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 ┬ádark 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.

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