Nesting Season has Begun

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.

Return to Foothills Clusters Home