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Hawk Fights Owl for Nest in Presidio, SF

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Did you know that Presidio wildlife biologist installed a live “Hawk Cam” above a nest in one of the blue gum eucalyptus trees, 100 ft above nearby Main Post in the San Francisco Presidio?

Main Post, Presidio of San Francisco. Photo by Charity Vargas

The live cam was installed in 2018 over what was a nest built by a red-tailed hawk pair, since then an epic fight for its ownership has ensued.

The 2019 season saw a brutal take-over of the nest by a pair of Great Horned Owls as is typical of owls who don’t build their own nests but rather use the nests of other birds, whether the nests are abandoned or can be taken by force.

Great Horned Owl vs. Red-Tailed Hawk for Nest Supremacy in Presidio

Watch as the hawk and owl battle it out over nesting rights, a hundred feet above the ground.  At minute 1:15 the owl begins hooting it’s warning call, staring up at the sky as the red-tailed raptor circles.

At around 1;35 the hawk’s shriek echos out.  Seconds later the owl braces for the impending attack, bristling its feathers as the joust begins.   Red-tailed hawks can dive at speeds up to 120mph, a fact that we assume the owl must know, given that we all learned how “wise” owls are in 2nd-grade biology class.

At minute 2:00 the hawk attacks, and in a blink of an eye talons slash, and the owl intruder is crashed out of the nest, cracking his forehead on a branch as he plummets from a hundred-foot height!

The hawk then lands victorious in its nest.  I fucking love nature.

But in the end the owl’s won out and took over the nest for the 2019 season and even laid an egg.   Although the owl egg did not hatch, perhaps out of guilt.

Then, for unknown reasons the nest was empty for 2020 and 2021.  But the Presidio Trust is now excited to announce that the Red-tailed hawk pair, believed to have built the nest are now back and nesting in 2022.

Presidio San Francisco LIVE Red-tailed Hawk Nest

Presidio Trust had this to say about the “Raptor Cam”, in a statement released this week, “Over a few seasons, it’s given all of us an up-close and personal look at nesting raptors in the park – and it’s back! Our wildlife ecologists think the same breeding resident pair of hawks have returned to their nest four years later – and the good news is we now see two eggs being nurtured for a mid-April hatching.”

They also gave us some cool bird facts, underlying the importance of the Presidio as a natural habitat.

  1. The Presidio is an important stop on the Pacific Flyway, the major north-south flyway for migratory birds, which means it’s a hotspot for birdwatching with 323 different types of birds spotted (so far!) in the park.
  2. Around this time of year, plenty of birds stop-off in the Presidio to build, or rehabilitate, a nest for the season.
  3. It usually takes between 3-7 days for Red-tailed Hawks to build a nest, or in this case, prep the nest for the season.
  4. After eggs are laid, chicks hatch in 28-35 days. These eggs were laid mid-March.
  5. Did you know Red-tailed Hawks can be the size of a small dog, yet only weigh about three pounds?! Learn more! One great birding resource is Cornell University’s website, All About Birds. They’ve got the low-down on everything from the mating habits of hawks to how the raspy screech of a Red-tailed Hawk is the “go-to” audio for all raptors in Hollywood films.
  6. We’re always looking to learn more about the park’s ecology; while you’re in the Presidio, look up into the sky and all around you…then share your observations with us through the California Academy of Science’s iNaturalist app!
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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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