Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sharp-shinned Hawk--Accipiter striatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk--note the large eyes. USFWS National Digital Library.  Photographer--Donna Dewhurst

Sharp-shinned Hawks--called "Sharpies" by birders--are small, very agile hawks that belong to a genus of birds called accipiters.  Sharpies are about the size of a blue jay.   These little hawks prefer forests, parks, and the wilder areas, but on occasion can be seen in backyards.   Differentiating these little accipiters from Cooper's Hawks--another accipiter--is one of the challenges of birding.  They look very much alike. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk in hand.  Note the thin, long toes on the Sharpie and the small head.
USFWS National Digital Library.  Photographer--Donna Dewhurst

The picture above gives you an idea of the size.  These are not large raptors.  Sharp-shinned are smaller than Cooper's Hawks, but there is almost an overlap in size.  The difference in male and female raptors is generally the size.  The female is larger than the male.   So the larger female Sharp-shinned Hawk may be very similar in size to a smaller male Cooper's Hawk.   There is a bigger difference in the size of male and female Sharpies than any other species of raptor.   Birds of North America quotes a study by Snyder and Wiley (1976) that found male Sharpies on the average have only about 57% of the body mass of a female Sharpie.    

 Sharp-shinned Hawk--Wikicommons. 
Ilona Loser
Notice how the widest part is at the shoulders.  It has a kind of body-builder or Dolly Parton look to it.   A Sharpie is a bit chesty.  Also, note the hooded look.  The Sharpie has a dark crown.  The dark color continues down the nape of the neck  down onto its back.  This is different than the smaller cap on the larger and flatter head of the Cooper's Hawks.  The Sharpie's head is rounder than the Cooper's.   In addition, the Cooper's has a kind of a messy, crest-like feather thing going on  at the back of its head that is visible on occasion.  The Sharpie has no crest-like feathers on its head.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk--Wikicommons--juveniles have yellow eyes.  Photographer--Matt edmonds.

Even this juvenile Sharpie above has the high chest, and small head. 

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk--Wikicommons--Denali National Park and Preserve

The chest being wider at the shoulder is harder to see here on this juvenile Sharpie above, but the very thin toes with the long center toe are evident. 

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight--Wikicommons.   Note the long, narrow tail.  Photographer--Steve Berardi

Note the small head, rounded wings, and straight tail tip with the notch on the Sharpie above.   In Orange County, CA, we usually see Sharpies in migration season which is fall and a bit into winter.   They migrate alone or in small groups.  Occasionally with other species of hawks.  Sharpies tend to migrate along areas where they would most likely live and hunt:  forests and areas with conifers.

Sharp-shinned Hawk--Wikicommons.  Photographer--
H. Petruschke

The long, slim tail and the rounded wings help the Sharpie maneuver in tight spots like forested areas and undergrowth.  I was once in the nature center at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley and was startled by a small Sharpie, probably a male, flying fast and low to the ground along a curving trail between the bushes.   He flashed by me and straight into the undergrowth like he was shot out of a canon.  He seemed incredibly small, but there was no doubt at all that he was a very small accipiter based on the shape and the coloring.  

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center video by George Jameson.  Note the long middle toe, the hooded appearance, and the large eyes, and how the chest is largest at the shoulders.   Note that the eyes are not yet red, and so this is a juvenile Sharpie.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are the stealth bombers of the bird world.    Any place, any time is right for a surprise attack.   They can begin an attack from a concealed perch in a tree or shrub, or on the wing.   And their prey can be perched or on the wing as well.   When opportunity strikes, the Sharpie strikes, and holds tight with its dainty, but long, deadly  talons.   The Sharpie attacks in a horizontal plane, not a vertical one.   It approaches fast through the foliage toward its unsuspecting prey.   It either succeeds, or it moves on quickly to another target.   Birds are its most frequent victim by far, but it also takes a small amount of mammals, reptiles, insects, and amphibians. 

Sharpie Front and Back from the Delaware Nature Society

Major Field Marks--Sharp-shinned Hawks

Small head, short neck

Large red or orange eyes for adults.  Large yellow eyes for immatures and juveniles

Hooded appearance--black on the head continues down the back.

Largest width at shoulders resulting in a top-heavy look
Thin toes.  Long middle toe.

