Raptor Tail Patterns

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, December 16, 2013 

One thing to be careful of, or take note of (especially if you are a bird bander), is how certain patterns may look odd on a bird's tail but are actually the norm. For instance, Harriers often have darker or less marked central tail feathers compared to the rest of the tail. A male Kestrel's outer tail feathers (and often the last several outers) are banded, while the rest of the tail is not. Adult Goshawks have muted bands on the tail but often the central feathers are even more muted, or some have outer tail feathers that differ from the rest.

There are other examples in the raptor world, but these are just a few, check out the pics below to see some examples ("click" to enlarge). I commented previously on the difference in the outer tail feathers of adult Broad-winged Hawk:

 Juvenile Northern Harrier
 Adult Male American Kestrel
 Juvenile Male American Kestrel
 Adult Northern Goshawk
 Adult Northern Goshawk
Adult male Northern Harrier
Anonymous Patty B. said...

I appreciate when you show plumage details like this.

December 16, 2013 at 7:34 PM  
Blogger Mia McPherson said...

Jerry, I learn so much from you! Thank you for the wisdom you share.

December 17, 2013 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Mia -- That is a nice compliment, thanks you, and love your blog too.

December 17, 2013 at 1:35 PM  
Blogger Bryce said...

I've never seen a NOGO with band-less central tail feathers. That is awesome!

December 17, 2013 at 5:12 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Goshawk tails are variable as to the banding, but of course not as variable as male Kestrels as you know Bryce!

December 17, 2013 at 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Ron Dudley said...

Every time I visit here I learn something new. Or several things. Thanks for that, Jerry!

December 19, 2013 at 7:01 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

That is great to hear Ron, exactly why I like to blog and wish I could do it every day.

December 19, 2013 at 7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intriguing how that one male kestrel tail is almost banded to the center? Why do you think the harrier center tail feathers are darker Jerry?

December 19, 2013 at 11:11 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

I have seen male Kestrels go overhead at hawk watches and peope call them Merlins because they looked like they had fully banded tails, something to watch out for. I think the Harriers have darker central tail feathers because they spend a loy of time on the ground and often perch on the ground with their tails folded and the melanin helps keep the tail from wearing.

It is believed that blackish tips on birds with pale flight feathers (like adult male Harriers) serves the same purpose...the dark edges wear much less quickly than if they had white tips.

December 19, 2013 at 11:18 AM  

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