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May 15th, 2016

Common Black Hawks in SE Arizona

It’s time we talked about the elephant in SE Arizona’s room – Common Black Hawks.

The more traditional areas in Arizona for nesting Common Black Hawks are in central Arizona, to the north of Phoenix, around Sedona, etc., where there are many well known sites which birders can visit.

However, it’s increasingly obvious that several pairs are now breeding in SE Arizona as well. I found an occupied nest a few weeks ago, which looks to be several years in the making (it’s HUGE). I know of one other definite nest site in SE Arizona where birds have been present for a few years, and there are presumably at least three or four more, judging by recent public records.

The reason for talking about this is NOT to post exact locations and encourage birders to go look for nests – quite the opposite. Common Black Hawks are VERY shy birds around their nests, and are very easily disturbed.

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk at nest

Common Black Hawk at nest

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk nest

Common Black Hawk nest

Common Black Hawk nest

Common Black Hawk nest

Please note: these photos were taken for documentation purposes only. They are highly cropped and were taken a long distance from the nest.

A quick search of the AZ/NM listserv or eBird will reveal the vague locations that Common Black Hawks are being seen regularly, so again, there doesn’t seem much point in trying to ‘hide’ these general areas from the public anymore. Over the past few years, regular summer records have been coming from Rose Canyon Lake on Mt Lemmon, California Gulch, Patagonia Lake, and Peña Blanca Lake. Other recent records outside the usual migration period are from the Huachuca, Santa Rita and Chiricahua Mountains, and Upper San Pedro River (Sierra Vista area).

Previously known breeding locations slightly further north include Arivaipa Canyon, the Galiuro Mountains (Muleshoe Ranch) and Lower San Pedro River.

I would, naturally, encourage birders to report all bird records to eBird, but if you do find a nest location, in my opinion it would be best not to reveal that precise information to a wider audience. A general location would suffice.

My advice for anyone wanting to see Common Black Hawks in Arizona is to either join the Tubac hawk watch in March, where views of migrating birds are almost guaranteed most days, or to visit one of the better known breeding sites in central Arizona, where the birds may be more familiar with, and tolerant of, human visitors.

If you MUST see one near a nesting site in SE Arizona, it would be better to figure out where they might be feeding and spend some time there, rather than trying to track down the nest. They are probably easier to see along a creek or over a lake than at the nest anyway, and your views of hunting or soaring birds will be more satisfying than distressed birds flying away from a nest.

A quick note to photographers here – they seem to be almost impossible to photograph at a nest except from at an extreme distance, so please don’t stake out a nest site with this in mind, as you’ll likely be wasting your time, and definitely disturbing the birds. The success of these birds IS more important than your precious photo, whether you like it or not!

I hope you can all understand the reason for me posting this. It’s not to draw unnecessary attention to this increasingly blatent situation, rather I’d prefer it if we could start to ‘manage’ this with the safety of the birds in mind. No doubt I’ll get some of the usual abuse for being a ‘disgrace to birding’ for mentioning nesting birds, and that’s fine, I guess – you’re entitled to your opinion. My advance apologies to those who are offended by this post.

However, I think we should at least acknowledge this situation, and begin a dialogue in which we can understand where and how many Common Black Hawks are nesting in SE Arizona, and how to best protect these wonderful yet vulnerable raptors in our region. I definitely encourage birders to look out for them during your regular birding, but more importantly we should encourage everyone to view Common Black Hawks with the safety and success of the birds as the number one priority.


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