A very thin, white tip on the end of its slim, squared tail.

From the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.   Check out those field marks.

To be ready to identify Sharpies and Coopers Hawks, I would suggest you study your bird guide and the articles listed in the "Resources and Links" section at the end of this post.   Good birders learn to recognize bird species the way you would recognize an old friend--repeated encounters.  We begin to recognize the color, the size, the shape, the way they move and behave, and their voice.   Even their favorite foods and hangouts.   Make friends with Sharpies by observing and studying them both in real life, and in bird guides, photographs, and videos.

So when you encounter an accipiter, be prepared.  Know your Sharpies.  Know your Coopers.  And then do your best.  It is a challenging ID.   Have fun birding in Orange County, California!

OC Birder Girl Links

Hawks and Eagles of Orange County

The Owls of Orange County

Bird Walks and Nature Programs in Orange County, California

Birding Hot Spots in Orange County, California

Resources and Links

10,000 Birds--Cooper V. Sharpie

Article about differentiating Coopers and Sharpies.

All About Birds--Sharp-shinned Hawk

A Sharp-shinned Species profile from Cornell's all About Birds.  

Animal Diversity--University of Michigan--Sharp-shinned Hawk

Lots of detail in their profile about Sharpies. 

Audubon--Sharp-shinned Hawk

Profile and photographs.

Carolina Bird Club--IDENTIFICATION PRIMER: Accipiters

Great resource.  Article addresses Sharp-shinned, Cooper's Hawks, and Goshawks.   Lots of details and pictures.

The Canadian Peregrine Foundation--Raptor Identification--Sharp-shinned Hawk

 Profile with an ID gallery of photos.
-shinned Hawk

Delaware Nature Society

Great shot of a Sharpie.  Also check out their Ground-hunting Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Internet Bird Collection--Sharp-shinned Hawk

Great collection of bird videos.  Watch the videos of the sharpies.  Get a feel for them. 

International Bird Rescue--Friday Rounds: Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk gets a bath after getting glue from a glue trap stuck in its feathers.  Gives a good idea of the size.

Macauley Library Sharp-shinned Hawk Videos

Videos of Sharp-shinned Hawks from the Macauley Library.

Mango Verde--World Bird Guide--Sharp-shinned Hawk

Mango Verde page about the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

National Geographic--Sharp-shinned Hawks

Detailed information regarding Sharp-shinned Hawks including sketches.

The Nature of Delaware--Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk visits.  Nice shots and video.

Portland Oregon Backyard Birds: Sharp-shinned Hawk

Great post about a Sharpie visiting a backyard in Oregon.  Excellent pictures.  Note the widest part of the breast is at the shoulders.  And the hooded appearance. 

Project Feeder Watch--Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk

Detailed guide to telling the two similar accipiters apart.

Orange County Register--Sharp-shinned Hawks by Pat Brennan

Brief article by Pat Brennan about the influx of Sharp-shinned Hawks during migration.

Orange County Register--Tallying the Tail Feathers by Shawn Price

Article about the Christmas Count.  Good picture of a Sharpie in Laguna Woods.

South Dakota Birds and Birding:  Sharp-shinned Hawk

Good Sharp-shinned Hawk article and gallery. 

Teton Raptor Center:  Sharp-shinned Hawk

Profile of Sharp-shinned Hawks.  Photos.  

Vimeo Google Search--Sharp-shinned Hawk

Here is a search on Vimeo for Sharp-shinned Hawk videos.  Usually high quality.  Look especially for Don Desjardin videos.  His videos are excellent, and he knows his birds.

Virtual Birder--Accipiters 

Gallery of Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, and Goshawks.   All in flight.   

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pelicans in Orange County

American White Pelicans resting after fishing at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Mature Brown Pelican in breeding plumage perched on the footbridge at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Orange County has two species of Pelicans:  Brown Pelicans which prefer the ocean and saltwater environments, and American White Pelicans which prefer fresh water environments.   They are not hard to tell apart.

