Thursday, February 26, 2015

Red-tailed Hawk (?) at the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge

I admit it. Hawks confuse the heck out of me. There are so many morphs and variations in the many kinds of hawks that I pretty much lose any confidence I had in identifying them. Take this beautiful bird, for instance. It was enjoying a meal of a snake or lizard on top of a pole on the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge along Beckwith Road west of Modesto. My default judgement for just about any dark brown hawk with a light breast is Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). But I didn't get a good look at the upper side of the tail (I understand it is often "red").
So I look around a bit, and realize that a Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) has some morphs and variations that look a great deal like his bird. Take for example this shot from the Cornell bird site, upon which I depend on a great deal:
Source:, picture 4

My hawk is missing the white parts on the face and neck and the white edges on the shoulders, so I still lean towards the Red-tailed ID. But the chest and belly coloring...

Anyway, this would also be a bit early to be seeing the Swainson's Hawks, as they like to spend their winters in Central or South America, and migrate north more in the late spring season.

The funny thing, I fall into the same trap I try to teach my geology students to avoid. Don't depend on the pictures you find of minerals to identify them! Use the physical properties. The bird guides say don't depend on the pictures of the birds! Use the field markings. And I'm still learning those.

So basically, I'm no expert yet on bird ID, and need to work on my confidence. Is it a Red-tailed Hawk, or something else? Gentle corrections and derision are tolerated pretty well here. I'm mostly having lots of fun catching these photographs, and I know I'll get better over time....

No comments:

Post a Comment