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Hawk Gawking

One of the coolest sights for me as a young lad was seeing a hawk perched on a pole or wire as we drove along a country road. I guess you can say I have been a Hawk Gawker my whole life.

Just because hawks are often highly visible, doesn’t mean that they are easy to identify. I always hear beginning bird watchers swear off sparrows, shorebirds and gulls. “I will tackle those ID’s after I have been at it a while longer.” Try your hand at identifying hawks in flight on a busy day. I would advise taking on the sparrows first.

Luckily, the vast majority of large hawks you see are Red-tailed Hawks, small ones are generally American Kestrels and really big ones are Bald Eagles. During the short spring and fall migration seasons, the crow-sized Broad-nged Hawk can be numerous.

Most red-tailed’s are brown backed with a white chest and dark or broken belly band. That being said, they can range in color from almost all white to almost all black. To further confuse matters, young birds don’t have the famous red tail. One good thing is that the only other hawk of their size that occurs here with any regularity is the Rough-legged Hawk. It is only here in winter and only in small numbers.

There are three smaller “hawks” that we see in winter. The most visible is actually a falcon. The colorful American Kestrel is quite commonly seen hovering along our roadsides and will occasionally take a bird from our feeder station. The hawks that are much better known for doing this are the Sharp-shinned and Coopers’ Hawks. One old time name for these speedsters are blue darters.

Fall and early winter are the best times for viewing hawks in our area. I highly recommend a leisurely drive through the country (where it is safe to slow down and hopefully stop) to study our winter raptors. You can proudly proclaim yourself a Hawk Gawker too.

By Mark McKellar

FALL 2004

Over the last few years, we have seen a sharp increase in the sightings of Red-shouldered Hawks in our area. These birds are smaller than red-tails and primarily inhabit wet areas in our southern states. My key to identifying them quickly is to think of their tail as being black with white stripes as opposed to the other way with most hawks with striped tails.