During Fall and Winter you will find American White Pelicans in large bodies of water, and sporadically in small, or even tiny neighborhood parks.   As long as there is a body of water with fish, and they can fit in it, American White Pelicans will visit it.   Brown Pelicans with the spectacular dives from high above the water usually need much larger bodies of water.   The Brown Pelican and the American White Pelican both show up in mixed saltwater and freshwater environments like Upper Newport Bay and Bolsa Chica.  But you will also find both in the large ponds at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary which is not far from Upper Newport Bay.   If you go far inland, any pelican you see will most likely be an American White Pelican.  However, both American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans can also be found at the Salton Sea.  

Physical Appearance

American White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorant, and two American Coots.  The gray bird in the water and the brown bird on the far right are both Brown Pelicans  resting at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.   Pelicans are often found hanging out with cormorants and other birds. 

The first thing you notice in the picture above is how much bigger the American White Pelican is than the Brown Pelicans.  The Brown Pelican is large at 50" long with an 84-inch wingspan.  Yet as big as the Brown Pelican is, the American White Pelican is even bigger at 62" long with a 105" wingspan.  When you see them standing close together, it is plain which is which.

 Immature Brown Pelicans on the left.  Mature Brown Pelican on the right.

While I have seen Brown Pelicans  perch on wooden railings, fences, posts, and even street lights.  I have never seen the huge American White Pelican perch on anything so flimsy.   Mostly their feet are on solid ground when they are not swimming.  And while you will often find a lone Brown Pelican perched or sitting down on the ground near water, you will most often find that American White Pelicans gather in groups on the shore of a lake or on a sand bar in an estuary.   They fish in groups, fly in groups, and hang out together in groups.   American White Pelicans are just more gregarious than Brown Pelicans.

The American White Pelican is all white except for black primaries and wing tips which are mostly seen in flight.   Mostly when they swim, they appear all white.


Brown Pelicans favor salt water and estuaries with mixed water. American White Pelicans prefer fresh water or estuaries.



American White Pelicans, heads down, scooping up some fish.

The foraging techniques of American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans are so different that if you only saw them foraging and did not see their plumage, you would know which species you were observing.  The American White Pelican swims on the surface of the water and sticks its head down like a dabbling duck to scoop up fish.   It often forages in groups that can reach over 5o individuals. American White Pelicans fishing together look like synchronized swimmers as they swim, stick their heads in the water and come up all at the same time. It is something to watch.  I have seen non-birders stand mesmerized at the sight of a large synchronized group of American White Pelicans feeding.  I have had amazed park goers ask me, "What are they doing?"   They can put on quite a show.

American White Pelicans  fishing cooperatively.

Brown Pelican about to dive down into the waters of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve for a catch of fresh fish. You will never see an American White Pelican  fish this way.  

Brown Pelicans fly up and dive into the water scooping up fish as they hit the water.   Sometimes, they do not fly high at all, but at other times they fly high above the water and splash down into the fish.  Although they may fish with other Brown Pelicans, it is every bird for itself.    Their strong power dive stuns the fish they then scoop up.   Their dramatic, aeronautical style of fishing attracts as much attention as the synchronized swimming of the American White Pelicans.

Immature Brown Pelican with a pouch full of fish.  

Two mature Brown Pelicans take off for another round of fishing.

Brown Pelican bomb-dives into the water. 


Brown Pelicans can be seen bomb diving the water by the Bolsa Chica footbridge most frequently in Fall and Winter.   Parents and their kids and photographers and the cameras stand on the bridge just watching and snapping pictures as the Brown Pelicans fly up and splash into the water over and over again. 


 American White Pelicans soar high in the air sometimes, flying long distances to feeding areas.   These American White Pelicans are soaring over San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary--a very common sight.

American White Pelicans usually fly in a "V"" or a "J"  formation.  And they fly in groups--sometimes quite far to obtain food.  They soar high in the air where their white body with black tipped wings are sometimes mistaken by non-birders for gulls.  It isn't uncommon to see American White Pelicans flying overhead in Southern California even in the San Bernardino Mountains.   Because they fly so high overhead, these huge birds can look seem like a much smaller bird flying much lower.  Sort of an optical illusion.  So when you see white birds flying in formation overhead, take another look.  You may be looking at American White Pelicans.   They soar on thermals, and it is not unusual to see them circling and higher  and higher before heading out for their destination.

Mature Brown Pelican flying low over the water at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve moves up slightly to cross the footbridge.

