Photographer Peter Green enjoys bird watching around Rhode Island. But his favorite spot is downtown Providence. Most people are too busy to notice birds of prey circling this urban setting. But Green has become something of an expert.
Peter Green makes his home in downtown Providence. And he’s built a reputation for being the guy who snaps photos of birds of prey.
"My specialty is downtown urban raptors,” said Green. “I like to have them on concrete and brick and metal and no trees in the picture because it just shows how amazing they are, that they're right here."
From his own perch on the seventh floor of a loft apartment building, Green sees a variety of wild birds: Peregrine falcons soar through the air in their annual mating ritual and red-tailed hawks raise chicks on a fire escape. Green points to a building across the way, where pigeons shelter below the decorative eaves.
"The landlord of my building wanted them [the pigeons] out, so the alley wouldn't be full of poop and feathers and stuff like that,” said Green.
But when Green sees pigeons, he doesn’t see a nuisance. He sees a magnet for raptors. Green watches tiny kestrels in the spring, trying to get into the pigeons’ nests to eat their chicks. The kestrels have striking black stripes on their faces and bodies of blue and rust. They’re the smallest falcons in North America and Green likes to photograph them. He showed some of his pictures to the building landlords.
“And I convinced them to install a kestrel box on our rooftop deck, so we did that a few months ago,” said Green. “If they [kestrels] know that there’s a food source here and they pass by, hopefully they’ll remember and in the spring, when they're looking for a home, they'll come and move in and they'll keep the pigeon population under control."
Green became fascinated with birds after moving into this building nearly a decade ago. He keeps a day job as a graphic designer, but devotes his free time to bird photography. The rooftop deck offers views of Providence and parts of Narragansett Bay.
“I always check the different corners of the buildings: the Dorrance, the Textron building, the Biltmore, the falcons will be landing on the corners,” said Green. “They like the corners because they get a better view of all different angles. And you never know where they are going to show up."
Since Green never knows just where his birding may take him, he doesn’t use a tripod. Wearing a baseball cap, with a camera hanging over his shoulder, he wants to stay nimble and agile. His eyes move with focus behind rectangular glasses as he scans the sky. He’s trained himself to spot birds from a surprisingly long distance.
"There! We got something flying around up there. Let's see,” said Green as he brings up his camera to his eyes. “See that speck. See that flying around? So I'm going to use my zoom lens and see what it is.”
Green snaps a photo, zooms in and examines a bird hovering over the tallest building in the downtown skyline, known to locals as the Superman Building. The wing shape tells him, “...yep, it's an osprey. You never know what's going to fly by.”
Green often sees this fish-eating hawk flying through downtown Providence. He documents his birding adventures on a blog called Providence Raptors that’s built a following among bird enthusiasts.
Local bird and wildlife groups frequently ask him to shoot photos. And for seven years, he’s documented federal biologists banding peregrine falcons in a nest on the Superman Building. This year Green even helped rescue one of the chicks after it fell from the nesting box.
Green captivated an audience recently at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island with stories and photos of the rescue.
“So I went and I grabbed the baby and I put it in my backpack and when I turned around to leave, the mother was there blocking my exit,” Green tells the crowd, which bursts into laughter upon seeing a portrait of the peregrine mother giving Green a menacing look.
Back on the rooftop deck at his downtown home, Green stands next to a vegetable garden, and said his passion for birds took him by surprise.
"You never know what's going to happen in life, right?” said Green. “[It’s] unexpected and it really is just because I moved into the right spot, I think."
Now Green is an expert birder and a raptor rehabilitator in training. One day he hopes to own a house where he can care for injured raptors. But for now he’s happy photographing them amid the rooftops and the streetscapes of downtown Providence.
You can check out a collection of Peter Green’s photos at an exhibition at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island's Environmental Education Center in Bristol through the end of the month.
Correction: Peter Green is still training to be a raptor rehabilitator.
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