On Sunday, Alex and I had the day off and decided to head to Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, about 10 miles south of the town of Kuna, Idaho. Running along 81 miles of the Snake River, the area is known for high populations of ground squirrels, jack rabbits, and badgers, making the Snake River Canyon and surrounding area ideal for both nesting and migrating raptors. A scan of the horizon in any direction in this area can easily yield a few raptors in the air and perched in the distance on phone poles. We’ve never been to an area of similar size with such a variety and abundance of raptors. In total, we saw 10 different species of raptors in just a few hours.
On the drive from Kuna to Dedication Point, we quickly started spotting Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers of all ages. On a stop to view a pair of Rough-legged Hawks that were perched on rocks, a Prairie Falcon darted over our car, and the two Rough-legged Hawks were joined in the air by a third. We also spotted a few Swainson’s Hawks in the area.
Rough-legged Hawk – adult (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)
Swainson’s Hawk – adult (photo by Anna Fasoli)
Our first major stop was Dedication Point, which overlooks the Snake River Canyon. Common Ravens were floating on updrafts past the lookout, waiting for the opportune moment to steal a meal from a passsing raptor. Within a few minutes we spotted a local adult female Prairie Falcon that is likely nesting nearby. The canyon walls host the most dense area for nesting Prairie Falcons in North America. She made numerous dives at the ravens, and continually flushed Rock Pigeons from the cliff walls. Later in the day another local Prairie Falcon helped us spot a pair of adult Golden Eagles that were perched on the opposite side of the canyon wall, and are likely also nesting. A few more Prairie Falcons flew by throughout the afternoon, in addition to a male and female American Kestrel that were migrating by. Two adult Sharp-shinned Hawks also flew north, and a juvenile Sharp-shinned travelled south down the canyon. A Cooper’s Hawk thermalled up out of the valley, and continued on a free ride north provided by the updrafts of the canyon walls. Dedication Point is unique because observers literally look down on raptors, or see them pass at eye-level. In the east, most raptors pass hawk watches above eye level, and uppersides of raptors are usually only viewed if the raptor decides to soar.
Prairie Falcon – adult female (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)
American Kestrel – female (photo by Anna Fasoli)
Cooper-s Hawk – adult (photo by Anna Fasoli)
On our way back north to Kuna, we stopped to observe a Rough-legged Hawk on a power pole, and quickly found a Prairie Falcon perched nearby, and a Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle soaring right overhead–all 4 species within just a few hundred meters of eachother.
Golden Eagle – adult (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)
Ferruginous Hawk – adult (photo by Anna Fasoli)