In groups or alone Brown Pelicans can be seen flying low over the ocean waves or over the water in an estuary.   They are often seen flying in lines low over the ocean.  Sometimes you may see them flying in a V formation.   They do not soar at high altitudes.


The American White Pelican is present in Orange County in very small numbers in scattered locations all year.  They increase in numbers in the Fall and Winter.    Seeing a lone American White Pelican or two  is unusual, but not unheard of at any time of year in Orange County.   During Fall and Winter, the population significantly swells with wintering American White Pelicans.    It is during Fall and Winter that large groups of American White Pelicans are often spotted.  The Brown Pelican population also increases in Orange County during Fall and Winter, but individuals and small groups of Brown Pelicans are present all year and more frequently seen than the American White Pelican.

You can find American White Pelicans in any large or small body of fresh water in the Fall and Winter.   Any park with a stocked lake no matter how small can become a fishing hole for the American White Pelican.   So large regional parks like Mile Square Park and small neighborhood parks like Carr Park or the even smaller Greer Park can sporadically host a meal for a group of American White Pelicans.   Other than Fall and Winter, American White Pelicans are hard to find in the OC.
So the next time you see a pelican in Orange County, observe the size, the coloring, the feeding techniques, and the flying style.   You will be able to easily identify the species of pelican you are seeing.  Have fun birding in Orange County, California.

Places to find Brown Pelicans

 Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

 Large ecological reserve on Pacific Coast Highway.

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Old hunting club belonging to the IRWD and the Sea and Sage Audubon Headquarters.
Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay

 Estuary in Newport Beach.

Salt water environments and estuaries.   These are coastal birds flying low over the waves.   Drive up and down the coast and you will see them most of the year in varying numbers.  Fall and winter see the numbers swell with migrants.

Places to find American White Pelicans

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Large ecological reserve on Pacific Coast Highway.

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Old hunting club belonging to the IRWD and the Sea and Sage Audubon Headquarters.  

Huntington Central Park

Large park bisected by  Goldenwest.

Mason Regional Park

Irvine Park with a large lake.    

Carr Park in Huntington Beach

Small neighborhood park with a lake.

Greer Park in Huntington Beach

Neighborhood park that is cut in two pieces by McFadden.   The small , southern section has a lake that is frequented by ducks, geese, egrets, herons, gulls, white-faced ibises, and rarities that show up from time to time.   On occasion, the lake is visited in Fall and Winter by American White Pelicans.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park

Regional park with a large, stocked lake.

Upper Newport Bay Ecological Preserve

Upper Newport Bay Ecological Preserve is an estuary where salt and fresh water mix as the tides flow in and out.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Snow Goose--Chen caerulescens

Snow Goose has dark eyes, pinkish bill, and a prominent black "grin patch."

Snow Geese are rare, but they are regularly seen in Orange County because California and thus Orange County are on the migration route to their Canadian breeding grounds.

With the hungry, gluttonous ducks and coots feeding on handouts.  Kind of makes me sad.

Snow Geese are often seen in groups, but in the OC we often see then alone or with a few other Snow Geese.

Snow Goose swimming in a lake in a small neighborhood park.

Notice the black wing tips.

Notice the pink legs.

Notice the tint on the head.

What're you looking at?  Notice the yellowish coloring tinting the face.

Notice the very prominent black grin patch.

Differentiating Snow Geese from domestic, white geese

Larger Domestic Goose--Large, with Orange legs and bill.   Notice the large looking belly.   The Snow Goose would be smaller and have a smaller belly.    All white wings.

Orange eye ring, smaller light-colored grin patch. All white.  The Snow Goose has no orange eye ring, dark eyes, and a pink bill with a black grin patch.

Unlike the dark-eyed Snow Goose, the domestic goose has blue eyes.

Snow Geese and Ross's Geese

 Here, a Ross's Goose hangs out in a San Fernando Valley park with other geese.  Notice he has the same coloring as the Snow Goose, but the Ross's Goose is much smaller.  The Ross's Goose has no tinting on the head or neck.  Whiter overall head and neck than the Snow Goose.  The bill is much smaller proportionally than the Snow Goose, and can show a bit of green coloring at the base.   The Ross's Goose may have a much smaller and less obvious grin patch.   

