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

Logo: Hawks Aloft Inc.

Hawks Aloft Blog

Blog Topic: Mitigations

Call for Volunteers!

As we work toward expanding our raptor rescue program to areas in southern New Mexico, in communities like Las Cruces, the need for volunteers to help ensure the wellbeing of raptors of all shapes and sizes is becoming more and more apparent. Raptor rescue coordinators and mitigations experts Emiliano Salazar and Lisa Morgan have already conducted trainings in the Las Cruces area and have equipped a team of local bird-lovers with all the knowledge they need to assess, rescue and transport injured birds in desperate need of attention.

However, Las Cruces is a long drive down I-25 from Albuquerque. Currently, the greatest need that we have in this arena is for transport of these birds from relay points in Socorro and Truth or Consequences to Albuquerque and the expert care of our rehabilitators. If you reside in or around these flashpoint cities, we could use your help!

As a volunteer, you’ll receive recognition in our online newsletter, which is delivered to thousands of bird enthusiasts around the country each and every month. You’ll also receive basic training and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you’ve done some essential work to give an animal the best possible chance at a healthy life.

To get involved as part of our raptor rescue team, contact Raptor Rescue Coordinator Emiliano Salazar at emiliano@hawksaloft.org for details, training dates and more information on how you can help wild birds of prey across New Mexico.

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Saving the Black-necked Stilt, a U.S. International Boundary Water Commission Endeavor

Sometimes, or perhaps always, work projects do not proceed as planned. Such was the case in the lower Rio Grande near Anapra, New Mexico, where the U.S. International Boundary Water Commission (USIBWC) was performing maintenance operations to remove sediment accumulation in the river channel in front of an agricultural return drain. Operations underway the week of May 5, 2014 created a large island of sediment scooped up by heavy machinery. A surprise was in store for the crew when they returned to work on Monday, May 12. Apparently Black-necked Stilts found this barren patch of earth to their liking and set up nests over the weekend with eggs already present.

Project area for the US International Boundary Water Commission

Project area for the US International Boundary Water Commission. Image by USIBWC.

The Black-necked Stilt, a long-legged, strikingly black and white wading bird, nests on the ground. They tend to build above the water line on small islands, clumps of vegetation, or even, occasionally, floating mats of algae. Both females and males choose the site and trade off the nest construction duties; they look for places with soft substrate that can be scraped away to form the depression in which they nest. While one mate observes, the other scrapes into the dirt with breast and feet to form a depression about 2” deep. As they dig, they throw small bits of lining over their back into the nest, consisting of whatever material is closest to the nest, including grasses, shells, mud chips, pebbles, and bones.

Black-necked Stilt.  Image by Doug Brown.

Black-necked Stilt. Image by Doug Brown.

Back at the International Boundary Water Commission construction site, field crews surveyed the area and located some eggs on a large island of sediment that was being used to dredge out the channel. Three nests with a total of nine eggs had been documented by their environmental staff. The area was flagged and avoided. They contacted Hawks Aloft for recommendations, and we urged them to try to work around the nests. With a presumed egg-laying of May 10 or 11, hatch would be expected at about May 24 or 25.

Rio Grande low flows in the US International Boundary Water Commission project area.

Rio Grande low flows in the US International Boundary Water Commission project area.  Image by USIBWC.

This issue was further complicated by plans to release water from Elephant Butte dam for the purpose of irrigation beginning on May 25, 2014. Because the logistics of any attempt to change the irrigation releases would have required multiple agency approvals that would affect planned crop irrigation in the surrounding valley, it seemed impossible to achieve. Once water releases occurred, it was probable that the nests would be inundated, killing the embryos or nestlings not yet mobile enough to escape the rising water.

Black-necked Stilt in flight.  Image by Keith Bauer.

Black-necked Stilt in flight. Image by Keith Bauer.

The maintenance staff at the USIBWC established and maintained a buffer around the nesting site. The nesting stilts did not appear to be disturbed by the heavy equipment in the area but aggressively defended their nests when environmental staff came to monitor the nest sites. The big question; however, remained: Would the eggs hatch soon enough to allow the young to survive? It would be close!

