Predatory Birds of Tucson and Southern Arizona

by Dan Weisz

Web presentation by Douglas Everett @ Hummingbird Market

Here is a collection of various birds.  Some are raptors and some are not raptors, but all are predators.  Some are seen in the Foothills area and others around Southern Arizona.

This was the last Swainson’s Hawk I saw in the Santa Cruz Flats north of Marana several weeks ago and it is a dark morph.  It’s probably wintering in Argentina by now.  Swainson’s Hawks are very social birds and outside of breeding season they can be found in large groups.  During breeding season their diet consists mostly of mammals and rodents, but outside of breeding season their food of choice is insects.

Also in Santa Cruz Flats, this Turkey Vulture posed nicely for me.  While we see them soaring over the foothills, this one was in the agricultural area north of Marana.  TVs eat carrion and they find their food through their excellent sense of smell.  TV’s are seen throughout the United States in the Summer.  During winter, some TV’s remain in the southern states such as Arizona, but over a million travel south to Central America and Southern America each winter.

I’m not sure whether this bird was bored with me or trying to say something, but I hadn’t seen this type of behavior from a turkey vulture before.   They do not ‘cast’ pellets like other raptors do, so who knows what was going on here.

Always a majestic sight, Great Blue Herons are the largest herons in North America. I’ve seen them flying across the Foothills, perhaps going from one golf course pond to another.  With this pose, the heron on a telephone crossbeam seems to have an incredibly massive beak.  Great Blue Herons will eat anything within striking distance.  While they are commonly seen in ponds, marshes and wetlands, they are very comfortable hunting in agricultural fields and on land.

Driving to the other side of the telephone pole, the picture shot into the sun has all of the bird’s colors washed out.   This silhouette shows the typical “S” shape of its neck and the bill looks to be more ‘normal’ sized than from the other angle we saw.

America’s smallest falcon, the American Kestrel is here in its typical hunting pose.  These birds usually hunt in flatter environments than our foothills, and I’ve seen them in Oro Valley often as well as in Sabino Canyon.  This is a female, indicated by her brown wings and brown, streaked belly.  While we have Kestrels in southern Arizona year-round, many more join us for the winter coming from their northern summering grounds.

Loggerhead Shrikes have returned for the winter.  I love their black masks.  These birds are excellent hunters and will impale their prey on thorns, cacti or barbed wire.  Since they don’t have talons to hold their food, skewering them makes it easier for dining purposes. 

In Sweetwater Wetlands, this Cooper’s Hawk was perched over a footpath and calling for a companion bird very early one morning.  If you look closely, you see that its crop is enlarged indicating that this bird has just eaten a big meal.  We’ve got many Cooper’s Hawks in the Foothills.

On another day at Sweetwater, this Red-tailed Hawk was perched on a man-made perch.  The tail tells us this is a juvenile and the amount of white may indicate this is more of an Eastern species.  Winter migration brings many different raptors to southern Arizona.  This photo was shot looking directly towards the sun, so that accounts for the ‘colors’ and harshness of the picture.

The same bird, looking from the side.  You can see the amount of white in its back and can see that its tail is not ‘red’ yet.  Also, its eye is still yellow which is another indicator of a juvenile bird.

And flying overhead at Sweetwater was this Rufous Morph Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks are common sights in the Foothills, with many more joining us in the winter. Look for them on telephone poles while you are driving around now.