Predatory Birds in the Grand Canyon

Standing at Yavapai Point on the south rim in Grand Canyon National Park Sunday, in the distance, below the Canyon rim and above Phantom Ranch, a pack of large birds flew in what appeared to be ever widening circles. Six, maybe seven, it was hard to count at such distance, but even with such a space, it was easy to see these were large birds.

 Walking west towards Bright Angel Trail, the birds drifted closer, until they needed to elevate over the rim where we stood. Upon closer inspection, there were five Turkey Vultures, and two of what turned out to be Zone-Tailed Hawks.

These Hawks, I’ve been informed, have learned to mimic turkey vultures. Turkey vultures are scavengers, not predators, and by flying among them, the hawks go undetected, thus allowing the zone-tail hawks to ambush prey mistaking them for innocuously hovering turkey vultures. On this day, the two vanished into the tree line while the sun setting behind them provided blinding cover.

These hawks prefer to glide about below the rim of the Canyon and are more likely to be observed a mile or two down the Kaibab Trail on a Spring-time hike – the hawks migrate for winter to Central America – than on a rim hike. They are one of the rare hawks who prey on other birds. There are other predators at the Canyon who dine exclusively on other birds.

The Peregrine Falcon has made a comeback from near extinction in the 1970’s. With help from The Peregrine Fund, and in conjunction with Grand Canyon National Park, San Diego Zoo, et al, the estimated 100 pairs of Peregrine Falcons that nest here can be spotted in the skies above the Grand Canyon. But to spot one, field glasses are likely needed. They are small for a predator; fully grown smaller than a typical raven. The Peregrine also habitually soars at great heights. From altitude, they dive down on other birds, achieving speeds of 200 MPH as the clip the wing of an unsuspected bird. The falcon can be spotted with un-enhanced vision only as it leaves its nest or is descending after a strike.

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