By Dan Weisz
This weekend I was in Phoenix visiting my daughter for her baby shower and grandchild # 3! On the drive home, I detoured through Santa Cruz Flats in Pinal County and was able to see a few different raptors along the way.
The smallest falcon in our country is the American Kestrel. This female was perched in the scrub of the arid desert. That brown back tells us she is a “she” as does her barred tail.
At one point she hopped to a nearby branch.
And then she flew across the desert. Check out those loooong pointed wings.
She landed atop another shrub facing me. Kestrels perch low while scanning for their prey. They eat mostly insects and other invertebrates, but will take small rodents and birds. The female American Kestrel has a streaked breast where a male will have a spotted breast.
There were at least a dozen Swainson’s Hawks scattered through the area. These birds are returning from their winter homes in Argentina to their summer homes in the western United States and Canada. That’s a very long migration!
During breeding season, Swainson’s Hawk diets are based on the three R’s: rodents, rabbits, and reptiles. But when they are not breeding they switch to a diet made up almost exclusively of insects, especially grasshoppers and dragonflies.
A friend had told me about the nest of a Red-tailed Hawk along a farm road. Two chicks were on the nest including this one:
And as I drove along the desert on the way back to I-10, I saw a Prairie Falcon with prey. The bird flew off as soon as I stopped my car. Although the bird was ‘back-lit’ and its face was shadowed, its take-off with prey was fun to watch.
Prairie Falcons live in the wide open spaces of the West, as their name implies. They eat small mammals, particularly ground squirrels.
One ID mark for Prairie Falcons is their dark “armpit”, seen here. Prairie Falcons have a malar stripe (mustache) along their cheek as do many falcons. We saw that in the Kestrel photos above also.
Like the American Kestrel and other falcons, Prairie Falcons have long tails and long, narrow, pointed wings
This is why I go looking for birds!