Thursday, March 27, 2014

Name the Raptor

Red-tailed hawk-  Joe Motto
Linda Bower sent me this video of an immature hawk, looking for confirmation of the species.  I sent it on to Jeff Cantrell of MDC who coincidentally was presenting a program on identifying raptors the next night at the Conservation Nature Center.  Jeff confirmed that it was an immature red-tailed hawk.
"This hawk has a couple of different features, the markings on its face and throat are different or bolder than usual. And it is very odd not having a prominent patagial bar (patagium) on its inner shoulder. But you got an original immature red tailed hawk. It must be on some kind of food, the hawk on the video is looking around constantly “worried” for a pirate."
In his raptor presentation, Jeff emphasized a few distinctive markings characteristic of each species of buteo, accipiter, falcon, etc.  For instance, the red-tailed hawk typically has a dark bar on the leading edge of its wing between the shoulder and wrist, the patagium.  It also has a speckled dark belly band across the otherwise white abdomen, both features visible from below in flight.  Combining this with the white tail without the black stripes of the red-shouldered hawk helps us distinguish between these two most common hawks along Bull Creek.
Red-tailed  hawk on turkey carcass

Linda's hawk was probably guarding its food from other predators as her video shows it looking for trouble in every direction.  The red-tailed hawk on the right was mounted on a freezer-burned turkey carcass, conquered after it had run off a flock of turkey vultures.  They will sometimes even spread their wings and tail over their meal to hide it, an activity called mantling from the old English term of mantle or cloak.

Once hooked you will soon be doing what Barb calls a "55mph drive-by botany,"only in this case focusing on raptors gliding or sitting on roadside trees.  There is a guide for soaring raptors that no self-respecting naturalist's car should be without.  It is available as a laminated card from or you can print it off for free at this link.

You can follow a peregrine falcon family in development at the MDC falcon webcam which is on live daily from 7AM to 7PM.

Two other sources for raptor identification online are the MDC Fieldguide and Allaboutbirds.comHawkmountail. has diagrams of raptor shapes in flight.

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