UFD: Raptor Ready

Yes, yes, I said I was doing a reader submission next. I lied. I’m dying to know what this fellow is.

Sunday was sunny and warm, so I hiked my work over to one of our picnic tables. Those are usually full of families having birthday parties, but this week, the whole strip was deserted. Sun and solitude? Combo not to be missed.

So there I was, beavering away whilst basking in the sun, when I heard a raptor scream. And the bugger flew right overhead in its full glory before I could get the camera out and on. I can tell you several things about it. It’s not a bald eagle – the coloration and markings were completely wrong, even for a juvenile. It was a kind of yellowish-tan hue with dark spots and creamy bits. It was utterly lovely. And it, being a bird and therefore an unutterable bastard, decided to go show off from a distance by the time I’d got my camera ready.

Still. A few halfway decent shots, perhaps enough for you to work with. And the memory of gorgeous gliding death soaring straight overhead.


So that’s as close as I ever got. Pathetic. Thirty seconds before, it had practically landed on my head. The birds round here conspire, I tell you. They do this on purpose. “Hey, you know what would be fun? Ima buzz Dana and then fly off behind a tree as soon as her camera comes on. Snortle.”

Still, this cropped shot turned out somewhat okay.


That’s as close as I can get to its actual colors, after playing with the contrast and highlights and such. It’s enough to tell it ain’t a bald eagle, and it’s probably not a red-tailed hawk.

The next two aren’t so great, but I include them in case they are helpful.


You know, it’s almost too bad I don’t have a mouse problem. Look at it looking down: I’ll bet I could’ve got its attention with a nice, fresh mouse hot from the trap and full o’ purloined cheese. I’ll bet it would have condescended to come close if I’d had something like that on offer. Ah, well, this shall have to do.


As you can tell, I had to shoot through power lines for a bit there, which was somewhat useful, actually: I could aim ahead of it and get the camera to develop some idea of focus before the raptor soared into the shot and got snapped.

Crop of the above:


And there you can see just a wee bit o’ detail. Quite lovely. But I have no idea what it is. Golden eagle? Some sort of hawk? Falcon? I am teh suck at teh birds.

I kind of like this final shot because it looks a bit like a cruising parrot.


Or is that just me?

There were actually two of them up there, but the other was further away, so I didn’t bother trying to photograph it. We get quite a few raptors round here. They love our drumlin. Sometimes in the summer, when I’m lounging on the porch with an improving book and the felid, I’ll hear them shouting to each other in the trees. There was a baby this year that was quite vocal, liked to throw hysterical fits. And you’ll sometimes see the crows get cross with them. Then there are the times when they’re just soaring in lazy circles overhead, and I’ll stand there for a bit with my neck craned back, watching them enjoy their updrafts. I like them a lot. And it’s nice to know we seem to have variety.

For those of you wondering how I spend my weekends when I’m not off adventuring, this is it:

Moi hard at work.

That’s a brand new notepad acquired from Staples, and it is filling with plans for ETEV and Rosetta Stones. I think best in longhand. Sometimes, I even write blog posts that way – especially when I’m at work or somewhere else where there’s no wi-fi and/or I haven’t got my computer. And yes, I sometimes do write outside in the glorious sunshine, whilst raptors soar and other birds laugh at me from the bushes.

It’s not a bad life, this writing life. Portable. Interesting. Difficult, but worth it.

Thank you for giving me good excuses to carry on, with occasional pauses to catch you a bird.

UFD: Raptor Ready
The Orbit is still fighting a SLAPP suit! Help defend freedom of speech, click here to find out more and donate!

30 thoughts on “UFD: Raptor Ready

  1. rq

    I like how you still write things by hand. On real paper. And it looks like your penmanship is decent, too. Lost art, that one…

    Working on the ID, but I’m better with little birds. :)

  2. 2

    Why do you think that’s not a redtail? It looks like a redtail to me. They have different phases and the juveniles can also vary a bit from the adults, but I would put money on it being redtail, based on the shape, and you know, the red tail. ;)

  3. 3

    My most likely suspect are a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-Shinned Hawk, two very similar species. Pretty sure it’s not a Red-Tail as you’d have noticed the tail color.

  4. 5

    I can’t say for sure, but I would probably put money on red-tailed hawk. That tail looks distinctly orangey to me.

    As Trebuchet said above, it is the wrong shape for sharp-shinned or Cooper’s. In addition to the longer, narrower tail, they would be smaller overall and have narrower wings.

    The screaming sound rules out eagles as well – fun fact, the “eagle” sound you hear in movies is a red-tailed hawk call.

    Oh, and please tell me the post’s title is a reference to this book.

  5. 6

    The only other hawk I know of, which is similar in size and shape to the red tail, and has the darker head markings like you can see in some of the pics here, is the Swainson’s hawk. The first few times I saw them in the midwest, I mistook them for redtails. And now that I look at the pictures, I don’t think they are clear enough to determine for sure one or the other, but I’m still leaning towards it being a light phase red tail.

  6. rq

    I’m going to confirm on that red-tail hawk, since it has just resolved a lot of google issues for me. I tried looking for it under the name of ‘chickenhawk’ and I wasn’t getting results, so I’ve been going through a slew of other possibilities, looking for the one of correct appearance. But yes, I would support the red-tailed hawk ID, mostly because of the colouring.

