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BULLETnature archive
Nature Archive Photo
© Tom Vezo

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Talon Agents
Raptors are cool. Falcons, eagles, ospreys ... all of them. In Arizona, one of the best places to catch a glimpse is Cave Creek Canyon, which is being targeted for protection.

By Kelly Kramer

Mention raptors to a flock of sci-fi fans and they'll likely conjure images of the shrieking, taloned dinosaurs of Michael Crichton novels. Mention raptors to a group of ornithologists, and tales of falcons, eagles, hawks, ospreys and owls will keep them talking for hours.

That's particularly true of ornithologists familiar with Cave Creek Canyon, a bird-watchers' paradise located just south of Portal, in Southern Arizona's Coronado National Forest.

"Raptors breed in Cave Creek Canyon in great numbers because they find a rich and varied food supply, from rabbits, rodents, reptiles and birds to a plentiful supply of insect life," says Portal-based ornithologist and author Helen Snyder. "There are also diverse and abundant nest sites — cliffs full of caves, ledges and potholes — and trees with natural and woodpecker-made cavities."

She says that the diversity of canyon topography, as well as its various life zones, contributes to the prevalence of raptors — birds with hooked beaks and sharp talons that live by capturing other animals alive for food — in the area. "Cave Creek Canyon's location in the southern United States near the Mexican border means that prey and, therefore, raptor diversity, is greater here than at more northern latitudes," she says.

"The steep topography means that different life zones are stacked up like pancakes, so driving from the town of Portal at the lower end of the canyon to the very top of the watershed is a little like going from Mexico to British Columbia in terms of the succession of habitats you'd pass through, from hot desert to cool conifer forests in a dozen linear miles."

Although there are currently countless raptors that call the canyon home, Snyder and other supporters are working to establish the Cave Creek Canyon Zoological Area, which would guide future management toward conservation projects, research and ecotourism, rather than development.

"One plan was to turn it into a National Recreation Area with paving and construction of hundreds of additional campsites in the very rich and productive riparian area," Snyder says. "Another plan was for a huge gold mine, which we fought off by getting the area withdrawn from mineral entry by passing the Cave Creek Protection Act in Congress." Coronado National Forest officials will review the plan this year.

Information: Visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado. Noel and Helen Snyder's book, Raptors of North America: Natural History and Conservation, is available through Voyageur Press.

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