Written by Peter Pearsall/Photo by Calley Lovett

For many years, visitors to Malheur Refuge in the spring and summer could stop along Highway 205 to catch an unobstructed (if distant) view of a ferruginous hawk pair nesting in a lone juniper tree on private ranchland outside of the Refuge. The nest was well known to birdwatchers and photographers; many paid annual visits to the juniper to check on the hawks.

Earlier this year, this iconic juniper was damaged by high winds, causing the nest to drop to the ground and break apart. Fortunately, the hawks had already fledged their young and migrated south for the winter.

The largest soaring hawk (of the genus Buteo) in North America, ferruginous hawks are predators of the plains and prairies, hunting ground squirrels, gophers, rabbits, and other small mammals.

They breed in open country of the western states and Canada, building bulky nests of sticks, debris, and other materials, lining the interior with grass and sometimes cow dung. When bison still roamed the Great Plains, some nests were built of bison bones and lined with bison dung.

The nest in the juniper along Highway 205 had been used annually by the hawks for nearly 20 years. Other birds used the nest too, including ravens, Canada geese, and Western kingbirds. When the hawks return next spring, they will hopefully find a new site to nest—though whether it will be as accessible and photogenic as the last remains to be seen.

 

 

The ferruginous hawk family in 2021. Photo by Hannah Kornbrath