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Juvenile Harlan's Tails

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, January 20, 2014 

I just wanted to post a few tails of JUVENILE Harlan's Red-tailed Hawks since the tail can be the clinching trait for identifying juvenile Red-tails as Harlan's. However, they are not always as distinct from the other races as adults are, and can cause a bit of confusion, especially the light-morph juveniles!  

What makes a Harlan's tail? Well, often the dark bands on the tail are thicker than on other races, the dark and light bands are more contrasting (but sometimes just the opposite), sometimes the banding is wavy, and each tail feather has pale blobs on the inner part of the tips creating a "spiked" look. This is not to be confused with a thin line at the tail tip, which can look like a spike of sorts that many Westerns show. Also, some juvenile Harlan's have mottling throughout the tail similar to that of adults. This is more common on light-morph juveniles, which are often different that dark-morph tail patterns in NOT showing the white blobs. Be aware that the tails of some juvenile Harlan's are nearly indistinguishable from other races, which makes ID tricky. Another trait to look for is the uppertail covert pattern. The uppertail coverts on light-morph juveniles is often mottled unlike the barred, spotted, or plain upper tails of most juvenile dark Harlan's (and most juveniles of other races).

Here are some examples -- a picture is definitely worth a thousand words. I have hundreds of examples, but these photos are a good cross section, showing every one is a bit of overkill. I was going to write an article on the subject, but it's just easier to show it here, and I think this post stands alone as a good reference for birders.

Dark-morph
Dark-morph
Dark-morph
Dark-morph
Intermediate-morph
Intermediate-morph
Dark-morph
Dark-morph
 Dark-morph
Intermediate-morph
Light-morph
Light-morph
Light-morph
Light-morph
Light-morph
 Light-morph
 Light-morph
Light-morph
 Light-morph
19 Comments:
Blogger Mia McPherson said...

Excellent information as always Jerry.

January 20, 2014 at 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jerry, it might be easier to have this here and it is a resourceful post, but how about an article too to reach a bigger audience?

January 20, 2014 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Thanks Mia.

Anonymous - I might try to do an article too and show the body plumages that go along with the tails since there are helpful traits to look at bsides the tail of course. I guess this post is meant to just point out good examples and show that some are tougher to distinguish...kind of a tip for banders.

January 20, 2014 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger Shyloh Monster said...

Cool! Thanks for the great reference. I'll be referring to this regularly.

January 20, 2014 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

I'm glad Shyloh....

January 20, 2014 at 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Marc B. said...

A nice essay and array of tails, I will mark this post as Shyloh Monster has. It is interesting to see how the tail pattern varies so much in one race of hawk. Thank you again for sharing your work Jerry!

January 21, 2014 at 7:25 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Thanks Marc - I am lucky to have lots of friends who study raptors and share their photos. It's a combined effort and fun

January 21, 2014 at 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

What other races besides the Krider's would there be confusion with the juvy tails of Harlan's, Jerry? Is the western red tail close in some instances? Territory-wise I think mostly the Krider's but usually you have enough of the rest of the body to make the distinction, no?

January 22, 2014 at 5:20 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Hi Hatem - Some of the light-morph tails that are just brown with black bands could be confused for Eastern or Western, especially if they are photos of perched birds and not close-up fine detailed photos like these.

January 22, 2014 at 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

Ah, I got it. Thanks.
Hopefully you'll tell us about the thick or wide tail bands on the westerns sometime soon. Really looking forward to that! :)

January 22, 2014 at 3:43 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

It would be easy for someone to mistake the 1st or 2nd light-morph, 2nd dark-morp, and 3rd intermediate-morph posted here as a non-Harlan's since the tails are not classic.

January 22, 2014 at 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

But in the field is there any area where you would see Harlan's and Eastern RTs together at all? Texas possibly? The RTs I've seen in Texas near Houston look very Eastern-like.
How far east is the Harlan's range?

January 23, 2014 at 6:55 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Hatem - lots of places. all through the middle part of the country in winter and they inhabit a large intergrade zone from the tip of ND through western Canada into southeast Alaska in summer

January 23, 2014 at 7:03 AM  
Anonymous Derek Lyon said...

We get the occasional dark (western) RT at our southern Ontario hawkwatch annually. Should we keep an eye out for a Harlan's too? An special timing, early or late RT season?

January 24, 2014 at 3:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good blog, with excellent info. Some of these tail photos would be hard to ID, would like to see full pics of those birds. This blog needs a follow up or a full atricle on this!

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Pete Gustas

January 24, 2014 at 5:07 AM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

Interesting, thanks, Jerry. Amazing the range of the Eastern RT. That bugger is all over the place. You guys in the Midwest and Western part of the country really get to see a lot more variety of the RT subspecies than us here in the Northeast. We're more apt to see a rare European bird show up here than any type of Harlan's. I'm not sure when, if ever, a Harlan's was officially sited anywhere on the east coast? Out of all the red tail subspecies, that is IMO the most interesting one because of that vast range of plumage.

January 24, 2014 at 6:17 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

I think there are 2 records for the East Coast...I'm not aware of others but could be more records of course

January 24, 2014 at 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Sherri English said...

Jerry, I am so glad I was pointed to your blog by a friend. It is posts like this that set it apart from your typical blog. Excellent.

January 24, 2014 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Thank you Sherri!

January 24, 2014 at 9:08 PM  

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