Hawk ID, Please

corunum z6 CTMarch 6, 2013

Can anyone confirm the identity of this hawk? He's a frequent flyer in my yard in Central Connecticut. I think he may be a young Red-shouldered hawk, but not sure. The first two pictures I took today. The 3rd picture down was taken Dec 6th, 2012, same place, and I'm wondering if it is the same species or even the same bird. The hawks are beginning to look alike to me. Thanks.


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That's an adult Red-shouldered Hawk.

The field marks to look for are the orange barred chest and the black/white "checkered" wing secondaries, Also, the black tail with white bands is evident (another good mark to look for). Funnily enough, the "red shoulder" is barely discernible on this one.

If you notice, the folded wing tips are nearly the length of the tail. That is how one can rule out an Accipiter (Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks) in all hawk-ID cases. The tail is significantly longer than the wing tips in Accipiters.

Great photos! Red-shouldereds are one of my favorite raptors.

This post was edited by TMFF on Thu, Mar 7, 13 at 8:26

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 8:23AM
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P.S. All three photos are the same species and could be the same bird.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 8:25AM
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corunum z6 CT

Thank you very much, TMFF! I am most appreciative. Also glad I got it right! I noticed this Red-shouldered chap last year as he seemed a smaller hawk and yes, cuter than some others. There is a pair that soars overhead daily, so maybe we'll be lucky to have a good nesting season.

If willing, could you have a look at this chap below...I think it's a Broad-winged, but maybe in the juvenile stage. I do like raptors. Well, all birds. Thanks again, TMFF, for responding.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 3:48PM
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Hi Jane! I adore raptors and have a ton of fun IDing them.

This soaring hawk is an adult Red-tailed Hawk. This one has many of the typical fields marks:
- dark patagial marks (the leading edge of the underwing)
- brown head and contrasting whitish chest
- dark "belly band"
- this one has a rufous tail (but not all Red-tailed Hawks have red tails)

There are some plumage similarities to Broad-winged Hawks. The dark "rim" around the trailing edge of the wing is one (but Broad-wingeds never have the dark patagials), and the dark belly band is sometimes implied on a lightly streaked Broad-winged. However, the Broad-winged Hawk has a black and white thickly banded tail. This shows in flight as two black bands separated by a thick white band.

A juvenile Broad-winged's tail will be different though and that is opening up a new can of worms. They are most difficult to differentiate from juvie Red-shouldered Hawks.

One thing to keep in mind is Broad-winged Hawks are smaller- 15 inches or so. Also, they migrate and spend their winters in South America. You'll only see one in North America during the warm months.

So, to summarize, your bird is a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk.

I have included a photo of an adult Broad-winged Hawk just for reference (not my photo, it's from birding.com).

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 5:44PM
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corunum z6 CT

Wow, TMFF. Outstanding response, thanks so very much. Beautiful BW above. I really have to study the patterns more closely because I enjoy photographing them - especially in flight if I'm lucky - and it would be nice to have better knowledge of the species. I still can't tell the difference between a Cooper's and a Sharp-shinned and from what I've gathered, they are often and easily confused. We have many hawks here and sometimes they crash into my house while in pursuit of a feathered dinner. This fellow crashed (again) last summer and sat on a post right next to the deck seemingly stupefied.

Again, thanks very much, TMFF, for taking the time to reply.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 9:54AM
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Funnily enough, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned are among the most common hawks to see but still (for me) some of the most challenging to ID properly. What muddies it up so much is the sexual dimorphism with their size! A large female sharp-shinned can nearly overlap with a small male Cooper's size range (it DOESN'T overlap, but our eyes aren't good enough to differentiate that without a size reference!)

Cooper's tend to have longer tails with rounded tips, larger more squared heads, a long barrel-shaped torso, and thicker legs/talons. Juvies usually have finely streaked chests. Adults have a dark grey "cap" on their heads that is created due to a contrasting light nape on their necks.

Sharp-shinned have a tad shorter tails with a squared tip, a small rounded puny head, a pot-bellied chest, and scrawny legs. Juvies usually have thicker, darker streaks that go all the way down the front side to their legs. Adults have a dark grey "hood" because the backs of their necks are dark too.

With all of that said, it is still difficult to tell, especially in juveniles.

I believe that is a Cooper's Hawk in your photo. It's a juvenile.

But sometimes we just say Accipiter, sp.


This post was edited by TMFF on Fri, Mar 8, 13 at 15:10

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 3:07PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Great stuff all around.

Thanks for the post, Jane and the response,TMFF.