On Thursday, May 22, 2014, ten Black-necked Stilt chicks were observed.  The two nests of four eggs had hatched. It was clear that there must have been an additional nest located near the project area.

Black-necked Stilt nestlings.  Image by David Powell.

Black-necked Stilt nestlings. Image by David Powell.

No work was conducted in the area over Memorial Day weekend, and water was released on schedule from the Elephant Butte dam on Sunday the 25th.  On Tuesday the 27th, two chicks and adults were still observed near the project site in the morning, but all Black-necked Stilts had moved out of the project area by the afternoon.  Disaster averted!

Black-necked Stilt nestlings hiding beneath parent.  Image by David Powell.

Black-necked Stilt nestlings hiding beneath parent. Image by David Powell.

We thank the USIBWC for proactively protecting these nests by mounding soil to divert water flows away from the nest sites and for establishing and maintaining buffer zones that enabled these Black-necked Stilts to produce young in 2014. We thank Rebecca Little Owl and Albert Flores, Environmental Protection Specialists, for their efforts to protect these nests and working collaboratively with Hawks Aloft to develop a mitigation plan.

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Mom & Dad Know What They Are Doing

Written by Lisa Morgan, Raptor Rescue Coordinator.

On June 7, we received a call from a retirement community in Rio Rancho about FIVE Cooper’s Hawk chicks that had been blown out of a nest high in a cottonwood tree. Two chicks survived the fall. We determined that the best option was to return the chicks to the cottonwood tree where their parents could continue caring for them – even though we could never locate the nest.

Cooper's Hawk Brancher.  Image by Sandy Skeba

Cooper’s Hawk Brancher. Image by Sandy Skeba

With the help of PNM Resources, and their tree climbing crew, Trees, Inc., we set about making an artificial nest in the tree from whence they came.  The crew first installed a human-constructed nest consisting of a wicker basket and natural nest lining materials.

Trees, Inc. staff installing the wicker basket nest.  Image by PNM Resources.

Trees, Inc. staff installing the wicker basket nest. Image by PNM Resources.

Once the nest was thoroughly secured in the tree, it was time to hoist the nestlings back up and into their new home, where their parents still waited even though it had been four days since the chicks were taken.

Bob Mongiello prepares to return a Cooper's Hawk nestling to its new nest.

Bob Mongiello prepares to return a Cooper’s Hawk nestling to its new nest.  Image by PNM Resources.

The two chicks settled right into their human-constructed nest, just as if they had always been there.  Dad Cooper’s Hawk even attempted to deliver food to his chicks while all this was in progress, although he was frightened off by all the commotion.

Re-nested Cooper's Hawk chicks.  Image by PNM Resources.

Re-nested Cooper’s Hawk chicks. Image by PNM Resources.

The biggest issue we contended with was  concerned citizens that continued trying to come to the aid of these chicks, disturbing their parents’ attempts to care for them.
In the end, it was a successful return once we were able to educate the neighbors about the privacy needs of the hawk family. Although it can be difficult to watch these youngsters on the ground, in nearly all cases it best to allow the families to stay together and the parents to continue caring for their youngsters.

PNMlogo-ColorPos cmyk 300dpi

We thank PNM for allowing the use of their tree-climbing crew, Trees, Inc.  We also thank PNM Resources staff:  Thad Petzold, Ryan Baca, John Acklen, Stephen Saletta, and Bob Mongiello.


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The HAI Flier – Our Monthly Online Newsletter

Sandhill Crane in Flight.  Image by Doug Brown.

Sandhill Crane in Flight. Image by Doug Brown.

Sandhill Cranes will be returning to the Middle Rio Grande Valley any day now.  Did you know that the Rio Grande and the adjacent bosque have become de facto refugia for these magnificent birds because no hunting is allowed within the urban areas.   Read about this issue and more in the October issue of the HAI Flier.   It is your way to keep in touch with all of the studies and education programs of Hawks Aloft, and membership activities too.

