Learning to Fly

An adult Harris's hawk perches on a saguaro arm with its wings partially spread while two nestlings watch from the nest below along the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Early on a June morning I was watching the two Harris’s hawk nestlings when an adult flew in with a twig clutched in its talons. It landed on one of the tallest arms of the saguaro and I expected it to drop down and spruce up the nest but instead it stayed on the arm with its wings partially spread. I couldn’t figure out what it was doing, if it was trying to maintain its balance in the breeze it would have spread them out fully and used its tail, instead it sat there with wings half-extended as it looked back and forth between the two nestlings (one is looking up between the saguaro arms on the right, the other is doing the same deep in shadow on the left).

And then, taking encouragement as the adult looked on, one of the nestlings flapped its wings and landed, if awkwardly, on a lower arm. The saguaro flowers and fruits give a little extra purchase away from the sharp spines, although they also attract bees. The other nestling flapped its wings at times but made no attempts to leave the nest. The next week the one nestling had fully fledged and was now exploring the desert near the nest while the second one was actively flying from arm to arm, soon I suspect to join its sibling below. It might have been slightly younger as its feathers seemed to come in slightly behind the other.

An adult Harris's hawk perches on a saguaro arm with its wings partially spread while looking down at a nestling that is landing on a saguaro arm as it learns to fly along the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Candy Dish

Flowers bloom on the top of a compass barrel cactus beside the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

Flowers bloom atop a barrel cactus along the Chuckwagon Trail in May of 2018. I photographed several different barrels blooming last year but this year I didn’t see any that struck my fancy, perhaps I was too distracted by hawks and lizards and woodpeckers. The circle of buds and blossoms at the top reminds me of a candy dish full of brightly colored candies, we have a small one in the backyard with what looks like some buds just starting to form, I’m curious to see if it will bloom this summer.

Father’s Day?

An adult Harris's hawk prepares to land at its nest in a saguaro, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutches twigs to spruce up the nest, as two nestlings watch near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I’ve never seen a bird not defend its nest so I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. With one Harris’s hawk on its nest in a saguaro, multiple other adults were perched nearby, in trees, on saguaros, on large electrical towers. They called out repeatedly but to my untrained eyes and ears it seemed like they were keeping in touch rather than warning to keep away.

What was I seeing? Perhaps what I needed to see, what I wished for rather than what was, with Ellie’s death still stinging. But in this case both as I learned later Harris’s hawks live in family groups, even during nesting season with new life about to come into the world.

A week ago after sunup this adult flew to the nest, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutched twigs to spruce up the nest, as the two nestlings watched from the nest (they’re hard to see). Was it the father arriving? The mother? A sibling?

This morning one of the young hawks was continuously jumping from one arm to the other, working on its balance and testing its wings. I didn’t see the other until it flew over and landed awkwardly in a palo verde below the nest, having already fledged.

What joy these hawks, this family, have brought to me this spring as they add two more to their number.