The Snow Goose has a larger bill compared to the Ross's Goose, and a large, dark grin patch.  Unlike the domestic goose, the Snow Goose has dark eyes vs. the domestic's blue eyes.  The Snow Goose black wing tips unlike the white wings of the domestic goose.  The Snow Goose has a pink bill and legs unlike the orange bill and legs of the domestic goose.

OC Birder Girl Links

Wild Ducks of Orange County

Odd Ducks

Bird Walks and Nature Programs in and Near Orange County

Orange County Bird Check Lists

Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns of Orange County


All About Birds: Snow Goose

Detailed page about the Snow Goose. Although it is multiplying, it is still a rare bird in Orange County. Read all about the Snow Goose.

All About Birds:  Ross's Goose

Detailed page about the Ross's Goose.  Rare in Orange County.

Confusing Domestic Geese (and hybrids)

From Cornell. Some confusing geese.

Snow Geese Fuel up for Migration

Read more about Snow Geese.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Red-Tailed Hawk Morphs

Red-tailed Hawks have many morphs or variations in appearance.

Mature Red-tailed Hawk in flight shows "red" tail, patagial bar and a faint belly band.

Red-tailed Hawk flying with no red tail showing.  Belly band and patagial bar on the leading edge of wings are easy to see.

The same Red-tailed Hawk flying with the sun behind him or her, clearly shows a red tail and the patagial bar on the leading a edge of the wing, but the belly band is not so easy to see.  

 Mature Red-tailed Hawk perched on a cliff at Upper Newport Bay--Note how the long wings almost hide the red tail which is barely visible between his two long wings.

Red-tailed Hawk taken by me during a raptor show.

Mature Red-tailed Hawk with prey at Mile Square Regional Park.

I took this shot at the lake without the island at Mile Square Regional Park just about an hour before sunset.  This Red-tailed Hawk had just killed a duck.  Red-tailed Hawks are very strong.  It actually grabbed the duck in its talons and and flew off with it.  Its red tail is barely visible here--hidden under the long wings.    The feathers visible from underneath appear cream colored which is common.    From the top or from below with the light shining through, the feathers appear reddish.   The hawk shown above is much more of a ruddy brown rather than a chocolate brown or a dull brown seen in others.  It might just be a trick of lighting in the late afternoon.  Lighting can change a lot.  

Red-tailed Hawk at Upper Newport Bay near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

Red-tailed Hawk have some of the most variable plumage of all bird species.  Immatures and some color phases do not show the "red" tail.  When perched or sitting on the ground, their long wings can partially or completely hide their "red"  tail.   In varying light, mature hawks with a red-tail may show no red tail due to whether or not the light is shining through their tails.

This Red-tailed Hawk was injured and lost part of her right wing, but see how long the left wing is?  That is one of the traits of the buteo that allow it to soar.  Wide, long wings.  The wing comes down to the end of the tail.  Notice, too that the light markings on the back form a "V."  That is typical of Red-tails.

Light morph Krider's Red-tailed Hawk Courtesy  US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Photographer Dave Menke.

Red-tailed Hawk courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Photographer Mark Bohn.

Red-tailed Hawks can be dark-chocolate, rufous, light brown with lots of white on the breast.   Some are even mostly white and very dark brown looking very like an Osprey.  The black bar on leading edge of the wings called the patagial bar and the "dark belly band are the more diagnostic field marks across almost all color phases.   The Great Plains race of light colored Red-Tails called Krider's has the patagial bar, but not the belly band.  Check out A Study of Krider's Red-tailed Hawk by the American  Association.    I have never heard of a Krider's sighting in Orange County, CA.  

Red-tailed Hawks in Orange County tend to be the standard Red-tailed Hawk with some slightly lighter and some slightly darker, but no extremes.    Again, Red-tailed Hawk have some of the most variable plumage in the avian world.  They can frequently be seen on lamp lights near streets and freeway exits and entrances as well as in open country and in parks.  Red-tailed Hawks are very common in Orange County.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Hawks and Eagles of Orange County

Please note that as always--unless otherwise specified--all these pictures are copyrighted by Karen McQuade, the OC Birder Girl.

