Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

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Hawks Aloft Blog

Healthy Raptor Homes

What does your home say about you? My hunch is that there is evidence about who you are and your lifestyle evident in every corner of the place you have chosen to lay your head. And guess what? You can learn some things about raptors from their nests, too. 

The health of a nest can tell us not just about the wellbeing of the birds within it, but also about the health of the environment in which it is built. For example, researchers might look at the clutch size and the materials that are being used to construct the nest. Is something unusual being used to build the nest? Is it hazardous to the offspring? That could mean there are changes in the general environment that are making the mating pair adapt.

No matter the health and size of the clutch or how ramshackle the nest, the natural parents of a baby bird are always the best caregivers. That’s why during nesting season—our Raptor Rescue Program’s busiest time of year—we take care to guide callers to our Raptor Rescue Hotline (505-999-7740) on how to return birds to their nests when appropriate or leave fledglings to their parents guidance more often than not. As skilled as our rehabilitators are, Mother Nature already has rearing baby birds figured out better than we ever could.

In New Mexico, we have lots of different styles of nests. For example—Bald Eagles are stick nesters, constructing huge nests as big as five feet in diameter primarily from large sticks with living vegetation. . This species mates for the life of the pair and is faithful to a particular nesting site.

A Bald Eagle nest seen from afar gives a sense of scale!

We also have cavity nesters, like American Kestrels. They choose natural cavities in trees along wooded areas, cavities in buildings or even highway overpasses, and they also readily take to man-made boxes. If you decide to invest in a nest box for a kestrel for next year’s breeding season, it’s important to choose the right area. A spot close to an open field with some trees is a great choice, so the birds don’t have to fly too far to hunt.

A kestrel nest box

Other abandoned dens already excavated by prairie dogs, but also adapt to man-made structures such as crevices beneath cement sidewalks, open ended pipes, and cavities in the sides of arroyos. Full of twist and turns, these burrows are often deeper than three feet. The nests within are protected from above ground hazards and predation, and the entrance is often adorned with manure, feathers, and grass.

Burrowing Owl chicks gaze out from their den

There is a whole category of raptors that are purely opportunistic, like Great Horned Owls and many other owls, whose nest size and location varies based on what can be found. These apex predators typically find nests built by other birds like Red-tailed Hawks or crows. Because of their flexibility on nesting sites, these owls have been spotted nesting in snags, deserted buildings, trees, and even cliff ledges.

Nestling Great Horned Owls in a bosque nest

The best time to spot nests is typically during the early spring before leaves have fully come in in wooded areas, but no matter what kind of nest you encounter, always remember to give these homes plenty of space and respect, just as you would with any neighbor. 

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