Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk with Reddish Tail?

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 

I wanted to recycle an old post from Uthabirders in regards to juvenile Red-tailed Hawks with reddish tails. I show examples in my books, but I wanted to point out the 3 birds in the photo above ("click" to enlarge). Note the juvenile bird on the left (©Tim Avery), it has one tail feather (left-center) that is shorter and the black sub-terminal band is slightly broader and bolder. The original feather fell out for whatever reason prematurely and the feather you see is a replaced feather. This newer feather has a bit of red, but is very similar in pattern and color to the rest of the tail. Most likely, this feather came in shortly after the bird fledged.

The bird in the middle (©Vic Berardi) has a few reddish feathers on the right-center of the tail. These reddish feathers have replaced a few juvenile feathers that came out for whatever reason (snared in a bush, etc.). However, these reddish feathers are the same color and pattern as adult feathers, meaning they most likely grew in well after fledging.

The bird on the right (©Jerry Liguori) has a complete set of juvenile tail feathers that happen to be reddish similar to those of adults. Juveniles of all races can show this, but it most common on borealis (Eastern race - which this bird is), and to a lesser extent Harlan’s and Western. This is the original set of feathers that came in during the nestling stage. The bird is a juvenile since it shows pale primary “panels”, a brown upperside with whitish mottling lacking any rufous tones, a pale eye, and the tail has juvenile-like banding. The underside photos confirm this as well.

Wing Molt in Raptors

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, July 25, 2013 

I have a few e-mails in my inbox about wing molt in raptors that I haven't responded to yet, and I love the subject…so why not respond on the blog.

I just want to clarify one thing about wing molt. It has always been the accepted thinking that most raptors replace their primaries in order from P1 - 10 during their first molt. Is this true? Well, yes and no….P1 (the innermost primary) might be replaced first, but often birds replace P2 or P3 first…or sometimes all 3 simultaneously. When simultaneously, you see birds in spring that have large gaps in the wing and wonder how they can fly so well. So, just to clear that up, P1 is often not the first primary to drop in molting raptors. Take a look at these great examples of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks photographed by Todd Steckel molting into their first adult plumage. P1 is still juvenile…("click" on images to enlarge)

Hawk banding is a great way to learn about molt, and banding hawks in spring is different than banding in fall. In fall, birds molting are completing their molt and the last few retained feathers have not come in yet. In spring, birds are beginning a molt, and the first feathers to come in either are, or have come in. So you get to see different stages of molt between the two seasons. With the popularity of digital photography, there are thousands of images to search with the "click" of a mouse, which makes researching molt and plumages much easier!

For more of Todd's excellent photography check out:

Broad-winged Hawk Tidbit

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, July 12, 2013 

Here is a tidbit I'd like to share….its not worthy of a full article so I'd like to show it here, and that is why I love to blog! Just remember to give credit where it is due…I already saw an instance where someone quoted me without credit. I'm nice enough to share unpublished findings, so please credit my blog if appropriate.

Check out these adult Broad-winged Hawk tails. Notice that the outer tail feathers on the first 3 birds is juvenile-like? These are actually adult feathers, and this is typical of Broad-wingeds (and adults of other species, i.e male Kestrel, Cooper's, Sharpie, many RT's, etc.), where the outer tail feathers are slightly different in pattern. We know these are not retained juvenile feathers since these feathers are not the last ones to drop out. Check out the bottom pic, and note how those outer tail feathers are similar to the rest of the tail…just goes to show that almost no rule is 100%, but if you know what to look for, you won't get fooled. The tail in the top photo is less "white and black" than the other adults…another oddity that occurs sometimes.

Also, in some birds (such as Northern Harrier), the central tail feathers differ than the rest of the tail...may be another post.

"Bleached" Raptors

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, July 8, 2013 

I love when people send me hawk photos…the more the merrier. It allows me to see birds and plumage variants I never would have seen otherwise. This spring and early summer, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of faded and molting birds posted on the internet and making their way into my inbox, which prompted me to post this blog entry.

A word of caution, birds can look odd when faded, worn, or molting! They often look pale-headed, and washed out (bleached) overall, especially the upperside. This makes juvenile Broad-winged Hawks appear more Gray Hawk-like on the face, Red-tails more difficult to assess to race, ageing eagles more difficult, and the list goes on…. Here is an example of a bird Steve Mlodinow shared with me several weeks ago from Colorado. Note how a normally dark bird (particularly the head) such as this juvenile from last year can appear very pale in spring/summer.

I don't want to get too detailed here, just like to keep it easy to digest. And of course, if anyone has questions about a hawk they photographed that looks odd, feel free to contact me and I'll see if I can decipher it.

Update: Here is a bird Cathy Sheeter sent me today. A Red-tailed Hawk from Colorado molting into its first adult plumage, note how pale the head is from fading! Also, check out Cathy's award-winning art

Red-tail Bellybands

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, July 5, 2013 

You want to know something interesting? At least I think it is interesting…

I have had the unique experience to follow juvenile Red-tailed Hawks molting into adult plumage. Now, obviously the coloration changes in several ways, but one thing I learned that is unpublished (just a neat fact that isn't worthy of an entire article) is that most juveniles have a prominent bellyband,  which often becomes less prominent as adults. Here is a local Utah breeding pair of Red-tails with minimal bellybands, and one of the fledglings (on fence post) showing a prominent bellyband. By all accounts, this juvenile will have a sparse bellyband when it gets its adult plumage next year. This is one factor that makes some juveniles confusing to ID to a specific race, particularly outside of the nesting season.

I have lots of posts with little tidbits in the works, so I hope you stay tuned…just need to find the time to get them up. And remember, if you learn something new on this blog and use it down the road, just give credit where it is due. I appreciate it!

"Click" on photos to enlarge.

Owl Babies

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, July 4, 2013 

A friend called a few weeks ago concerned about a baby owl that was in the fairway of the 6th hole at a local golf course. He asked if there was anything he could do to help it, or if he should leave it alone. What should we do with baby birds that appear helpless or stranded this time of year? Often fledgling birds appear abandoned but their parents are nearby and aware of their young, other times birds actually do need our help. In the case of the Screech Owl, it is common sense that a nocturnal bird that lives in trees should not be out in the open in the daytime. My suggestion was to put it in a nearby tree where it likely fell out, hoping the bird was not injured or sick. My friend did just that, and has seen it several times since, along with the other fledglings and parents. Thanks Seth, and thanks for the photo!
 Adult Screech Owl at its nest cavity.
 Baby Screech Owl
Baby Long-eared Owl

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