Each visit to a red-tail nest is a memory: the tiny gray balls of fuzz at three days that became the defiant, beautiful birds of twenty-one days; the adults screaming overhead as I banded their young and the startling rush of wings as they dove past my head; the ever-present gentle wind on the nest and the feeling of wildness that the setting brought. This feeling of wildness remained even though I could often see the water tower of a nearby small town from the nest; once I could see the campus of a great university from the nest tree.
The bird that evoked a huge amount of respect from me was the great horned owl, one of the most efficient predators in our state. It begins nesting activities in late winter to assure peak migration activity--and thus peak food supply--when the young hatch. I was a very energetic birder at that time, waking at dawn just to enjoy the birds and bird songs. Still, the horned owl would scoop me--every now and then I found sora or snipe, for example, in its nest that I had not yet detected. The adults were superb providers. I would find the owl nest, often an old red-tail nest, lined with the bodies of waterfowl or shore birds to the point where I could not immediately see the young owls. (In an article entitled "To Babes Really Lost in the Woods," Paul Errington recommended that anyone lost and hungry should look for the nest of this owl to take advantage of its super-abundant food.)
From the essay by Dean M. Roosa in The Raptors of Iowa , paintings by James F. Landenberger