Looking out my kitchen window a few days ago, my eyes nearly bugged out of my head. I had company, majestically perched atop my feeder pole. Needless to say this was the only bird in the yard at the time.
This beauty sat on the feeder pole for 32 pictures, then moved over to the poplar tree for 3 more to show off the markings on his back. (Measuring bird movement in minutes is so last year...)
Finally he moseyed over to hide himself in the spruce tree, to sit and watch the cats in their run, which is thankfully fenced on top.
The first rule of bird watching is that no bird shall go unidentified, particularly one this obliging. Raptor identification can be quite a challenge, so I thought I would share the birder's thought process in case you're ever in this situation. It went something like this.
Wait is this bird injured? Whew, no it's just wearing some of its lunch.
OK I think this is either a juvenile Cooper's Hawk or a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Oh wait - it could be a juvenile Northern Goshawk...
Juvenile raptor identification? Hmm. I'll think about it over lunch. Maybe a liquid lunch.
Fortunately a fellow birder dropped by in the afternoon. I pulled up the pictures on my computer and we got down to the serious business of identifying my hawk.
Eyes: Cooper's straw colored, Sharpie and Goshawk yellow. Well that helps.
Breast: Cooper's and Goshawk heavily streaked with brown, juvenile male Sharpies have dark brown streaking. Thank you so much.
Tail: Cooper's is rounded, Sharpie is squarer than Cooper's, Goshawk is wedge shaped and all have white bands. Moving along...
Back: Cooper's is brown with white spots, Sharpie is brown, Goshawk is mottled brown. Oh look, is that Black-billed Magpie out the window? A nice, clear black and white bird?
Oh right, the hawk. That's a fairly noticeable pale eyebrow - let's work on that.
Pale supercilaries on Coopers, Sharpies, Goshawks...
Location is often a good clue, except that all three are found here. Oh wait, it's November so the Sharpies have (probably) migrated. We'll eliminate them.
At this point we had a variety of bird books spread across the table, had scrutinized every photo, and killed a lot of time. We were running out of field marks to check, and then we looked at the undertail coverts.
Cooper's is entirely white, Goshawk is white streaked with brown. EUREKA! I had photos of a juvenile Cooper's Hawk.
This whole process took two of us a great deal of time, pouring over bird pictures, scrutinizing every body part on the bird, explaining to each other what worked, what didn't and why. Juvenile raptor identification can be brutal - it couldn't have been much more complicated if we were trying to design a jet engine from scratch.
Is this a great hobby or what?!