"I had known there were robins and sparrows and blue jays in Central Park. I had even seen a warbler or two on occasion. Now I read of owls and snipes, goshawks and scarlet tanagers, flycatchers, vireos, kinglets, and twenty, thirty species of warbler -- all, it appeared, more accessible than in any wild forest or meadow.
"Squirrels, rats, and dogs were the only mammals I had encountered in my past visits to the park. Here were raccoons and woodchucks and bats. And snapping turtles laying eggs. And bullfrogs croaking at dawn. And butterflies and dragonflies. And so much more, all to be found at such intriguing locations as the Humming Tombstone, Willow Rock, the Oven, Muggers Woods, the Point, the Azalea Pond. Where were these places? I wanted to find them."
Eventually, with the help of other Regulars, Winn did learn to comb the park for wildlife. But of all the creatures she encountered, the most mesmerizing -- and the focal point of her book -- were a pair of Red-tailed hawks who took up residence on a Fifth Avenue apartment building, a swanky address three floors above actress Mary Tyler Moore's apartment and across the street from filmmaker Woody Allen's. The nest, which is still there and can easily be seen from a bench near the park's model boat pond, provides "a rare opportunity each spring to get closely involved in the private life of a wild animal," Winn says. "Here is this nest, out in the open, that one can observe sitting on a comfortable bench. You can see the hawks building a nest, courting in the sky above you, mating on top of a telephone antenna. All this is visible, down to that incredible moment when a little white head [of a hawklet] is seen peeking above the edge of the nest."
The widely publicized nest, which attracts crowds of amazed lunchtime onlookers, "has widened the horizons" of many New Yorkers, Winn believes. "To know that this is possible in their city, to know that these other lives go on, has given many people this feeling of kinship," she says. "The nest is right in the middle of this big city. You don't have to buy camping equipment, or watch it on television -- you can see it for yourself."