| 14 Dec 2016 | 02:58

Pale Male, the first red-tailed hawk to arrive in New York City, gave bird-watchers something to chirp about and became Upper East Side elementary school PS 6's mascot. He also inspired Rob Mastrianni to pursue a career as an Urban Park Ranger.

The Brooklyn native always loved wildlife and nature, but seeing the infamous hawk while hanging out in Central Park with friends one day in 2000 changed the course of his life.

“I couldn't believe it. I thought, 'my gosh, this is right here in Manhattan?' I figured I'd have to go upstate to the countryside to see such a beautiful bird of prey,” says Mastrianni.

Just one look is all it took. The encounter ignited his passion, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ranger Rob started bird-watching on the lookout for other hawks, and eventually studied falconry to better understand raptor biology and history, and to learn how to connect with and handle the birds.

More than a decade after his life-changing Pale Male sighting, Sgt. Mastrianni is now a Manhattan Ranger supervisor, partaking in numerous park activities. After reporting to work at Belvedere Castle, the day might find him teaching grade K-8 students about urban raptors or another program offered as part of The Natural Classroom initiative, leading a group on an evening “owl prowl” hike, or responding hands-on to wildlife rescues — like the hawk who flew into an office building window earlier this month.

During his ten years on the job, Ranger Rob has come to the aid of skunks, raccoons and owls. He monitored a coyote in Central Park, and a deer in Fort Tryon Park. But his most heartwarming and memorable rescue thus far happened back in Inwood Hill Park, where he began his career in 2006 working seasonally with the Bald Eagle Restoration project, an assignment he calls “a super-exciting introduction to my career.”

“I rescued the resident female red-tailed hawk there. She was on the ground very weak and bleeding from the mouth from secondary rodenticide. I picked her up with my gloves and blanket, while her mate watched from a tulip tree,” recalls Ranger Rob.

Mastrianni took the hawk to the Upper East Side's Animal Medical Center, where they administered charcoal and vitamin K to purge the poison, then transferred her to MINORR (Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation), a Long Island-based non-profit specializing in the treatment of injured and sick raptors.

Week after week, the male hawk eagerly awaited his mate's return, perching himself next to the Rangers' nature center, says Mastrianni. He would soar and cry out above the field, and would continue working on their nest. Just over a month later, the female hawk reunited with her mate.

“It was the most amazing feeling to watch them immediately soar together and begin their courtship rituals,” says Mastrianni. “They had a successful breeding season that year with three fledglings, and have been successfully fledgling young hawks every year since then.”

Ranger Rob's next Central Park adventure is slated for Sunday, Dec. 18, 8 a.m. to noon, when he'll be assisting with the 117th Christmas Bird Count, an annual conservation event hosted by the Audubon Society. He'll escort different groups, including expert bird watchers, not familiar with the park, in an effort to tally its more than 230 different species of birds.

“Since becoming a Ranger, I've participated in this great event every year except for one — it fell on my birthday weekend.”

Visit nycaudubon.org to learn more about the Christmas Bird Count at Central Park and additional bird counts scheduled throughout the city.