Hawks and Eagles

In raptors like hawks, eagles, and owls, the female is bigger than the male.   Raptors grab prey with their feet.   The word "raptor" comes from a Latin word  meaning "to seize."  If you want to see a wide variety of raptors, go to open country--especially in eastern Orange County.   Other open areas to see raptors are large parks or wildlife areas like Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, Upper Newport Bay, Huntington Central Park, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.   On the latter, note that Huntington Central Park and Bolsa Chica are actually connected by open space which includes oil fields not currently open to the public.  However, the birds--especially raptors--treat any area like this as one large, open area and move readily between any similar habitats.    So even though a park may be small or moderate size, it depends on the larger area around it as to what raptors it may attract.


Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles are considered rare in Orange County, but there are regular sightings in Fall and Winter.  No nesting records.

Mature Bald Eagle in Prentice Park Zoo

Mature Bald Eagles have a solid white head and tail, dark body and wing feathers and a large, yellow hooked beak.   They are considered rare birds in Orange County, but are seen regularly over lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water

Wild, male Bald Eagle outside the zoo visiting female Bald Eagle who is in the zoo at Irvine Regional Park

One wild, male Bald Eagle has visited a female Bald Eagle for three years in the fall or winter in the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park.

Immature Bald Eagle has messy, white splotches rather than patches of white.   Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer is listed only as Harrison.

Unmistakable when mature, the immature Bald Eagle looks splotchy.  Unlike the immature Golden Eagle which has neat patches of white, the immature Bald Eagle's white looks random and messy.


 Mature Bald Eagle courtesy of USFWS--Dave Menke photographer.

Though Bald Eagles are rare, they have appeared regularly during fall and winter in Orange County in areas with open space, rivers, and lakes with fish.    There have been occasional sightings at other times of the year.    As you might expect, Bald Eagles are usually spotted near lakes and rivers.    Bald Eagles have been seen in areas such as Irvine Regional Park, Peters Canyon Regional Park, Seal Beach at the Wildlife Refuge on the marine base, the old El Toro Marine Base now the Great Park, Irvine Lake, and other areas near or on the way to rivers or large lakes.    Although they nest in many counties around Orange County such as San Bernardino, Ventura, San Diego, and Riverside counties, there have been no recent nesting records actually in  Orange County.


Golden Eagles

Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park.

Rare, Golden Eagles are usually seen over open country in Orange County.   They have been regularly seen in the east county area in the rural areas of the City of Orange, Irvine, and south Orange County areas in addition to rarer sightings in other parts of the county.   The most frequent sightings reported over the years are at El Toro Marine Base aka now as the Great Park,  in Mission Viejo, and at O'Neill Park.  

Fuller view of Golden Eagle at Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park

Note the that the cowlick of feather sticking out at the back of the head.  This is common to all Golden Eagles. 

Immature Golden Eagle shows patches of white as opposed to the random white splotches of the immature bald eagle.  Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer Donna Dewhurst.

The immature Golden Eagle can be mistaken for a Bald Eagle with its white wing patches and white tail base.   Note though that unlike the mature Bald Eagle, it has a terminal black band on its tail.   It can also be mistaken for a California Condor by the inexperienced viewer.   See details to consider when making an identification of a California Condor under the section regarding California Condors below.

Mature Golden Eagle.  Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer George Gentry.



Buteos have long, broad wings and a short fanned tail which allow them to ride  thermals up into the sky and soar for long periods of time with little to no flapping.  They ride the wind and watch the ground for tasty prey.  Extremely common in Orange County.  It seems like every park or freeway off ramp has one perched on a tree or street light.  Nests in Orange County.

Red-tailed Hawk flying with no red tail showing.  Belly band and patagial bar on the leading edge of wings are easy to see.

The same Red-tailed Hawk flying with the sun behind him or her, clearly shows a red tail and the patagial bar on the leading a edge of the wing, but the belly band is not so easy to see

Mature Red-tailed Hawk with prey at Mile Square Regional Park.

I took this shot at the lake without the island at Mile Square Regional Park just about an hour before sunset.  This Red-tailed Hawk had just killed a duck.  Red-tailed Hawks are very strong.  It actually grabbed the duck in its talons and flew off with it.  Its red tail is barely visible here--hidden under the long wings.   

