Another Hybrid Buteo

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 

If anyone is interested, below is a link to an article regarding a Harlan's x Rough-legged Hawk hybrid (photo below, "click" to enlarge). The article has a detailed write-up and many photos.

Anonymous Derek Lyon said...

Just when I think I've got them figured out ... a bird like this comes along and makes me think again. When I first saw the dorsal view I thought Red-shoulder x Red-tail hybrid. Being an eastern birder I don't know Harlan's well, and seeing the close-up of the feathering on the leg makes RS a stretch. The RT x RL hybrid was a good call. Make you wonder how many odd birds miss out on this level of scrutiny and go miss-identified. How many photos were taken?

June 6, 2013 at 6:28 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Hi Derek:

I was thinking recently how the number of hybrids reported has gone up nowadays due to the fact that so many people are out there with cameras, but my take is they are still very uncommon. As you said, how many go by undetected, an interesting thought. Of course hybrid doesn't really enter the thought process right away for most photographers. Brian took lots of pics and shows a bunch in the write up (link above).

June 6, 2013 at 7:14 AM  
Blogger Bryce said...

Too cool. Looks like it all checks out. How incredible would it be to document the pair, and all of their offspring?! I'm glad Brian photographed this bird so well. Makes me anxious to see what this winter brings as far as crazy northern Buteos, my favorite. Thanks for sharing this bird Jerry. Just what I want to see!

June 6, 2013 at 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Glad you like the blog Bryce!

June 6, 2013 at 6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very intereseting bird. I am very glad Mr. Sullivan was able to document this hybrid so well.
Thanks for posting, Jerry.

Pete Gustas

June 7, 2013 at 6:07 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

I know, the documentation is excellent. Larry Hancock was with Sully and took great photos as well.

June 7, 2013 at 6:21 AM  
Blogger Dick Ashford said...

Like Roseanne Roseannadanna (Gilda Radner) used to say on SNL, "there's always somethin'"! She could have been talking about hawk ID. Thanks for sharing, Jerry!

June 7, 2013 at 7:16 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Hi Dick:

Glad you like the blog...

June 7, 2013 at 3:11 PM  
Anonymous Mia McPherson said...

Thanks for sharing this Jerry, that is a fascinating bird!

I think the more time a person spends in the field the more likely the chances are that they will come across something unusual, like this gorgeous hawk.

June 9, 2013 at 5:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure its a hybrid. But I could be wrong.
In this photo I can't see the feet too well. As redtails even within the Borealis, harlani, krideri, subspecies, can vary from individual to individual bird. I've had three falconry Borealis redtails that never looked anything like each other. my recent eastern borealis was also so different. I'm leaning more towards an individual color/pattern of juvenile Harlan's Redtail.

August 2, 2013 at 7:38 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment, I always love hearing others opinions and welcome any knowledge!!!!

Hybrids can be challenging, some are obvious and others are head-scratchers. This bird in particluar is a bit tough, but we can say it is an adult by the dark trailing edge to the wings, dark eye, and color in the plumage. The very broad, defined sub-terminal tail band, and wing tips that are not banded out to the ends do not match for juvenile Harlan's as well.

You can see that the bird lacks a darker patagial area and dark carpals, so it rules out pure Rough-legged and Harlan's alone. But, the tail pattern itself is a cross between Rough-legged and adult Harlan's, as is the upperside coloration, and body plumage (see link to other photos). So considering all this, I think it is safe to say it is a Harlan's x Rough-legged Hawk. There are other traits shown in the array of photos in the original write-up that help make the issue clearer, it is tough to judge from this one photo.

August 2, 2013 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, Jerry - thanks for providing it to us all. On a related hybrid matter, I'd appreciate any thoughts you may care to share here about the hybrid Swainson's x Rough-legged from Texas. I ask now because despite Brian and Bill agreeing with the ID back in the day, I know that a number of birding guides at a well-known tour company concluded at a meeting that this was a variant Rough-legged Hawk. Thanks for any feedback:

October 14, 2013 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Hello Martin

Can't find the bird on your site, why don't you email me at with the link or photos and I'd be happy to comment

October 16, 2013 at 4:29 AM  
Anonymous H.Gomaa said...

Hi Jerry,
interesting plumage, no doubt about that, but I'm leaning a lot more towards just a rough legged hawk rather than a hybrid or a Harlan's. It seems to have a lot more RL qualities, particularly the physical attributes. Certainly the "rough legs" with all the feathers down the legs (you can see that clearly in the link photos). Not sure any of the 14 red tail subspecies have any leggy plumage. Also, the one shot of it perched and its head is looking somewhat forward is much more RL-like. The small beak in relation to the head, clearly a rough legged characteristic, of course. The prominent white feathering around the cere and up the big, pronounced forehead and those bug-eyes! From this photo here of it flying, the length of the tail when compared to Harlan's seems a bit longer, which is another strong RL trait. The banding on the tail and the lack of dark carpal patches throws it for a bit of a loop, but some really dark morph RL's have that banding as well. And in some of the light morph RL's, they do lack, on rare occasions, that dark carpal patch so it's not too far of a stretch that this particular bird would show a culmination of these plumage patterns. My tendency is to place it as an interestingly colored Rough Legged hawk, rather than a hybrid because of all those reasons. The plumage variations and coloration anomalies are much more prevalent in wild raptors than the chance of natural hybridization to occur. Just my opinion. :)

November 10, 2013 at 7:31 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Hi H. Gomaa

Thanks for the interest in the blog and birds. Looks perfect for hybrid to me but we can agree to disagree, always love hearing others thoughts. With the number of birders and cameras out there, hybrids are being documented more frequently than ever but regardless of how common they are I take each on a case by case basis. What do you think of this one (link below), would be interesting to get your thoughts?

November 10, 2013 at 8:10 PM  
Anonymous H.Gomaa said...

Thank you for replying so quickly! Just for the record, if someone was to ask me who's opinion would I think is MUCH more valid regarding the RL/RT hybrid, mine or yours? Well, no-brainer. I would most certainly and unequivocally say the latter! I've enjoyed your book "Hawks from Every Angle" quite a bit and have given it as a gift on several occasions. It's also a pleasure to speak with you and learn from your expertise.
As for the Ferruginous/Red Tail photo, that one has me quite perplexed. It has that stocky plump figure of the ferruginous. It also appears to have the puffy lips of the ferruginous and the plumage of the western/rufous morph red tail. Forgive me for shying away from the hybrid scenario, it's just a natural tendency probably from years and years of hawk watching/banding and never noticing or seeing that, specifically in buteos. And most of the falcon hybrids are unfortunately more associated with falconers artificial cross breeding and birds that most likely got away. But let me ask you this question, if I may - with booted raptors such as rough legs, ferruginous and even golden eagles, when mixed in a hybrid situation, does that "booting" or feathering on the legs tend to be a dominant trait that shows up in the result?

November 10, 2013 at 9:34 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...


Actually, I think our opinions are equally valid. If I didn't share mine and listen to other opinions, I wouldn't be able to futher my knowledge. I truly appreciate your thoughts on the bird and willingness to share them, it is very helpful. I don't know it all and never will, but if I had a know-it-all attitude, I would close my mind to learning and I learned long ago to be open to others knowledge and opinions.

Thank you for the complments on my book, I'm happy to know you like it. As for the booted seems that the hybrids out there have some of this trait but its hard to know what is dominant if any otherwise.

November 11, 2013 at 6:04 AM  

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