In the few short months that Buzz and Ruby built their nest, hatched their "city chicks," and watched them fledge, Buzz and Ruby attracted legions of fans and became ambassadors for their species. When they soared above us, our spirits soared with them. Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks beautifully captures and documents the Cambridge, Massachusetts, legend of Buzz and Ruby and their heartwarming story in words and images that entertain, inform, and lift the spirit—you, too, will soar with these majestic birds.
—John Harrison, coauthor of Dead in Good Company
Buzz and Ruby, the famous Alewife red-tailed hawks of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and their first brood enthralled thousands in greater Boston. Now children of all ages everywhere can enjoy them and learn more about city wildlife by reading this wonderful, beautifully illustrated story.
—Paul M. Roberts, hawk expert and director of the Hawk Migration Association of North America
By Joanna Tzouvelis
Buzz and Ruby are a couple of red-tailed hawks who became famous in Cambridge in the spring of 2010 when they built a 3-foot wide nest on the fourth floor ledge of an office building located at 185 Alewife Brook Parkway. Their nest became like a tourist attraction for anyone driving or walking by who wanted to watch this pair as they took care of their three chicks, Lucy, Larry and Lucky.
Belmont resident Wendy Drexler, a poet and freelance editor, recalls the day when she was driving by 185 Alewife Brook Parkway and saw crowds of people in the parking lot next to the building with binoculars and telescopes and soon became hooked, making it a frequent stop in her weekly routine. "As the chicks grew and began to flap their wings and practice helicoptering, the drama kept building. The nest got crowded. Who would fledge first, Lucy, Larry or Lucky and would he or she make it in that first all-or-nothing flight," said Drexler.
She suggested to her friend, special education teacher Joan Fleiss Kaplan of Peabody, that it might make a great story and she agreed, thus starting their journey of writing, "Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks," a children's book for ages 5 to 11 which hit store bookshelves on Sept. 21. They are officially celebrating its launch at 4 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Hotel Tria, 220 Alewife Brook Parkway in Cambridge with John Harrison, one of the four photographers whose photos of the hawks grace the pages of their book. Paul Roberts, a hawk expert who Drexler and Kaplan consulted with will also be there.
To this day, Buzz and Ruby's nest remains at 185 Alewife Brook Parkway. Ruby last laid eggs in 2014, but died in 2014 from eating poisoned rats before the eggs could hatch, according to Paul Roberts, a hawk expert from Medford and director of the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
The book can be purchased at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Book Ends in Winchester, The Children's Book Shop in Brookline, New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton Highlands, Newtonville Books in Newton Center, The Book Rack in Arlington, Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield, Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Joppa Flats Audubon in Newburyport and on Amazon in print and Kindle editions.
The Belmont Citizen-Herald had the opportunity to meet with Drexler and Kaplan recently and ask them about the process of writing their first children's book.
How did you co-write "Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks?"
Drexler: Laboriously, draft after draft, probably 100 drafts. We stopped counting. When our penultimate draft was finished, we asked Paul M. Roberts, a hawk expert and director of the Hawk Migration Association of North America, to vet the scientific details and to add an update about Buzz and Ruby since 2010. Ruby died in 2014 from eating poisoned rats. Highly toxic rodenticides kill a great number of hawks and owls, we've learned, and it's important that cities like Cambridge and Belmont that must control rats use the least toxic pesticides they can. Anyway, Paul sharpened and corrected every fact in our story, and added a wonderful update that places Buzz and Ruby's story in the broader context of how hawks thrive and survive in urban settings.
Why should someone read your book?
Drexler: Anyone who watched Buzz and Ruby raise and fledge their chicks will want to relive the drama, excitement, and sense of community in being there in that throng of fans witnessing the parents' difficult work and their devotion to their chicks (and also their devotion to getting them to leave the nest!) Is this the origin of the term "empty nester?" For those who didn't see the birds, reading about them conveys a wealth of scientific details about raptor life and about how hawks raise their young in urban settings in a fast-moving story with beautiful illustrations.
Kaplan: The update about Buzz and Ruby is fascinating, and we've also included thought-provoking questions for discussion at the back of the book comparing and contrasting hawk parenting behaviors with those of human parents.
