Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Tom Carrolan sent some cool raptor photos, which constitute part I of a two-part raptor series. As Tom notes, “All are my images or are from my DigiBanding Project or I have longstanding permission to use them.”   His IDs and other notes are indented:

The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is easily the most misidentified raptor in North America. I get send images of supposed Goshawks in the Fall and Winter, that are not. eBird has pages of info on why your accipiter is likely not a Gos. Most are Cooper’s Hawks.

This is my standard image for aiding in the ID of juvenile accipiters. From left to right: Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Northern Goshawk. The breast streaking is the best feature, not the size or tail barring, and certainly not the presence of a supercilium (eye stripe):
Here are some Goshawks. First, juvenile Goshawks in flight. All are heavily streaked.
Here’s a subadult female in flight. She has a washed out gray eyeline and a less than blood-red iris. . . typical of this plumage.
Here’s a juvenile Gos, in hand at a banding station north of Rochester NY. This and the following in hand images are from my DigiBanding project. In the early 90s, as digital SLR cameras were coming down in price, several bird photographers posted ways to make sure you got an image that was “color accurate”. These were involved. I started my project by giving three point-and-shoot digital cameras to the hawk banding station at Braddock Bay, north of Rochester, where one of my students was their first professional hawk counter and then a lead bander. The photo numbers was placed on the banding form, along with all the measurements and the band number. The project requirement was that each bird be imaged front and back with one wing held open. I have several hundred images from this. In addition, as this was digital, any other shots could be taken, like this goshawk head shot.
Here are three images of a subadult female Goshawk in hand showing typical incomplete molt. Here we first see the adult iris color: blood red. Then we see a well-marked breast pattern, telling us it’s a female.
This open wing shot shows soft gray adult flight feathers with lots of brown, or not adult feathers.
From behind we see the non-adult brown feathers that will likely finish changing over to the full gray plumage later this year. These are all spring images. The tail contains all non-adult feathers that will also be replaced. It is common to see this plumage patterning in females, where a lot of feathers still have to be replaced at this age.

All three North American accipiter species can have strong eyelines or superciliums. In the Goshawk the white explodes behind the eye, making it the defining feature for this species.


  1. jaxkayaker
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing. One would think hawks would be much easier to ID than warblers, given their relative sizes and the number of species, but I have difficulty with both.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:51 am | Permalink


    I love RWP in part because I’ve been noticing birds I haven’t noticed before – thought I saw waxwings the other day.

    This might help my “is that a hawk?” spotting….

  3. GBJames
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Nice! (We had a male Coopers Hawk outside our front window yesterday evening. He was trying to catch a sparrow. The sparrow won that particular round and the hawk flew up to sulk in a tree across the street. I’m sure he was planning to take the meal to his mate and didn’t want to go home empty handed.

  4. Posted March 17, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Excellent photos and explanations, thank you so much!

  5. Paul Matthews
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Wow. Just wow. I’m a serious birder in Ottawa, Canada, and just seeing a goshawk is a major challenge for me. In fact I call the species my nemesis bird, as I see them so rarely. The thought of banding them blows my mind.

  6. Christopher
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    The problem with birds of prey is they are so damn difficult to tell apart! They often look very similar, overlap in habitats, don’t like to sit still for easy viewing like birds at a feeder, sometimes the main difference is the size but it’s hard to compare, and are most frequently seen along the highway while I’m traveling 65+mph! I only recently figured out some of what I thought might be red-tailed hawks are actually rough-legged hawks, and some may be Swainson’s hawks and all three can have dark phases that muddy up the whole thing. And then there’s the prairie falcon, which is a visitor around here, and then the cooper’s vs sharp-shinned,…aaargh! I’m such a crap twitcher! I am, however, pretty sure I spotted my first Northern harriers at a nearby wetland conservation area and my first Merlin on a backroad not far away. But then, at least they aren’t sparrows! We have the term LBJ’s, little brown jobbers, for that whole mess, perhaps hawks and kin should be BBB’s, big brown bastards! Thanks for the photos, what a lovely thing to get to do. I’m sure other readers are as envious of you as I am.

    • SnowyOwl
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Roadside hawks at 65mph, in winter, are almost always Redtails. Roughlegs are around but mostly on back roads with lots of fields. Also, Redtails present with a rarity of bellybands, similar to RLs. Swainson’s don’t winter in North America.

      • Christopher
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        That will help a little. I did recently move to the country, and it was on back roads that I noticed rough-legged hawks for the first time. I’m also thrilled that I have had a red-shouldered hawk hunting in the grassy half of my 1.5 acres, and a red fox as well. Plus, since I back up to a cow pasture, I got to see two pair of hawks screeching away at each other a few weeks ago. Territorial or mate fighting I guess.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      Cool thing about Rough-leggeds–they will often be perched on what look like ridiculously small branches for such a big hawk.

      Rough-legs breed in the arctic tundra. David Sibley points out that they have relatively tiny feet and bills compared to similarly sized Buteos from more temperate climes–this follows “Allen’s Rule,” which states that among similar taxa, those in colder areas will have relatively smaller extremities than those in warmer habitats.

      One day I put the two together and realized–Aha!–smaller feet = smaller perches. When you see a big Buteo sitting on a tiny limb, think Rough-legged.

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    A marvelous set of pictures! I really liked the commentary as well. I learned a lot, so thank you!

  8. Mark R.
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for these photos and descriptions. Beautiful bird! I was first introduced to the Goshawk (not the species shown here) reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. A memoir I highly recommend.

    • SnowyOwl
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Same species, although you can tell the two continent’s birds apart by their breast streaking… not easy, but doable.

  9. Posted March 17, 2018 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the goshawk pics. They look great.

  10. Diane G.
    Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Tom. Beautiful pics of beautiful hawks!

    Goshawk would be a lifer for me…

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