Red-tailed Hawks have many morphs.   The Red-tails here are the most common Orange County variations.  For other morphs check my post Red-tailed Hawk Morphs.

Broad-winged Hawk

Occasional sightings in Orange County in the fall and winter.

Broad-winged Hawk from Wikipedia.  Photographer Julie Waters 2007.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rare in Orange County.

Rough-legged Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons Walter Siegmund, photographer.

Rough-legged Hawk.  Courtesty Wikicommons.  Dick Daniels, photographer.  Here is his website 

Rough-legged Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.   Photographer Dominic Sherony.

Harris's Hawk

Rare in Orange County.

This is a photograph I snapped during a bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.    Rare in Orange County.   Note rufous shoulders, and tail with white base, black stripe, and terminal white band. 

Harris's Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Alan Vernon, photographer.

Note that Harris's Hawks travel in pairs or groups, and often hunt together.  National Geographic calls them "the wolf pack of the air."

Harris's Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Tony Hisgett.

Check out this great video about Harris's Hawks by National Geographic Kid site 

And this one by National Geographic as well.  

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed hawk courtesy of US FWS.   Gary M. Stolz photographer.  Uncommon, but regular sightings in open areas and over regional parks.

Zone-tailed Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Dominic Sherony.

 Zone-tailed Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Dominic Sherony.

Ferruginous Hawk 

Uncommon, but regular sightings in open areas and over parks.

Ferruginous Hawk photograph which I snapped during a show at San Diego Wild Animal Park.  

Ferruginous Hawk Courtesy of USFWS No photographer listed.

Ferruginous Hawk Courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Alan Vernon.  Cropped by Wikicommons user from Alan's original.

Swainson's Hawk

Rare, but is seen in Orange County singly and in groups usually during migration.

Swainson's Hawk courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Photographer not identified.

 Swainson's Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Megan McCarty.

Swainson's Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Bureau of Land Management employee.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Fairly common in Orange County in wooded areas such as Santiago Oaks, Irvine Regional Park, and Huntington Central Park.   Nests in Orange County.

Red-shouldered Hawk.  Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer not listed.

Red-shouldered Hawk I snapped in Crestline.

Same Hawk, spotted wings showing.   The thick stripes on the wings show up as spots when the wings are folded.

Stuffed Red-shouldered Hawk at Irvine Regional Park Nature Center shows stripes in partially extended wings.

Although a blurry shot, you still can see the broad, black-and-white stripes in the tail and the wings and the rufous breast.  No thin barring like the Cooper's Hawk, but bold, thick stripes.  Taken at Irvine Regional Park.

Red-shouldered Hawks, though Buteos, are hawks of the forest and oak woodlands.  They are also one of the noisiest hawks we have.  I usually hear them before I see them.   They are reddish brown with a thickly striped black and white tail and wings.   With wings folded as they perch, they have rusty shoulders and spotted wings.  You can see them in parks with lots of trees like O'Neil Regional Park, Irvine Regional Park, Huntington Central Park,  Santiago Oaks Regional Park, and others.

Sometimes called the "fish hawk," Osprey live almost exclusively on fish, but do on rare occasions eat smaller birds, lizards, or amphibians.    Very common in Orange County.  Even stocked ponds and small lakes in Orange County city parks get a bit of attention from Osprey.  Several nesting pairs in Orange County.

One of two nesting Osprey at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Osprey at Tewinkle Park a few years ago.  They often take advantage of small lakes at Orange County parks such as Tewinkle ParkHuntington Central Park, Mile-square Regional Park, Carr Park, and other parks with fish in their relatively small lakes.  They can also be seen at wetlands and along Pacific Coast Highway where they have a choice between the ocean and several wetlands.

Osprey eating fish on electrical post at Upper Newport Bay.

 I took this picture at Mile Square Regional Park.  Notice that there is a bend in the wrist of the wing.  This is a good field mark for identifying Osprey

Again, from Mile Square Regional Park.  Notice the bend in the wing.  

Northern Harrier

Uncommon, but regularly seen in Fall and Winter in Orange County in areas near water such as Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Upper Newport Bay, and Crystal Cove.