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The Mysterious Mitigation

Rescuing injured birds of prey, or mitigations, can be a very interesting experience. When we get a call about an injured bird, the caller is more often than not unsure of what exactly the bird is. So last week, when we got a call from a business in Bernalillo saying they had an injured “hawk-owl” that had “hissed” at them, I was guessing a small owl. When I arrived, they already had the bird in a box. I took a peek, to see if I could identify the bird, but it was hiding in the towel and I could only see its rump. Based on the coloration and size, I guessed Flamulated Owl. I thanked the folks who helped the bird and took it immediately to Dr Melloy at Coronado Pet Hospital in Bernalillo. Upon peeking in the box, his first guess was also Flamulated Owl. Once he pulled the bird out to examine it, however, we saw that it was something very different: a Whip-poor-will.

Upon first glance, I assumed the bird was some kind of small owl.

Whip-poor-wills are more frequently seen than heard. Their name comes from the sound of their call, which sounds like the words “whip poor will.” Probably the most astonishing feature of the Whip-poor-will is the size of its gape, however. Despite the deceptively small bill, their actual mouth is the entire width of their head. They use this phenomenal gape to catch flying insects on the wing.

The Whip-poor-will has an tremendous gape which allows it to catch flying insects.

Dr. Melloy x-rayed the Whip-poor-will and discovered that it had a broken wing. He wrapped it and made me a copy of the x-ray. I transported the bird to the Nature Conservancy’s Wildlife Rescue and left it in their capable hands to rehab. It was definitely a mitigation to be remembered.

Our “hawk-owl” turned out to be a Whip-poor-will.

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Osprey Nesting Platforms

Image by Doug Brown

Osprey are fish-eating raptors that occur worldwide.  They are found almost exclusively near large bodies of water, although they sometimes “pack a lunch” and might be found consuming their catch far from water, particularly during migration.  The readily accept nesting platforms and have benefited from the installation of them near several of the larger reservoirs in northern New Mexico, particularly Heron, El Vado and Cochiti lakes.  We recently received the following question on the Hawk Talk feature of our website:

I have a cabin and several acres of land on the north side of Heron Lake in northern NM.  I have a tall dead ponderosa pine that I have seen used by hawks and eagles in the past.  There are no power lines anywhere near the tree.  The original top of the tree snapped off years ago, so the trunk of the tree is substantial all the way to what is now the top.  The top is still notably higher than all of the surrounding juniper trees and provides a view of the lake which is just a few hundred yards away downhill.

Recently I watched an osprey just sitting at the very top for over one hour.  In the past I have seen an osprey nest on a platform built by NORA on the south side of the lake.  So I thought it might be productive to build a platform at the top of my old ponderosa to promote an osprey building a nest there in the future.  Please send me info on what is the best way to build such a platform.  How much platform area is needed?  Should there be a lip around the edge?  If so, what size?  Should there be lots of drainage, or is solid plywood OK?  Is there a good book or leaflet guide you can point me to look at?  etc.  Any info you can send will be appreciated.

Thank you for your help!
Scott Slezak,  Albuquerque

So, we talked to our friends at PNM and received this response and several images from John Acklen, Senior Environmental Scientist.

This picture shows an Osprey platform that PNM installed up near Cochiti Dam.  It has been occupied every year for the last 15 years at leas, but blew down in heavy winds earlier this year.  It consists of one end of a wood reel used for utility wire.  You should be able to get one of these from your local utility, Northern Rio Arriba Electric Cooperative.   I suggest  getting a grape vine wreath and attaching it to the top of the reel top–maybe drilling some holes and wiring it into place.  It will create a nest substrate.  Michael’s at Wyoming and Montgomery has some nice ones (36″ in diameter).  We are planning to add a wreath to top of our platform and wire it securely in place for use in the 2013 nesting season. Another possibility is putting in some metal bolts into the reel top and weaving some sticks in between to get them going and secure the nest.

Hope this helps,  Scott

Best regards, John





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