Monday, February 4, 2013

Being in Hawk

I'm having trouble identifying hawks.  Really, they all look alike to me.  I have a National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Fourth Edition) and a Reader's Digest Book of North American Birds, and yesterday I picked up a paperback copy of  Hawks in Flight: The Flight Identification of North American Migrant Raptors, by Dunne, Sibley & Sutton.  Maybe if I had something better than 7 x 35 binoculars, or my little point-and-shoot Canon Powershot SX130, it would be easier.  Right?

But even with all those books, they still look alike.  Really.

I can't tell if something is level, either. (Just as an aside.)

So, I've made my best guess on the following pictures I took on Friday at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and please let me know if I've labeled them wrong.   I wanted to just say "Red-tailed Hawk" under all the pictures since that is the most common, but I was afraid I'd get hate mail from people who are much better at identification than I am.  Also, I was afraid relatives of the pictured birds would leave presents on my car.

So here goes:

I think this is a Cooper's Hawk, but turns out it is a Red-tailed Hawk

This looks like it could be a falcon to me.  
Turns out I was right that the above is not a hawk!!!!  I'm so proud of myself.  If you read the comments below, it is believed to be a juvenile Bald Eagle.

Looks like a Red-tailed Hawk

This sweet, precious baby Red-tailed Hawk held out his wing for easier identification for me

This one is so dark, I wonder if it is a Harlan's Hawk (a division of Red-tailed)

Okay, I was wrong about this one.  It is a red-tailed and not a Harlan's.

Looks like a Red-tailed to me

Right about this one.  Yippeeeee.

At first I thought this might be a Rough-legged hawk
Northern Harrier!!!!  Not a Red-tailed OR a Rough-legged.  Geeepers.

Then I thought it might be a Red-tailed

Then when I saw his legs weren't hairy, and I was pretty sure it was Red-tailed

This looks like a Harlan's hawk to me
Again, this is probably a young red-tailed.

And it is well trained not to go into the closed area.



  1. Well, who needs National Geographic, when they have you? Very Interesting!


  2. No idea, but these are great photos!!!

  3. i thought hawks were you're like, 10 steps ahead of me!!

  4. Your "Rough-legged Hawk" on the ground is actually a Northern Harrier.

    Your "Cooper's Hawk" is in fact another Red-tailed Hawk.

    Everything else is a Red-tailed as well. The possible Harlan's are too difficult to tell without a front view. The tail, though, looks typical of a juvenile Red-tailed, but not the Harlan's variety. But I can't see the front.

    The one in the tree doesn't look falcon- doesn't have the pointed angled wings. Probably another Red-tailed, lol.

    No hate mail from me! The are great pictures! I think you would have been safe calling all of these Red-tailed Hawks (except for the Harrier- nice find, by the way!)

  5. One more thing: do you have any more photos of the one in the tree (the "falcon")? How large was it? Its shape reminds me of a juvenile bald eagle. I noticed that after I sent off that last message.

  6. T MF,

    Thanks SO, SO much. After I posted this, I found out that is was a Northern Harrier because I went back to the refuge and that same type was flying right there at the check-in place and I got all excited and asked the people standing there. They even knew it was female.

    And it is possible the falcon-looking one was a juvenile eagle. Someone else had seen one that day because they had written it on the "sightings" board.

    Good to know I would have been okay just listing all the rest as red-tailed. Except that first picture. You SURE that is red-tailed? It has such a white chest.

    And no hate mail, trust me. Your response is exactly what I was hoping for. The people who left responses above yours are all dear, dear friends who probably were afraid they'd hurt my feelings if they corrected me.

    Please stop by any time to correct any of my bird sightings.


  7. Hi Melanie,

    I am certain the first one is also a Red-tailed Hawk. It does have an absence of a belly band- good observation- but that is not very uncommon in RTHA. I have one in my neighborhood (I live on the edge of a town in Kansas) that looks just like your hawk there. Its mate has the typical belly band. I can tell them apart so easily due to that!

    A Cooper's never has a white chest. As a juvenile, they are brown streaked and as an adult they have orange barring. Your other white chest options are male harrier (but has a grey head), and .....welp, that does it for your area, actually, or else I'd rule them out for you.

    This bird is undoubtedly a Red-tailed Hawk. That brown head/white chest/dark wings combo is Red-tailed and Red-tailed alone. This particular bird is a nice-looking specimen. Red-tailed hawk plumage can vary so drastically.

    The more I look at that one photo, the more I think it's a first year Bald Eagle. That long neck, heavy body, and massive bill are pretty convincing in that picture.

  8. T MF

    I'll "edit" my blog to show the correct names. The one on the ground...Northern Harrier, the baby eagle and all the rest will be red-tailed. I'm thrilled. I don't suppose you'd be interested in driving through the refuge with me and giving me the names of all the birds, would you?


  9. Truly wish I could! This looks like a fantastic place to see the raptors I adore!

    Since I am never done yapping about birds (esp. hawks), I wanted to clarify further about the Red-tailed Hawk that appeared dark. Again, I don't believe this to be a Harlan's subspecies due to the tail, but it's worth noting that the Harlan's subspecies actually takes on a blackish plumage color. This bird shows warm dark brown upperparts with a standard issue Red-tailed Hawk juvenile tail. If this bird was indeed dark on the underside, it was probably a Western Red-tailed. But back to my initial comment- I can't see the chest so I can't make a distinction about whether this bird is even a dark-morph to begin with.

    The remainder of your Red-tailed Hawks (where I can see the belly) show the "typical" light-morph Red-tailed plumage (light chest). A dark chest is notable as a dark-morph Red-tailed (either Harlan's or Western). Also, all (but the top white chested one) show a light iris which indicates juvenile birds.

    If you have any front side photos of the "dark" hawk above, that would prove most helpful.

    Also, aside from the guy sitting on the sign, are any of these photos of the same bird? If they are for sure all different Red-taileds, how close of a proximity to one another were they/ These questions are more out of curiosity than anything.

    Sorry to clutter up your beautiful hawk blog page with all of these comments!

  10. T MF

    There are hawks all over the place, if you know where to look. And hawks all over the place for even people who don't know where to look (such as me). I have scads of pictures, but didn't want to post them all here. I have a video of a Northern Harrier (I think) having lunch (youtube) and if you are interested in reading about the incredible Bald Eagles I happened upon, go to this blog post

    If you enter "Ridgefield" into the search on this blog, you will find other posts, but for amazing photos, and to entice you to the west coast, you might want to visit the Friends of Ridgefield NWR and check out the photo contest pictures. It is worth the look.

    You are certainly welcome to email me at

    Thanks again for all your help identifying the above birds.


Comments are great fun. Really. I love them. Except from the bots that have found my blog. I'm enabling the word verification to block them. Sorry.