The nest sits high in the branches of a gnarly, old cottonwood tree and contains young red-tailed hawks not fully ready to fly.

Visitors who stand beneath the tree are awed — and a bit confused. The nest’s urban location defies logic.

It sits just yards from railroad tracks, where screeching trains pass through several times a day. From above comes the regular roar of jetliners, making their descents into Salt Lake City International Airport a few miles away.

Surrounded by boxy warehouses and industrial buildings, this spot at 3255 W. 500 South in Salt Lake City is anything but wild.

So please forgive property owner Chris Mantas, who bought the 18-acre property and planned to tear out the four cottonwood trees to make way for a new $8 million expansion of his auto recycling business, All Truck & Car.

That was before he met his neighbor Catherine Kirby.

The owner of Noble Horse Sanctuary, about a half-mile to the west, has visited the nesting area each spring “for many, many years” to watch the male and female hawks raise their young.

She believes the birds have been coming to the spot for nearly two decades, and the trees could be at least a century old. She points out a natural spring, a water source that may help attract the hawks.

Clearly, Kirby is protective of the area, warning a recent visitor that one of the fledglings has strayed too far from the nest and to “watch your step.”

The next day, she used a cardboard box to return it to the nest.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Catherine Kirby, with Noble Horse Sanctuary, displays her compassion for animals by moving a weak and dehydrated young red-tailed hawk back to the cottonwood tree where its nest is.

A few weeks ago, when Kirby saw crews clearing the property, she grew worried about the birds, and she flew into action, tracking down Mantas and Tom Stuart Construction, which is erecting the new building.

Mantas said federal law prohibits tampering with the nests of migratory birds while the offspring are there.

“We were just waiting until the baby birds were gone,” he said, “and then we were going to tear out the trees.”

Kirby would not be deterred. She kept urging Mantas to save the birds — and the trees.

The more he researched — and listened to Kirby — Mantas learned that red-tailed hawks weren’t the trees’ only part-time occupants. In the winter, it’s common for great horned owls to take over the spot for breeding.

“It’s an Airbnb,” he said.

“It’s a nice relationship,” said Joseph Dane, development and marketing director of HawkWatch International. “The owls breed in the winter, so by the time the hawks return, the owls have fledged and left the nest.”

Soon, Zach Russell, All Truck & Car’s general manager, started encouraging his boss to change the construction plans.

“What’s it going to hurt to save the trees and the habitat?” he asked.

Even Mantas’ wife, Emily, jumped on board. She reminded her husband of an old wives’ tale from Greece, where their ancestors were born, that said it was good luck to have birds in your yard.

That settled it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Mantas, left, is joined by Tim Begue and Lolo Tenifa as they spot red-tailed hawks in a cluster of large cottonwood trees in west Salt Lake City. Mantas originally planned to rip out the trees to make way for a new building. Several neighbors persuaded him to save the trees, which have been a nesting area for red-tailed hawks.

“We got together with our group and decided to work around the trees and have the hawks become part of our home,” Mantas said. “As auto recyclers, we get called ‘junkyards’ and told that we don’t care about the environment. But we do care and want to do our part.”

When the new All Truck & Car building is completed about a year from now, Mantas has decided to dedicate a surveillance camera to the nesting area. “That way people can go to our website and see the birds.”

Kirby is thrilled with the decision.

“It sets a good example,” she said. “If more businesses did what he was doing, even if it’s just saving two or three trees in an industrial area, it would change the environment and the animals would have a place.”

Dane, with HawkWatch International, agrees.

“It’s not just businesses. Homeowners and developers need to know there is value in keeping native land cover and trees,” he said. “Helping protect some of these spaces for them is important.”

There’s no guarantee that once the All Truck & Car is open for business, the red-tailed hawks will appreciate their new neighbors and want to stay.

But the chances are good, said Dane, as long as there is food — think mice, voles and other small mammals — to feed their young.

“Red-tailed hawks,” he said, “take well to urbanization compared to other birds of prey.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Red-tailed hawks feed on small rodents in an industrial area of Salt Lake City.