What else would you like people to know about the book?
Kaplan: When we first began writing this story, I was expecting to relate a lovely little story of a hawk family who, surprisingly, had built their nest in the city. As we began our research, I realized how much there was to learn from this family and how perpetuation of a species depends on the birds' behavior, circumstances, and ability to deal with challenges. Buzz and Ruby parented with great skill. I've lived my entire life surrounded by nature and wildlife, yet I've never really seemed to notice. I'd see a bird fly here or there, or be curious about a tree nest or saddened by a broken egg on the ground. This story has opened my eyes to an awareness of life in the city beyond any human activity. I hope that those who read our story can be enriched, as I have, by paying attention to the wildlife activity that is constantly occurring right in front of us.
Amy Saltzman, senior multimedia journalist of the Cambridge Chronicle, also contributed to this article.
"Buzz, Ruby, and Their City Chicks," a children's book recently released by authors Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan, follows the story of Buzz and Ruby, a couple of red-tailed hawks who became famous in Cambridge in the spring of 2010 when they built a 3-foot-wide nest on the fourth-floor ledge of an office building at 185 Alewife Brook Parkway. Their nest became like a tourist attraction for anyone driving or walking by who wanted to watch this pair as they took care of their three chicks - Lucy, Larry and Lucky.
A pair of red-tailed hawks made an unlikely home atop a West Cambridge office building in the spring of 2010, captivating the cohort of photographers, nature observers, and workers who endlessly watched “Ruby” and “Buzz,” as they came to be known, at 185 Alewife Brook Parkway.
Now, their journey has been chronicled in a children’s book, released in September: “Buzz, Ruby, & Their City Chicks: A True Red-Tailed Hawk Story.”
Wendy Drexler and Joan Fleiss Kaplan were looking for a book idea in 2010 when Drexler passed a crowd of hawk watchers as she drove home.
“I stopped and asked what was going on,” Drexler said in a telephone interview. “And it just clicked, the story had so much human interest.”
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Drexler and Kaplan collaborated with photographers and illustrators, including Ernie Sarro, who documented the birds’ movements on his community access television show.
“These photographers were often there from sunrise to sunset,” Kaplan said. “That was really the catalyst — seeing everyone’s interest and what they were looking at: These birds were raising kids.”
The pair recalled bystanders who were so invested in the birds that they worried they would have to catch the chicks, in case they failed to fly on their first attempt. And there was a woman who helped guide one of the hawks to safety when it landed in the street.
The authors gave a presentation to a third-grade class and were surprised the kids remembered the spectacle.
“You could see it made an impression on them,” Kaplan said. “They were asking all kinds of questions. It was really impressive.”
The book follows the birds’ nesting process and the chicks’ development, Kaplan said, thanks to the breadth of material the photographers provided.
“The chicks are born, and you can see their personalities. . . . It goes full circle,” Kaplan said. “It’s the trials and tribulations of raising the chicks, the danger they face because of their location . . . but also the benefits.”
“It’s the incredible bond that [the hawks and their chicks] share, altogether the almost kind of magic effect they have,” Drexler said.
There’s also a somber warning. Ruby, the mother hawk, died in 2014 after she likely ate a rodent who had ingested poison.
“I hope the book and the update will alert people to some of the challenges that hawks face,” Drexler said.
JOANNE RATHE/GLOBE STAFF
A parent arrived in the red-tailed hawks’ nest on the West Cambridge office building in 2010.
The update goes along with discussion questions to engage children beyond the book.
“It’s about making kids aware that there’s so much going on around them, encouraging better awareness and observation,” said Kaplan, a former teacher. “This book has really opened my eyes to look around to see what’s going on around us — the things you never notice. It was clear there was much more there than a nest of birds.”
Shortly after Ruby’s death, Buzz “was desperate to find a mate” because there were unhatched chicks in the nest, Drexler said. Buzz and his new mate, Belle, now live in a quiet residential neighborhood in Cambridge.
“Buzz still maintains his territory near 185,” Drexler said. “He’s at least 18 years old now.”
The book is available at some book stores and wildlife centers in the Cambridge area, and at amazon.com.
Dylan McGuinness can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at@DylMcGuinness.