By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — You may not recognize his name, but it’s quite likely you have seen one of his photographs in a nature calendar, in a local newspaper or in an Audubon Society publication. For the record, his name is Peter Green, but you may know him as “The Guy Who Takes Pictures of Hawks” or, as a Providence Journal story dubbed him, the “Birdman of Downtown.”
He prefers Peter, but he’s fine with the nicknames. They accurately describe his newfound interest. Green makes his living as a freelance graphic designer, but nature photography, most notably raptors, is his passion.
As a kid growing up on Long Island, he didn’t give birds much thought. He certainly wasn’t much interested in photographing them when was living in Manhattan. In fact, it was less than eight years ago that Green even learned he enjoyed shooting birds — with a camera, that is.
In 2006, shortly after moving to Providence, he pointed his new telescope at what he assumed was a pigeon perched high on the Bank of America building. He was right ... kind of. A pigeon was in fact up there, but it was being ripped to pieces by a hungry peregrine falcon. He’s been hooked on urban birds of prey ever since.
From is one-bedroom loft downtown, the 39-year-old enjoys a view of the Bank of America — aka the “Superman” — building, City Hall and the Biltmore — their roofs, spires and ledges home to peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks and American kestrels.
The roof of his building offers an even better panoramic view of the city’s building tops, from which these birds of prey soar, largely unnoticed by the hustle and bustle below them.
“Falcons rule the downtown sky,” Green said. “Nothing can fly by, especially when there are chicks in the nest.”
The same female peregrine falcon has lived atop the Superman Building for more than a decade. She has had three different mates and produced some 35 chicks. For the past seven years, Green has captured her soaring, darting, feeding and caring for her young. He’s seen her, with great force, smack into seagulls and bigger hawks, to protect those young.
He initially documented all this sky-high activity with less-than-ideal equipment, such as a rinky-dink camera pointed through his telescope. He now shoots with high-powered lenses that make it look like he is flying next to his subjects.
Green has become a self-taught raptor aficionado. He goes hunting daily, a camera always with him. He’s known to run from parking garage to parking garage to get a better shot. He’s still amazed by the hunting skills of falcons, in spite of the fact that they aren't much bigger than pigeons.
He’s been atop the Superman Building with Audubon Society and U.S. Fish & Wildlife personnel when they are tagging the falcon chicks. Hardhats are mandatory, and hang tight to the building. Also, don’t let all that screaming rattle your nerves.
“The female flies right at you and then turns off,” Green said. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”
Falcons can fly at speeds of up to 200 mph.
He notices pigeon carcasses with all of their feathers pulled out, and suspects falcons must be hunting in the area. But despite living in their high-altitude neighborhood, he rarely sees falcons. Red-tailed hawks, however, are plentiful and a common city sight — at least for the always-looking Green.
He took this picture of a red-tailed hawk in 2008.On a wintry 2008 day in Burnside Park, Green got his first real look at a red-tailed hawk. It was standing on the ground eating a pigeon. He quickly dropped onto the snow and slush and took some of the best pictures of his life.
He’s watched urban birds of prey dine on seagulls, pigeons, starlings and squirrels. He’s seen plenty of poofs of white feathers. He’s photographed a red-tailed hawk enjoying its lunch while perched on the neon Biltmore sign.
To this day, he can’t believe such graceful and powerful animals live downtown. Green has watched a red-tailed hawk swoop down and grab a pigeon midday in busy Burnside Park, and to his knowledge, he was the only person to witness the stealth attack.
“It was an amazing sight,” he said. “People go on vacation just to see a peregrine falcon. All I have to do is look out my window.”
Green’s photography has been featured on the American Kestrel Partnership website, displayed at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s annual Raptor Weekend and exhibited in the Washington D.C., office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
All of his work can be found on his website Providence Raptors.