Juvenile Raptor Identified

Thank you all for your comments on my yard hawk!

The juvenile Cooper’s/Sharp-shinned conundrum is one of the greatest challenges in bird watching. The species are so similar that often a positive ID cannot be made when you see the bird for just a few minutes. In the winter months, you can add juvenile Northern Goshawk to the possibilities as well. With the additional help of photographs that can be pored over, feather by feather, it then becomes a matter of working your way through the bird guides.

I write for three different bird blogs, and when I was lucky enough to capture this beautiful hawk in pictures, I posted to all three, leaving the identification up to the readers. Guesses included Merlin, Swainson’s, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned and Northern Goshawk.

Consensus is…a Sharp-shinned hawk. Here are the reasons given.

  • Young sharpies have yellow eyes, while young Coopers have light yellow to almost pearly white eyes. Your bird has distinctly yellow eyes.
  • based on size, as compared to the shepherds hook and feeder, the bird seems Sharpie-sized
  • coarse brown streaks on the breast and belly
  • thinner legs than on a Cooper’s and narrow white tip on the tail feathers
  • smaller head and neck than a Cooper’s
  • pale eyebrow, narrow white tip on tail
  • Coopers have thicker white band on tail tip
  • Immature Cooper’s have whiter, more finely streaked breast
  • Sharpie’s have brown upper parts with white spots along scapulars
  • Cooper’s tend to have warmer brown napes, where yours has a darker nape
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk, based on the straight tail bars
  • wing-tips in relation to the length of the tail – Sharp-shinned Hawks wing-tips end just posterior to the hips.
  • undertail coverts on Goshawk have dark streaks

Now that I’ve gone through all this, I have absolutely no confidence that next time I see one of these birds, I’ll be able to identify it! They are just too tricky, but do provide a wonderful challenge for birdwatchers to tackle. However, I did find a fantastic website to help with the Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp-shinned identification puzzle, so next time I’ll know where to look.

Posted by Pat Bumstead

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6 thoughts on “Juvenile Raptor Identified

    • And I wrote a whole blog post identifying this bird as a Cooper’s Hawk… 🙂 These birds are likely to confound us over and over again, but we’re still glad to see them. Pat

  1. Maybe that’s the same bird we saw on Dec 14 in Hawkwood? Where did you see it?
    We guessed Sharp-shinned because of the pale eyebrow and the coarse streaking on the breast, but there was some debate.
    I posted a photo in Albertabird.

    • This hawk was in my southeast yard late in November, so it wasn’t likely to be the same bird. Stock up on raptor ID guides in case he comes back!

  2. Pingback: Another Sharp-shinned Hawk | Birds Calgary

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