By Dan Weisz
Springtime means it is nesting season in the desert. I’ve been fortunate to know about a few special spots in the Tucson area.
Along River Road, a Gila Woodpecker was inspecting this large opening in a Saguaro. He never went into the hole for a very good reason.
About a half hour after the Gila Woodpecker left, a Western Screech owl stuck its head out of the same opening, still looking very sleepy. This was mid-morning. I don’t know whether this is a female sitting on eggs in the Saguaro ‘boot’ or whether this is just a male with a daytime roosting spot while his female is in a nest somewhere close by. The Gila Woodpecker is part of a pair that is using another hole in the same saguaro to nest in, so these two ’neighbors’ will not be friends but will keep tabs on each other.
After a few moments, the owl turned towards me, gave the tiniest of looks, and then receded back into the cavity to continue napping.
At another mid-town spot, I knew of a large nest box that had been placed in a tall Aleppo Pine many years ago. According to neighbors, Great Horned Owls have nested in this box for at least two decades. The first time I visited the box a week ago, the mother Great Horned Owl peeked out at me but did not leave the nest.
When I returned last weekend, the female was now out of the nest, about two yards to the side. She was resting but alert.
And then fortune smiled on me. A Great Horned Owlet stood up and peeked over the edge of the nest box. I was thrilled.
After about ten minutes, the first owlet was joined by two others. This is the best shot I could get of them before they all dropped back down. Needless to say, I’ll be visiting these birds regularly for the next few weeks.
On a hunch, I drove to an area out of town that I knew had a nesting Great Horned Owl in years past. I found one of the parents in a tree by itself. The other owl was in a tree further down the wash.
As I had hoped, there were owlets on a nearby ledge. It was mid-day, but the three little owls were lazing around. With the sun at their back, this was the best shot I could get. One owlet was awake, one was snoozing, and the third was in the back.
I walked around to the other side of the ledge to see the third Great Horned Owlet. It was awake. The few twigs are remnants of what was a raptor or raven nest a number of years ago. Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests. They use the nests that had been built in a prior year. As you can surmise here, they do not even need a “nest” but can be happy with just a platform to use. So this is another spot I will be visiting over the next few weeks.
A week ago I visited a mid-town tree that held a Red-tailed Hawk nest last year. I did spot what I thought were two chicks in the nest. One stayed up for a photo. You can tell the nest has been used for several years now as it is very deep because of new layers added every year.
When I returned to the Red-tail nest this weekend, I saw there were three “little”, or young, birds in the nest.
So now I have several nests to track and I am looking forward to watching all the chicks grow. If any of you have an owl or raptor nest in your yard and would allow me to photograph it, I would be happy to do so.