Growing

A juvenile red-tailed hawk balances atop the flower buds of a saguaro beside an off-map trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

In May I met this young red-tailed hawk on one of the off-map trails in the Pima Dynamite area, it was still growing in confidence if not in size. Its movements were still a little unsure, here flaring out its wings slightly to maintain its balance atop the flower buds of the saguaro. It kept its head on a swivel, looking at not just its nearby sibling but listening further off for the parents that were keeping in touch vocally (and perhaps visually, they had a taller vantage point than I). The yellow in its legs and beak was quite pale but it had already accomplished much by growing to this size, as babies even the top predators are vulnerable to other predators such as the great horned owls I saw on the previous hike and heard hooting that morning.

By now it will be an old hand at flying about the desert even if still wearing its juvenile plumage. I turned around at this point as its sibling was on a saguaro right next to the trail and I didn’t want to disturb them, they had enough on their minds, enough to learn about their desert home. I can sympathize.

5:20 am, Latigo

A male Gila woodpecker holds a moth in his beak as he perches outside his nest in an angled arm of a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Usually I see woodpecker nests in vertical saguaro arms but this male and his mate had chosen an angled arm. At 5:20 am with the sun about to rise they were already bringing food to the nest, in this case a moth. Given the angle to the sun I wasn’t sure if the light would illuminate them when the sun came up or if the saguaro would cast them in shadow, and I still don’t know, as while they brought food to the nest at first they started holding back. Raising young is precarious and stressful enough so while I suspected they would quickly come to not see me as a threat I didn’t want to risk it and continued up the trail.

Flowers for Breakfast

A female Gila woodpecker perches beside her nest with a beak stuffed not only with what might be a bee but stamens from saguaro blossoms, taken near the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona, in May 2019

A female Gila woodpecker perches beside her nest with a beak stuffed not only with what might be a bee but stamens from saguaro blossoms, illuminated by soft light as the sun just starts to break over the mountains. The stamens produce the pollen that is covering her face. I knew they fed their young insects and spiders but it appeared they were feeding them the stamens too, as not only did they leave the nest with beaks empty but sometimes it appeared as their beaks were full of nothing but stamens.

The White Rump

A male gilded flicker perches on an ocotillo in June 2019, showing off hsi white rump and red mustache and a hint of the yellow beneath his wings, taken on the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I frequently see both gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers flying through the desert, the easiest way I distinguish the two woodpeckers in flight is to look for where the white is, flickers with their white rumps and Gilas with their white wing patches. With a closer look you can see not only his glorious red mustache but also a hint of the yellow ‘gilding’ under his wings that gives these birds their names. This lovely fellow perching on an ocotillo was feeding one of his hungry and noisy youngsters beside the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I hung back as they moved up the trail ahead of me as I didn’t want the young one to miss a meal.