Most of Washington's 32 species of diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey - eagles, hawks, and owls -- are reproductive "early birds". That's mostly because these are larger birds whose young take longer to develop so they need a head start. And like most wildlife species, young are usually produced when food for them is most abundant.
Our most common owl species, the Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) starts pairing up in mid-January, refurbishing old nest sites in trees, cliffs, or on the ground in February, and can be incubating eggs in March. Young owls may hatch in April, sometimes fledging in May or early June.
Our most common hawk species, the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), is nest-building or refurbishing in March and April. Their big nests of dry sticks and bark are usually in the crowns of tall trees where they have a commanding view of their hunting grounds. Redtails usually produce one brood a year, incubating up to five eggs for about a month and tending to hatchlings in the nest for another month and a half. Young redtails are fledging in late May or early June.
Likewise, our bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are on eggs in perennial nests in March and tending hatchlings into June. Although the bald eagle nest above Lake Washington on our live streaming "Wild Watch Cam" is not occupied this year, video recorded from other years of eaglet-rearing is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildwatch/eaglecam/index.html .
The raptor species that many of us living in urban and suburban areas might encounter most often are two look-alike hawks that prey on smaller birds - the Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and the sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus). We might see them strafing songbird feeding stations in our backyards during winter, but where are they nesting now?
Cooper's hawks (the larger of the two, at 14 to 20 inches in length) could be nesting right in town if there are older, larger trees available. Pairs often return to the same general vicinity each year, but they typically build a new nest in an evergreen tree rather than refurbish an old one. They usually lay three to five eggs which are incubated for about a month. Young fledge about a month after hatching but continue to return to the nest to roost and for food for another ten days or so. The young remain near the nest and close to each other for at least five to six weeks. During this time, young Cooper's hawks gradually begin to hunt on their own.
Sharp-shinned hawks (the smaller species, at 10 to 14 inches in length), prefer to build new nests each year within small groves of dense evergreens that have clearings nearby. Number of eggs, length of incubation, and timing of fledging and hunting independence is similar to the Cooper's hawk. For both species, the timing of that independence coincides with the peak of songbird fledging in June.
A bird of prey that is an exception to the earlier nesting pattern, migrating back to Washington each year at this time, is the osprey (Pandion haliaetus). These fish-eating birds return in April and early May to nest in treetops or on top of buildings, docks, poles, cell towers, or any other platform near water where they can forage and feed hatchlings next month. You can watch a pair of ospreys on their western Washington nest on our live OspreyCam athttp://wdfw.wa.gov/wildwatch/ospreycam/ .
Osprey are fairly adaptable to living near people, but they can get into trouble using some of our discarded materials for nest building. The birds usually line their nests with soft natural materials like grass or moss, but they will frequently pick up baling twine or fishing line if it's lying around. These materials easily tangle in their sharp talons and can end up killing both adults and chicks; if they are lucky they may only sustain loss of a talon or two. The obvious and easy solution to this problem is to properly dispose of baling twine and fishing line out of reach of ospreys and, for that matter, all wildlife that can become entangled.