Sometimes the worst photo you take can be one of the best birds you see. On our trip to Las Vegas a few weeks ago, the last place I expected any good birding was from the window of our 23rd floor room at The Mirage. Yet one afternoon, after a busy morning out in wilder spaces, my husband asked me what bird was outside the window - anticipating one of the ever-present grackles, I took an indulgent look, but was startled to see not a blackbird, but a raptor.
On the sign across from our volcano-view room, two raptors were calmly watching the street scene below. Through a dirty window and from that distance, I couldn't get a clear view, but the thick malar stripes, dark upperparts, and barred underparts made identification almost too easy - peregrine falcons. On close inspection, the "bloomer" leg feathers and hooked bill were also noticeable, and when one of the birds launched into flight, the sharply pointed wings were one final clue.
These raptors are one of the most successful stories of urban nesting in the world. Natural cliff dwellers, they have adapted well to the urban cliffs of skyscrapers, and the ready availability of pigeons, rats, and other urban wildlife make for easy hunting. Truth be told, I've never had an easier sighting of one of these marvelous raptors than from the air-conditioned comfort of a hotel room!