Archive for Raptors

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.


Red-tailed Hawk 11/23/17

This is one of the smaller Red-tailed Hawks I’ve come across lately, and being an adult bird I’m fairly confident calling this one male (females being up to 25% larger). Red-tails come in 14 different subspecies across North and Central America with considerable variety in their plumage, but the characteristic bulky shape, large size, pale underside with a streaked belly-band, and brick-red tail of the adults (when seen from the top) is common to all but the darkest variations. This is the borealis subspecies of northeastern North America—lighter than some of the morphs more commonly seen in the west.


Turkey Vulture 2/27/17

You don’t need much more evidence of global warming than regularly finding birds like this in Maine at the end of February. Twenty years ago it simply would have been unthinkable. The Turkey Vulture, aka Turkey Buzzard, John Crow, or TV, is another of those birds whose DNA tells a much different story about its evolution than you’d expect. The old story assumed all American vultures (including Condors) were closely related to the vultures of the old world. After all they have similar wings for soaring on thermals, and naked featherless heads for feeding on carrion. But turns out they’re hardly related at all, instead they’re a textbook example of convergent evolution, where similar forms evolve from much different ancestors and only look related. This TV shares more of its DNA with Accipiters—Goshawks, Coopers Hawks, and Sharpies—than it does with any vulture from Europe, Africa, or Asia.


Bald Eagle adult male 1/12/17


I see Bald Eagles fairly regular these days, soaring overhead while taking a walk on the beach, or in some pine watching the water for flotsam and jetsam like this one with scanning the York River. I had my eye on him for a good half hour and can say he was a small one, meaning male, as females are up to 25% larger. Their remarkable comeback continues even after they came off the Endangered Species list a decade ago.


Barred Owl 1/3/17


I first saw this Barred Owl crossing the road inside Fort Foster then landing in a cherry thicket, and was able to creep up by staying behind a pine trunk. It’s only 10 or 12 feet above the ground, and as it perched was scanning the ground just below for voles and other rodents. The bloody spot on the curve of its beak spoke of a recent meal but apparently not a very filling one—this bird was definitely on the move and actively hunting. It’s not that unusual to spot one during the day. Depending where you live Barred Owls are also called Hoot Owls or Rain Owls and their 8-9 hoot call is usually paraphrased “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all.” where the you-all note descends and trails away. They are a common and good-sized owl, though not as big as the Great Horned, Great Gray, or Snowy, but they are the only owl that doesn’t have yellow eyes.


Eastern Screech Owl red morph


Eastern Screech Owls are woodland birds that come in either red or gray morphs as well as some intermediary brownish plumages. Mixed pairs do occur. They are stocky ear-tufted owls with yellow eyes and are only about 8 inches tall.


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