Feature

A City of Raptors

Photographer Peter Green documents the birds of prey that call Providence home

Posted

Peter Green, the photographer behind Providence Raptors, is pointing up towards the Superman Building. He’s directing me to a tiny white-ish square on the edge of the building’s exterior. It’s not really something that you’d notice, even from our current vantage point atop the Peerless Building. It’s not a particularly exciting piece of hardware. Suddenly a group of pigeons flying near the building do a chaotic about-face, flying from it as fast as they can.

“There, you see how they’re all going nuts?” he says. “Chances are they spotted one of the falcons.”

Peregrine falcons have been the Superman Building’s lone tenants since Bank of America left. They nest high on the building, up where there’s nothing but clear sky between them and their unsuspecting prey. Back to the teeny square he was pointing out: it’s WPRI’s Live View camera. Earlier that day Peter had spotted a falcon perched on top of it. If the camera’s not much of an attention grabber from that distance, consider the falcon: nothing but a speck. But like the birds he captures with his camera, Peter’s got a sharp eye.

Peter came to Providence ten years ago and was among the first group of tenants to move into the Peerless Building lofts. You’d think someone who has happily become an authority on city-dwelling birds of prey would have picked the high corner apartment specifically because of its views overlooking downcity and the falcons’ high-rise home.

“I didn’t really care much about birds at all,” he says, laughing. Peter just happened to move into the perfect spot to observe these wild animals in their unlikely urban environment.

“I would start to notice from my window when pigeons would get together in a big flock. Then I’d see one of them go off on its own. I took out some binoculars and it wasn’t a pigeon, it was something I didn’t recognize tearing a pigeon apart.” He explains the carnage that unfolded – feathers flying, blood dripping down the brick of the Dorrance building. A falcon grabbing some lunch. Soon after that he stumbled upon a hawk eating in Burnside Park. He was hooked.

For almost a decade Peter’s been documenting Providence’s native raptors through his photography. Odds are you’ve come across his shots, even if you aren’t following Providence Raptors on Facebook or Instagram. They tend to get a lot of shares, which makes sense; when most of us think of urban wildlife, we aren’t thinking of majestic hawks swooping through Kennedy Plaza or a young kestrel – a kind of small hawk – posing in front of a graffiti covered brick wall. For all of us sharing his work on social media, it’s exciting to discover these creatures on our familiar streets.

“A blue sky could be anywhere in the world,” he says, “that’s why I like the urban setting.” For him, it’s about establishing a sense of place.

Because of his photos he’s become the go-to guy for bird-related questions and concerns. When neighbors in his building see an owl, they text Peter. If someone finds an injured bird in the city, they track down the “raptor guy.”

“There was one rescue where a bird wasn’t being fed by the mother and someone found it on the street,” he explains. “I went and picked him up, and while I was waiting for the clinic to come get him from me, someone came up and said, ‘Oh wow, is that one of the falcons? You should call Peter Green, he’d know what to do.’”

He’s developed relationships that afford him access he could have only dreamed of when he started. He knows the owner of the Turk’s Head building, so he’s been allowed on the roof. Recently he finally got permission to get up on top of the Biltmore. For years, its iconic red sign had been teasing him just outside his window.

“It was torture,” he says. “I could see a tiny little falcon up there but I couldn’t get close.”

Work he’s done with the Audubon Society has spread awareness and understanding, particularly of the peregrines who nest on the Superman Building. Now, instead of snapping shots from his rooftop, Peter gets to accompany Audubon every spring when they band the newly hatched birds (check out the falcon live came herewhich he’ll document on his site. But one of the most rewarding relationships he's developed has been with Born to Be Wild, the Westerly-based rescue center that focuses exclusively on birds of prey. In 2014, hawks were roosting on top of exhaust pipes at the Johnston landfill that would periodically expel burning hot gas. Born to Be Wild took in two hawks that were perfectly healthy, but had all of their feathers burned off. Peter documented the six-month recovery process, and together with Born to Be Wild was able to work out a plan with the landfill to install perches that would be more appealing to the hawks. There haven’t been any incidents since.

These are the kind of rewards that Peter gets excited about. He’s not in it for the Facebook likes or the reshares. He does this because he’s come to love these creatures that he has met, of all places, in the heart of the city.

Down in his apartment, Peter shows off the view from his workspace. Out of the window to the right is the Superman Building and its falcons; to the left is a view of City Hall. Out of that left window Peter has a perfect view of the corner of the building next to his, where pigeons – lots and lots of pigeons – build their nests. That’s where those little hawks – kestrels – make out like bandits by slipping in and making off with that sweet, sweet pigeon meat. It’s like an all-they-can-catch buffet, he tells me. And the shots he captures are only what he’s lucky enough to observe. He’s not at his window 24/7, and the idea of what happens when he’s not watching seems just as exciting to him. As he tells me about the kestrels, a few things catch his eye out the other window. Nothing, it turns out, worth grabbing the camera for, but just like his sharp-eyed raptors, Peter’s always on the lookout.

I ask him where his favorite spot to shoot is and he smiles. I know the answer is going to be the room we’re standing in. “It’s amazing. I can't say it enough.” He’s not wrong. It is a spectacular view.