"Birding" February quiz birds-Photo A

Jack Stephens jstephens62 at comcast.net
Sun Feb 29 10:56:18 PST 2004

It has been awhile since I made the attempt, so it is time to try to
identify the three unknowns in this month's issue of "Birding". Each issue
of the American Birding Association's magazine has three pictures of
unidentified birds, as a quiz to test your identification skills. For those
who haven't tried it, I find it a great way to stretch the limits of my
knowledge. I have yet to correctly identify all three quiz birds, let's see
who can catch my seemingly inevitable slip-ups. For those both on Birdchat
and Tweeters, this is a posted on both.
Let's investigate just one quiz bird at a time. Photo A shows a dark buteo
perched on a power pole. The body, head and wings are dark brown with
scattered reddish-brown highlights, the underside of the tail is light gray,
and the wingtips almost reach the tip of the tail. Just based on the all
dark-brown body, we can eliminate many of the buteos, but Red-tailed Hawk,
Rough-legged Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and Swainson's Hawk
all have dark morphs that might fit the bill.
Swainson's Hawk would have a tail pattern different from the bird in the
photo; a white tail with a dark subterminal band and multiple thinner dark
bands. In addition, the wing tips would extend well beyond the tail in
Swainson's. Based on the tail and the wings, I think I can exclude
The tail pattern also excludes Rough-legged Hawk, which in a dark-morph bird
should have a dark tail with white bands, not pale gray as on the quiz bird.
Rough-legged Hawk is out too.
It looks like the tail pattern is getting to be key, doesn't it? Turning to
Short-tailed Hawk, it should have a definite dark subterminal band as well.
Plus, STHA is a pretty small buteo; using the power pole and insulator for
comparison, the quiz bird seems to be fairly large.
With Red-tailed Hawk, Harlan's Red-tail can be eliminated right off due to
the rusty highlights. For other Red-tails, a dark-morph Western Red-tail
could have this body coloration, and the wingtips could reach the tail, but
we should see fine barring of the underside of the tail with a dark
subterminal band. Based on this, I think I could exclude RTHA.
So how about Ferruginous? The dark brown body with rufous across the chest
fits for dark-morph Ferruginous. The wingtips don't quite reach the end of
the tail, that fits too. And that all-important tail? Ferruginous tails are
all gray, no subterminal band, no bands at all. Looks like the fit for
Ferruginous is
pretty good.
But there is a problem. Turning to Brian Wheeler's new "Raptors of North
America", he states that Red-tailed Hawk can have a completely unbanded tail
as "a very uncommon variation" (pg. 322). So maybe RTHA isn't out after all.
Certainly the tail pattern seen in the photo would be much more common with
FEHA than RTHA. Are there any fine points that can help? Looking through
Wheeler and Clarks "A Photographic Guide to the Raptors of North America",
the yellow cere of Ferruginous Hawk is larger and more prominent than
Red-tailed, and that seems to fit the quiz bird. The gape of FEHA is larger
than RTHA and yellow in color, which also fits our quiz bird. So putting it
all together, I am putting my money on Ferruginous Hawk.
Comments are welcome. My attempt with Quiz bird B is in the works.

Jack Stephens
Edmonds, WA
jstephens62 at comcast.net

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