[Tweeters] Raptor ID question

Rick Tyler rhtyler at gmail.com
Fri Jan 29 13:46:08 PST 2016


Hello Tweeters,

I was in Utah on business yesterday, and managed to fit in a 2-hour trip
through the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. About two miles west of the
visitor's center, on the north side of the road, my bird detector went off
with, "what kind of falcon is that?" I've seen lots of peregrines and
kestrels, but this was big -- bigger than a peregrine, and even probably
bigger than a red-tail (but not much). I had a good look in hazy sunshine
with the sun to my back, from about 30-50 yards away through my bins. Being
a business trip, I did not bring my scope or camera.

Here is what I wrote in my field notes: big falcon-looking raptor perched
on a short tree. Field full of redwing blackbirds right behind it. Short,
hooked bill, possible some yellow on it. Strong dark streak from bill
through eyes, wrapping around the back of the head. White crown. Wing
coverts white-and-black splotches -- looked white with black. Yellow feet.
Pale breast, with head a little darker, sort of the the way some gulls are
snow white below with slight gray tone on the neck. There was no streaking
on the white breast (unlike a snowy owl), either vertical or horizontal.
Could not really make out the eye color. Face was white, except for the
black that extended through the eyes. When the bird turned to face me on
its perch, I had a look at the tail hanging down below the branch. The
white tail had a sizable (1-2" wide?) black bar going across the folded
tail about a third of the way in from the end. There may or may not have
been black edging at the bottom of the tail (the feathers looked worn).

The impression was a big black-and-white falcon. I've been browsing Sibley
and pictures on the web, and the closest I can come is a white morph
gyrfalcon, but there are two problems with this. First, that black bar on
the tail has no business being there, and second, gyrfalcons are really
rare in northern Utah (although, frankly, it might be because I don't think
many people bird northern Utah in the winter -- I was the first guest at
the visitor center in a couple of days).

Could this be a leucistic red-tailed hawk?

Any other suggestions, or advice on how to figure this out? I'm pretty
baffled at this point.

--
Rick Tyler
Redmond, WA
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