ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As summer temps cool, we’re about to say goodbye to quite a few migratory birds that have been making their homes in our neighborhood trees. Here’s a look at the types of hawks and falcons that visit Albuquerque every year.
According to Gail Garber, executive director at Hawks Aloft, there are a handful of different hawks and falcons that you might find around Albuquerque. “Pretty much, if it’s in the city, it’s gonna be a Cooper’s hawk,” Garber says. “Pretty much every park in the whole city has large trees and almost every single park in the entire city has a pair of Cooper’s hawks [that] live there and build a nest there.”
Garber says Cooper’s hawks are bird-eating birds and capitalize on people who like to feed birds in their backyards. “That creates an all-you-can-eat cafeteria for this particular bird,” says Garber.
There are also small falcons in town named American kestrels. Garber says the American kestrels are “cavity nesters,” meaning they will build their nests in places like cracks in the highway or possibly a hole in an eave in your home. Plus, American kestrels eat mostly insects, lizards, mice, as well as small birds.
Along with Cooper’s hawks and American kestrels, you might come across a Swainson’s hawk. They’re large hawks with a wingspan of around four feet and build huge nests in the tops of cottonwood trees. “They usually have two babies. They’re generally not aggressive,” says Garber. “They primarily prey on small mammals like rabbits, rodents, and insects.”
Garber says the Swainson’s hawks have been known to do something called ‘prey switching’ where they change what they eat based on availability. “If you’ve ever lived anywhere where in the middle of the summer, we suddenly have a bloom of grasshoppers, they switch. They prey switch and will mostly eat grasshoppers,” says Garber.
She says these birds aren’t likely to attack you or your pets. “It’s a myth that birds can catch and carry off small children; small dogs. So birds have hollow bones as an adaptation for flight and they can only carry about one-third of their weight in flight. This means that a great horned owl, which is the heaviest bird we have here, weighs about two pounds. Maybe three pounds,” Garber says. “So it could only fly away with one pound or half a pound.”
Basically, hawks won’t bother you if you don’t bother them especially when the mother hawk is incubating her eggs. “She’s trying to protect her babies, that’s what it is. And she views humans because we have forward-facing binocular vision, so we have predator eyes,” says Garber. “So, from the bird’s point of view, we are predators…even though we have lived in peace with her for the past two months. It’s like a switch flips in her head and she can’t help herself.”
Garber says, if you do have a problem hawk in your yard, the best plan of action is to remove the nest after the hawks have moved on for the season. When the birds come back, most likely in March, the homeowner not wanting the birds should take down the nest as soon as they see it being built. “Birds can build a whole nest in about three days,” Garber says. “So they’re fast. They don’t have anything else to do all day long except build that nest.”
Once the birds make their nest and lay their eggs, protections from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 kick in and there’s not much homeowners can do. If you do have a problem hawk that does show aggression, Garber suggests carrying an umbrella or wearing a hat when you go outside but try to leave the hawk family alone if you weren’t able to get the nest down in time.