she quickly masters the basics, Pip will learn to hunt over an ever-expanding territory in the park and beyond. “Think of it as a growing bull’s-eye,” said D. Bruce Yolton, who runs the Urban Hawks blog and has been chronicling nest life from ground level through a long camera lens. “Some hawks have gone to buildings; some have gone right to trees.”

The one place she will not be welcome, after the first few days, is the nest, which is not a home but just a nursery. “You might see her back there for a night or two,” Mr. Blakeman said. “But she will have no compulsion: her world, her universe are the trees.”

Whatever else they will be, Pip’s summer adventures in Greenwich Village will not be televised.

“A lot of people will be happy the nest is empty,” Mr. Yolton said. “But there’s no Web cam for that. People will have to go visit.”

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