Pointed Wings

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, October 28, 2013 

A recent discussion has come up about birds appearing unusually pointed-winged (first link below). The bird in question was a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk that looks Merlin-like as it is headed away in the photo. This is defnitely the case with many raptors that are not associated with showing pointed wings, but often do in certain postures or angles. I have shown this in other posts (2nd link below) and in my books but just wanted to mention it since it is a common ID issue. Coincidentally, I just had a discussion on this very subject the other day at a hawkwatch as an adult male Sharp-shinned was mistaken for a Merlin by a very keen observer.

Take a look at the B&W silhouettes of Sharp-shinned Hawks (1st photo) that all appear pointed winged (and Merlin-like) either headed away or head-on. The 2nd photo shows birds in color for extra viewing, and the 3rd image is a collage of Merlins showing plumages (which is important for separating the 2 species when they appear similarly shaped). The Sharp-shinned in question has streaks that end at the belly and lack the broadness or heaviness of a Merlin streaking. Also, the underside is pure white, whereas Merlins in fall are buffy in tone. Merlins also almost always have some type of streaking on the undertail (bold or faint), whereas Sharp-shinned almost never does. The underwing linings of Merlin are checkered not streaked like Sharp-shinned and the banding to the secondaries and primaries is bolder and shows a more spotted look than the evenly banded look of Sharp-shinned. One last thing, Merlins show a broad white tail tip and obvious multiple tail bands that is not shown on the bird in question. I hope this helps because my only goal is to attempt to teach or share my view.

A comment on shape too...Sharp-shinned Hawks are stockier winged than Merlins in all postures and lack the long-handed look of Merlin.

Anonymous Barry Davis said...

I had not realized how pointy winged a Sharpie can be! Thanks for the info and for confusing me even more :)

October 29, 2013 at 6:12 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Hah Barry, all of this stuff can be confusing. That's the beauty and the challenge of it.

October 29, 2013 at 6:21 AM  
Blogger Bryce said...

I've definitely taken back my share of off the cuff Merlin calls, only to see a sharpie after REALLY looking at it. Angle definitely confuses what is otherwise thought to be an easy ID between the two birds. Great post Jerry.

October 30, 2013 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

I love your quick-draws Bryce. You are a hell of a hawkwatcher!

October 30, 2013 at 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Derek Lyon said...

I've always found birds flying away (rear views) hard. View angle can change so much of a bird's appearance. At the hawkwatch sites I've been to there is always a open view to the east, where seeing the bird coming at you is easy, but the western view is poor making study of birds going away hard.
Because of my long experience viewing hawks I often feel others rely on me to ID a bird when they can't. I'm finding, after consulting this site often, that raptor ID can be very tricky and I'm not alone in not being sure, and it's okay saying 'I don't know what that bird was'.

October 31, 2013 at 7:57 AM  

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