Soaring at Birds of Prey
It’s natural to think of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area as a destination: Dedication Point, which overlooks the Snake River canyon south of Kuna.
The actual conservation area, though, covers 485,000 acres primarily north and east of the river — in the desert you cross to reach the canyon.
“The canyon itself is primarily the nesting habitat,” said Larry Ridenhour of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the conservation area. “The desert north of the river is where all the food is for them, so you’re likely to see as many birds of prey driving out as at the canyon.”
That was my experience last week. While the canyon featured mostly ravens doing acrobatics in the wind, a red-tailed hawk flew in front of my car about a foot off the ground south of Kuna. In total, I saw more birds of prey from my car than when I got out to explore at Initial Point (the lava butte that was the starting point for Idaho’s official land survey in 1867) and Dedication Point, which provides a stunning overlook of the canyon and interpretive signs describing plants, wildlife and geology of the area.
The ravens were fun to watch.
“For birds, wind is free energy,” Ridenhour said. “They don’t have to use their own energy to flap as much, so they do more soaring. I’ve seen some incredible flight behavior in some pretty windy conditions just because they are having fun.”
The Snake River canyon boasts the greatest concentration of nesting birds of prey in North America. An estimated 800 pairs of hawks, owls, eagles and falcons nest each spring.
The best time to view the birds is mid-May, Ridenhour said. Females generally are sitting on nests in April while males hunt. By mid-May, most young birds have hatched, he said, so the females start hunting, too.
By the end of May or early June, young birds will start to fly.
“Middle May to the end of May is a really good time to go out,” Ridenhour said.
Dedication Point is 15.5 miles south of the Kuna Visitor Center, which is at the intersection of Avalon and Swan Falls near downtown Kuna. Go south on Swan Falls Road. Initial Point is at the 8-mile mark and one mile east of the road.