Agree the last is a juvenile Cooper. The thin "drips" of feather markings on the belly helps me to ID it.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 6:38PM
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corunum z6 CT

Identifying hawks makes me feel as though I need a dog and a cane so I think I'm going to have to buy the Crossley book that TMFF recommended and Claire (thankfully) showed the RS Hawk page of in her copy. Beautiful book. This morning I saw a moment in the life of - is it the RS again or is it the juvi Sharp-shinned? Sibley's drawing makes me think it's a Sharp-shinned, but...
He was way out back, so not these are not the clearest shots I had hoped for.
Checking things out after the crows left him alone

And then the wake-up shake began

I think he's cute

Putting things back in order

Answering the mate

On his way to meet the wife (I guess)

Wish it was clearer, but he is faster than I am


    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 12:59PM
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These photos are definitely of your friendly neighborhood Red-shouldered Hawk!

Here are some tricks I use to ID (when you can see the tail):

  1. Always look at the relative length of folded wing tip to tail tip. Closely matched = Buteo. Tail much longer than wings = Accipiter. This bird's are closely matched.

2.) Coops and Sharpies (Accipiters) have banded tails that are thick dark grey bands separated by thicker light grey bands. RSHA have jet black bands separated by skinny white bands (juvies differ though).

Also, adult Coops/Sharpies have slate grey on their heads and upperparts. The juveniles have brown without much mottling or patterning at all (pretty much solid brown above).

Red-shouldereds have dark brown mottled upperparts and black finely barred flight feathers that look like a checkerboard when folded. In the fifth photo down you can really see that checkerboard patterning on the edges of the folded wings. No other N. American hawk species has that distinct of patterning on the folded wings.

Holy moly, I rambled on again.

I highly recommend the Crossley ID guide. The raptor edition is coming later this month. I haven't seen it yet but I expect great things. I also use Hawks in Flight, 2nd Ed (Dunne/Sibley/Sutton).

Here's a photo of a Sharpie's tail (Photo by Errol Taskin,
Shreveport, Louisiana) to demonstrate the difference in length from the RSHA above:

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 5:30PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Amazon.com has 'The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors' for preorder, and they have a few teaser pages to look at (I just preordered it).


This post was edited by claire on Sat, Mar 9, 13 at 18:52

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 6:49PM
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How funny- so did I! Good price! Oh my.... I am practically salivating. Eh, can't help it.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 7:45PM
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corunum z6 CT

TMFF - Keep rambling! :) It takes effort and care to answer people properly and so completely, so please keep 'rambling' and know that I appreciate your effort. Had to look up buteo - new word to me. So after looking it up and comparing wing lengths to accipiters (also a relatively new term) and flipping through the sample pages on amazon, I followed suit and ordered both Crossley books. You and Claire have a winning effect when it comes to birds.

Again, thanks so much, TMFF, for taking the time to provide a compehensive answer. It is nice to learn from people who are passionate about nature. And, I needed both books to get 'Free Shipping', hahahaaha.

Jane :)

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 1:28PM
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Hi Jane! It's been my pleasure (really!) since I enjoy testing my raptor ID skills when I am unable to get outside and do it for real (either due to schedule limitations or birds not cooperating).

Raptor ID is something I've been working on for a year or two now; only recently did I become any good at it. Hawks used to look all the same to me. I claimed to love them but I knew so little about them. I had to learn to notice the fine details and become adept at pointing them out quickly. Sometimes a glimpse is all you get.

I believe those two guides you purchased will serve you (or anyone) well. The general Eastern guide is a great visual tool but Crossley doesn't have the space on each page to really break down the field marks that make each species unique. His raptor guide will probably be better for that, but I had to purchase Hawks in Flight to REALLY get into the details of real-time ID. Perched birds are easy to master; soaring hawks requires a lot of practice. I have also used online articles (American Birding Association/ Jerry Liguori) to learn new things, especially concerning the amazing diversity of Red-tailed Hawks. I have also learned a lot from experienced birders.

I still have a ton to learn so I lurk forums such as these. Gives me an excuse to read a little more about IDing raptors.

I have another tip that has helped me TREMENDOUSLY when IDing raptors (birds in general). Always weed out the unlikely/impossible species first.
- Location/range (you'll not likely find a Swainson's Hawk in New England unless during spring/fall migration)
- Season (Broad-winged Hawks are in s. America during the winter)
- Behavior (Northern Goshawks are notoriously elusive forest hawks and are the least likely Accipiter at a bird feeder).

Rule out what it ISN'T and you'll likely have a much narrower list of what it could be.

After that it comes down to field marks, shape, flying style, etc.

If you are lucky enough to hear the hawk's call, then you are well on your way. Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds has recordings of bird sounds and it's a great reference.

I'm sure I left a million things out but that's mostly what I wanted to say.

This post was edited by TMFF on Sun, Mar 10, 13 at 17:15

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 5:12PM
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