Raptors, also referred to as birds of prey, are a classification of carnivorous birds. Although there are many variations, all raptors have sharp eyesight, curved claws, known as talons, and curved beaks to help them hunt and feed. Due to loss of habitat, heat waves, and less rainfall the Mojave desert has seen a drastic drop in bird populations over the last decade.
In the past many agencies, scientists, and biologists have worked together to protect raptors. DDT and other related chemicals were found to cause reproductive problems, and thin egg shells. “Raptor-safe” construction practices and designs replaced power poles in non-urban areas to protect the large birds from being electrocuted. Today, all raptors are protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis) are found throughout North America, and have adapted well to life in the Mojave desert. They can be found throughout the harsh desert landscapes and high mountain ranges. The male Red Tailed Hawk is roughly ⅓ of the size of the female, but they both have a distinct rust-colored tail that easy is spot.
They begin pairing up to build nests and mate in early spring. They lay clutches of 2 to 3 eggs which are incubated by the female for 28 to 32 days while the male hunts for them both. Hatchlings begin to fledge after around 45 days. With their extremely sharp eyesight, the Red Tailed Hawk hunts from high altitudes, on small mammals, reptiles, and occasionally other birds. They are protected under the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Common Raven (Corvus corax) are found throughout North America, and are an extremely clever and adaptable species. Ravens are opportunist eaters and have been so successful at adapting to human development and the harsh environments of the West that over the last 40 years their population has increased by more than 700 percent! Ravens are believed to have the most diverse diet of any bird species, they will eat anything from trash to other animals. Ravens have high intelligence, with impressive problem solving skills outpreforming apes and monkeys.
They are considered invasive and a threat to desert tortoises, sage grouse, and many other Mojave species because they outcompete many species for food and water. They are experts at hunting eggs and young animals. Biologists have found up to 250 juvenile tortoise carcasses beneath one nest. Although ravens are protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act there are some management practices being used to reduce numbers and protect threatened species.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a large hawk that is found on every continent except Antartica. They are incredible fishers and primary live off a diet of fish, and occasionally frogs, eels, and snakes. They nest in the spring along rivers, lakes and seaside shores in tall trees, power poles, and other structures.
During winter months they migrate long distances to Florida, Mexico, and South America. Osprey instinctively travel to the same breeding and wintering grounds year after year. Their migration path often passes over the Mojave desert. Osprey are protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act and due to drastic drops in population is considered a Species of Special concern.
Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is a small owl found throughout North America and the Mojave. They are between 7.5 to 10 inches tall, with a wingspan of up to 24 inches. They thrive in the Mojave off of a diet of insects, rodents, and reptiles. They are most active during the day, and hunt by swooping down from perches or hopping and running along the ground.
Burrowing owls are found in dry open areas with low vegetation. They nest from mid-March through August. Twigs, and plant material in front of a burrow is a good sign of an active nest. Although burrowing owls are capable of digging a burrow using their sharp talons, they often utilize burrows created by ground squirrel, tortoise, or rodent burrows. These opportunistic birds have often been found using construction sites with uncovered pallets, pipes, and culverts as nesting sites. Burrowing owls numbers have been declining over the last 30 years. Burrowing owls are listed as a Species of Concern in Arizona, California, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. They are federally protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They are also listed as Endangered in Canada, and Threatened in Mexico.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is a large raptor commonly found throughout North America. They have featherless red heads and a pale curved beak. Their large 70 inch wingspan with distinct white tips can often be spotted soaring above roadways, farmlands, landfills, and construction sites. The majority of their feathers appear black from a distance, but are actually different shades of brown.
Turkey vultures have an exceptional sense of smell compared to other birds. Their diet consists mostly of fresh carrion, and decaying plant matter, but they occasionally will feed off live fish caught in drying up ponds, and live insects.
Turkey vultures pair up and mate in the spring, nesting in sheltered areas such as hollowed out trees and caves. They use little to no nesting material, and lay 1 to 3 eggs which are incubated by both parents for 34 to 41 days. The young are watched closely, and begin to fledge around 10 weeks. Turkey vultures are protected under the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the world’s smallest falcon growing to be roughly the size of a robin.Kestrels are widespread throughout North America, preferring semi-open landscapes such as forest clearings, farmlands, and deserts. The populations found inhabiting the warmer climates, live there year-round. While Northern resident Kestrels migrate long distance South each winter. As they age, they tend to migrate less and less distances.
Kestrels prefer to nest in cavities, and will use dead tree snags, or openings in large cacti. They will also take advantage of abandoned magpie nests, cliffsides and nesting boxes.Kestrels lay between 4 to 7 eggs, which are incubated by both parents between 28 to 31 days. The young begin to fledge around 4 weeks.
The American Kestrel is so small it gets knocked around by the wind quite a bit. Rarely catching anything mid flight, it relies on sharp eyesight to spot its prey from above. They have a varied diet consisting of large insects, small mammals, birds, and reptiles. The American Kestrel is protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is one of the largest birds in North America. They are most commonly found in the Northwestern states in partially open landscapes. They thrive in a variety of habitats including deserts, forests, tundra, farmland, and along rivers. The adults grow to have an impressive wingspan between 72 to 86 inches. Golden eagles have beautiful golden feathers along the back of its head and neck. Juveniles have small patches of white feathers along their wings and tail feathers. Interestingly, the golden eagle is one of only three raptors which have feathered legs.
With strong talons, and a powerful curved beak this large bird is a swift hunter. Their diet consists primarily jackrabbits, and other small mammals, and reptiles.They have been spotted aggressively defending their nests and young by attacking surprising large mammals such as coyotes, deer, and domestic livestock. Golden eagles are federally protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.
Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) are found in fairly dry climates throughout western North America. Most adult Prairie Falcons are year-round residents at their nesting sites, but some will migrate short distances South or East during the winter months.
An opportunistic hunter with a varied diet, the Prairie Falcon often focus on one abundantly available prey at a time. For instance, their diet consists mainly fledgling songbirds in the spring, and ground squirrels during the summer months. They thrive off of a variety of birds, small mammals, reptiles, and insects.
Prairie Falcon prefers to nest on ledges and cliff sides with a protective overhang. They will sometimes take advantage of abandoned raven or hawk’s nest. Using very little to no nesting material the female will lay between 2 to 6 eggs per clutch, and stay incubating the eggs for roughly 31 days. During incubation, the male bird will hunt for the pair, and temporarily incubate the eggs while the female is eating. The young begin to fly around 4 weeks. Prairie Falcon are protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act.