Archive for Raptors

Barred Owl 3/14/18

Barred Owls are common in eastern North America and are also known as hoot owls and wood owls. They like open old growth woods where they can hunt small mammals and the occasional bird or herp.  They are tuftless or earless compared to say the Great Horned or Eastern Screech, some being more gray while others more brown. They belong to the genus Strix with 23 species worldwide and out west they are considered invasive for the negative competitive impact they’ve had on their smaller Spotted Owl cousins. With their big dark brown peepers, they’re one of just a few owl species that don’t have yellow eyes.


Red-tailed Hawk juve 2/23/18

The most common and my most photographed hawk is the Red-tailed.  The undertail is always light in Red-tails but you only see barring in the juvenile plumage, which also coincides with yellow eyes. Only adults have that rich cinnamon tail and only when you’re seeing the topside of it. Red-tailed Hawks are probably the most variably plumed hawk species in North America, with both considerable variation between the 14 subspecies as well as between individuals within a subspecies.When perched like this or soaring, the dark belly band is a fairly reliable field mark for Red-tailed Hawks in the eastern US, but there are birds which are all dark-bellied and others that are all white-bellied, though both are more common farther west.


Merlin tiercel 1/10/18

Merlins are one of the falcons, now known to be more closely related to parrots than to other hawks. They are designed for speed and agility with long narrow wings to catch and kill smaller birds on the wing. Like most birds of prey they are sexually dimorphic with females being larger than males, an adaptation allowing a pair to better exploit prey sizes within their territory. Male falcons are called tiercels, some sources say for being roughly a third smaller than females. Merlin tiercels are also bluer winged while females are brown. Merlins are found around the Northern Hemisphere in 9 subspecies.


Sharp-shinned Hawk, female, Christmas Puzzlebird 12/25/17

Last week’s Christmas Puzzle bird was looking to ID this bird, in particular whether it was a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The tricky part of this photo was that none of the usual signs were especially definitive or obvious in this photo. The nape coloration wasn’t prominent so you couldn’t really tell whether the bird appeared “hooded” or “capped,” nor was proportional head size obvious, and even what appears to be a rounded tail was a bit misleading. The one thing that could be said for sure about this bird was that it was an Accipiter and with a yellow eye, that made it a juvenile Accipiter. When you see a juvenile accipiter that is either Sharpie or Coop, it’s very easy to tell them apart from their front sides. The immature Coop has finely drawn  dark streaks on a white background, while the Sharpie has brown barring. both give way to reddish barring in the adults of either. But this example here is clearly a Sharp-shinned Hawk. So what about that rounded tail? Well what makes a Sharpie tail look square is that all the tail feathers are the same length, while the outer 2 feathers in a Cooper’s Hawk are always shorter than the rest, which creates the pronounced rounding. Looking carefully at the bird above to see the tail feathers are indeed all one length, and that alone is enough to definitivel;y call this bird a Sharp-shinned Hawk. It also turns out that the outermost tails feathers of female Sharpies are a little rounder than males, while the tail feathers of male Sharpies sometimes shows a notch in the middle.


Eastern Screech Owl (red morph) 12/21/17

There are a couple dozen screech owl species found in the Americas, all of them now considered different enough from their old world “scops owl” cousins to warrant their own genus “Megascops.” Contrary to their name, Eastern Screech Owls don’t screech. Instead they have a descending trill that’s reminiscent of a horse whinnying and another courting trill. Eastern Screeches come in 2 color morphs, red or gray (in southernmost Florida there’s a third rare brown morph). Except for occasionally finding one roosting on its doorstep like this, they’re strictly nocturnal and go unnoticed.


Sharpie or Coop? Christmas Puzzlebird 12/17/17

This hawk burst through my Arbor vitaes this afternoon after one of the Juncos foraging under the feeder. Missed! It’s either a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk and telling the difference between the two is one of the more difficult challenges for beginner and even intermediate level birders. Both are Accipiters, short-winged and long-tailed hawks designed for agility and speed when chasing prey through the woods. One of them has a more squared off tail while the other’s more rounded. One’s head is proportionally large to the body while the other’s head is proportionally small. One has a paler nape than its crown creating a “capped” appearance while the other has a dark crown and nape, creating a more “hooded” appearance. And while Sharpies are smaller than Coops, male Coops are about the same size as female Sharpies. Sharpies have those skinny legs (the eponymous “sharp shins”) compared to Coops.  To make things even more complicated, juveniles have different breast feathering from each other and adults!

I’ll send a free 2018 Phillip’s Fetching Birds Calendar to whoever posts the correct answer with the best explanation that appears in the comments by midnight Christmas eve. Winner and answer will be posted here on Christmas day.


Peregrine Falcon female 11/25/17

Since 2008, DNA genome studies essentially reclassified all falcons as being more closely related to parrots than to other hawks. That’s just one of the more dramatic examples of how DNA is redrawing the tree of life, such that a lot of modern taxonomy is in disarray as the old relationships and classifications are being rewritten. But despite the close relationship to parrots, falcons still look and act like hawks. Peregrine Falcons have long pointed wings and a streamlined shape built for speed and surprise. They are the largest of the falcons we regularly see in New England and are the fastest animal on the plane—capable of reaching speeds over 240 mph.


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