Birds of prey in the Prescott area
On a bird walk in Watson Woods last Friday, our group found an active Cooper's Hawk nest. From our vantage point, all we could see was what appeared to be a big feather extending beyond the edge of the nest. At first we weren't sure if it was just a feather, or if it really was a tail.
I focused my scope on the nest, and the level of detail was amazing. For one thing, the layers of feathers that make up the tail could be seen. The most fascinating discovery, however, was our ability to detect a very slight but steady movement of the tail. The rhythmic movement of the tail was most likely caused by either its heartbeat or its respiration.
Not long after discovering the Cooper's Hawk nest, we heard an American Kestrel sounding an alarm call. When we finally got a clear view of the Kestrel, it was chasing and attacking a Cooper's Hawk.
Not far from where this drama was unfolding, we saw a pair of agitated Kestrels that were vocalizing vociferously. There was a dead snag with a really large cavity in the trunk of the tree that we assumed was their nest site. As I watched them in flight, I thought they were exhibiting courtship behavior, but after a while the true cause of their distress was revealed.
As a result of their incessant calling and hovering over a large cottonwood tree, a young Red-tailed Hawk flew out of the tree. Once the hawk left the relative safety of the tree, the two Kestrels were relentless in their pursuit - dive-bombing and strafing him as he attempted to get out of their territory.
While birding in Watson Woods back in April, I found a Common Black Hawk. While its name is 'Common Black Hawk,' this species is not common in this area. Black hawks prefer riparian habitat with large, old growth cottonwood trees and willows. We looked for them Friday but didn't see any.
However, on Monday of this week, I was in the car going south on Montezuma Street approaching the La Guardia bridge when I spotted a large bird of prey circling high above the canopy of the trees in Granite Creek Park. The broad wings and the large white area at the base of the tail were unmistakable-it was a Common Black Hawk! In spite of all of the people and cars, the hawk didn't seem to mind. I was so excited to see the Black Hawk right in town.
This weekend I learned that the Mississippi Kites that nested in Chino Valley last year are back and are rebuilding their nest in the same tree where they nested last year. It is very unusual for this species to nest in the Central Highlands of Arizona.
The Swainson's Hawks' nest on Ruth Street in Prescott is busy again for the third year in a row. This is also very unusual, as this species typically does not nest in such a high traffic urban environment.
It is pretty exciting to have all of these different varieties of birds of prey in our area, not to mention Zone-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. We are fortunate to live in an area with such an abundance of birds of prey, which indicates there is a sufficient prey base to support them.
I have a few cottontails in my yard that are wreaking havoc with my landscaping-I would gladly offer them to any hawks in the area.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 45 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email firstname.lastname@example.org.