  7. 9

    I’m going to chime in with the red-tail crowd. The rusty color of the tail is most noticeable from above, but in this case there is a hint of it anyway.

    Definitely not a sharpie or a Cooper’s – the tail is much too broad, as others have pointed out. The broad wings and tail identify it as a Buteo, while sharp-shined and Cooper’s hawks are Accipiters, characterized by narrower wings and a long, narrow tail.

  8. 12

    Pretty birdy…

    Where I grew up, the only real bird of prey was the osprey, and honestly if you see one of those buggers in the sky, you don’t want to linger and watch–you want to get your small and furries inside (or under a tree) and a broom to protect your shiny koi.

    Because, of course, they are bastards. Who like to nest in cell towers.

  9. 14

    Because, of course, they are bastards. Who like to nest in cell towers.

    Heh. Didn’t know that this was common behavior. A couple of years ago at a highway rest stop we watched a pair of osprey trying rather ineptly to build a nest in a cell tower. Most of the material ended up on the ground.

    As far as the bastards part goes – they’re predators. What do you expect?

  10. rq

    Didn’t know other birds did this – locally, the storks try the cell towers from time to time, but I think with little success, so they go back to the retro telephone poles eventually. That, and chimneys.
    They eat all the frogs anyway, though – does that make them bastards, too?

  11. 19

    There are a lot of these (red-tailed) hawks where I live, and they seem to be somewhat acclimated to humans. I have had a number of them visiting my yard and lingering for a while despite pedestrians, cars, and nearby presence with a camera. A few years ago, a nesting female had built a nest in MSU’s football stadium, and was harassing fans during games.

  12. 20

    Here are some possible choices.

    Swainson’s Hawk. An eater of grasshoppers and a bird that migrates at this time of year from CA to Argentina.


    But, these typically have dark wings with a dark band on the end of the tail. And they typically have a mask rather than a hood.

    Cooper’s Hawk

    Has a very long banded tail.



    Banded tail again.

    But then, here’s the Red-tailed hawk.


    Red or pink tails without strong banding.

    Given the scream (they are the source of the hawk/eagle scream heard in movies whenever they show ANY raptor), the pink tail, the black shoulders, and the hood… I’m going to go with red.

  13. 21

    It’s a red tail. Cooper’s and Sharpe shinned have longer tails with clear banding, and more rounded wings and are smaller. Swainson’s don’t have a that breast band you can see in the first and second picture. Also red-tails are just so much more common than the other possibilities

  14. 22

    This is a Red-tailed Hawk, and I think anyone familiar with the species would agree, with near-total confidence. There’s the red tail, yes, but also a “belly band” of darker feathers across the breast. There are also “headlights” on the leading edge of the wings and patagial “commas” on the distal portion of the underwing coverts. Last but not least, the overall shape of hawks does not vary much by individual- so while it is hard to judge without a lot of experience, it is a very reliable mark that someone with experience would use reliably.

    The is a Facebook group called “The Facebook Bird ID Group of the World,” or something quite similar that you may consider. It’s an excellent resource for getting opinions on bird ID, and is trafficked by plenty of very knowledgeable people who are quite helpful in discussing the basis for their identifications.

  15. 23

    I didn’t think Osprey went after anything other than fish and frogs with any kind of regularity. Also, they aren’t much larger than a red-tail, so I’d think anything larger than a chihuahua wouldn’t be in danger anyway.

    A golden eagle, on the other talon…..

  16. 24

    I couldn’t access The Raptor’s link to the Red Tail as is, but when I changed the terminal .jpg to .html I was able to access something. I presume it was the link intended.

  17. 26

    If you have the option (SLR for example), when taking bird-in-flight pictures, override the exposure by adding one or two stops (sometimes 3!) to brighten the image. Auto exposure tends to under expose when significant amounts of sky are included in the metering. The camera tries to make the sky “18% gray”. FWIW, I am in the redtail crowd on this ID.

  18. 27


    Hawks also like to mess with me. I know it: they circle around and wait until my camera is pointing down or turned off. Then they swoop by me, as close as 20 feet, and chuckle to themselves as they fly off and become specks by the time I can get the camera pointed at them. Of course, they know I have a low end point & shoot with a near useless zoom.

    This is in New York City by the way. Yes, we’ve got tons of hawks, mostly red-tails. We even have a famous one: Google “Pale Male.”And I concur with the others: your bird is a red-tail. You can see the sun shining through the red tail-feathers.

  19. 28

    15th-ing or so the ‘light phase redtail’ vote. Very cool – one of those life-affirming, breathtaking, ‘damn, it is so freakin’/cool/ to be here, and alive!’ experiences.

  20. 30

    Red-tailed Hawk, no doubt about it (and I’ve put in several seasons as a raptor bander and migration counter). See, e.g., soaring pictures here and here.

    It’s probably a light morph (as shown in the pics above), which has a faded, light red tail – just like I see in several of the pictures above. The dark head and dark patagials (areas at the leading edge of the wing between the body and the wrists), but otherwise light wings are dead giveaways for red-tailed hawks.

    The size and shape are definite buteo and definitely not accipiter (Sharpie, Coop). Swainson’s hawks have distinct black-and-white wings. Ferruginous hawks have light heads, and longer narrower wings (like a candelabra). Rough-legged Hawks have light heads and very dark lower abdomens. Size, shape, and coloration is all wrong for red-shouldered hawks.

Comments are closed.