 The Northern Harrier female is brown with a white spot on the rump.   This female Norther Harrier above sits out in the marsh at Upper Newport Bay.   The Northern Harrier commonly sits on the ground to eat or rest.   The male is gray and white with a white spot on the rump.

Northern Harrier female.  Wikicommons.  Photographer Len Blumin.

Male Northern Harrier flying low over the wetlands at Upper Newport Bay.

Male Northern Harrier flying above Fairview Park in Costa Mesa.

Male Northern Harrier courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer unknown.  From National Park Service.

Juvenile Northern Harrier courtesy of Wikicommons.   From the California Park Service.  

Northern Harrier female.  The white at the base of the tail is an easy field mark to spot in either male or female.  Courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Dan Pancamo.

The Northern Harrier is often first seen hunting over a marsh or wetlands or near the ocean.   The white spot at the base of the tail is the most obvious field marking.    The female is brown and the male is gray.   They have round disks on their faces that are very like an owl with the same purpose--to direct sound to their ears.  They hunt by sound and by sight.  Their long legs hang down as they fly.

White-tailed Kite

Regularly seen year round, uncommon, but sightings are increasing.  Nests in Orange County, but nesting numbers went down for a few years.  Seems to be recovering slowly.   Seen at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Santiago Oaks Regional Park, San Joaquin Wildlife SanctuaryHuntington Central Park, Mason Regional Park, and Orange County regional parks, open areas, the Santa Ana River, and freeway off ramps.  Nests in Orange County.

White-tailed Kite hovering over parking lot at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.   Seen in the open country, but also in parks and by freeways exits and entrances.    This is a common hunting method for White-tailed Kites.

White-tailed Kite at rest.   You can see that it is not all white, but has black shoulders and gray wings, and red eyes.  Photo Courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer Robert Burton.



Uncommon in Orange County, but there are some regular sightings at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, and some of the regional parks in the area.

Courtesy Wikicommons.  Listed as from US FWS Karen Laubenstein, photographer.

Peregrine Falcon 

Uncommon in Orange County as a whole, but may be seen regularly in certain spots like Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and regional parks, the Santa Ana River and other areas.   

Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer Craig Koppie.

Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer not listed.

Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer Bill Buchanan.

American Kestrel

Fairly common in certain areas.  Nests in Orange County.

Male American Kestrel up on the mesa in Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve looking for a meal.

Male American Kestrel striking a pose.

 American Kestrels are tiny hawks that eat insects, lizards, small mammals, and birds.  Here, a male eats a large insect in a tree on the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve mesa.   

 Colors really showing on a male American Kestrel .   Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer unknown.

 The female American Kestrel is browner without the slate-blue wings and cap and does not have a bright rufous tail like the male.  They tend to hover in flight looking for prey.    It is not uncommon for them to be perched on a dry branch scanning the ground for prey.  This one looks down from the mesa at Bolsa Chica Ecological ReserveYou will also see them at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Upper Newport Bay, Santiago Oaks Regional Park, and many other locations.   I saw one in Cypress, CA swooping down onto a lawn in a business area, and in a residential area in Costa Mesa. 


Unlike buteos, accipiters do not soar, but instead zip among trees in the forests and woodlands and neighborhood foliage in pursuit of prey.  These hawks are built for maneuverability and speed.   I recently was walking down a path at Mile Square Regional Park Nature Center when an accipiter came barrelling down the narrow, shrub-lined path about two and a half feet off the ground.  It quickly swerved around me and sped down the narrow trail.  The first two accipiters listed here are are almost impossible to tell apart because even though the female Cooper's Hawk is bigger than the female Sharp-shinned, the smaller male Cooper's Hawk and the female Sharp-shinned are much closer in size.    Both mature Cooper's and Sharpies have slate gray heads and red eyes.  The Sharpie has skinny little legs compared to the bigger, thicker legs of the Cooper's.  Like all Accipiters, they have short, rounded wings and long tails. 

The Cooper's Hawk is very common in Orange County year round.  Nests in Orange County.

Adult Cooper's Hawk seated in the trees above the ducks and coots at Huntington Central Park near the old Alice's Breakfast in the Park.   He was selecting his or her own breakfast.

Mother Cooper's Hawk watching over her rather partly downy covered fledglings.    The smaller Dad was not far away.

Cooper's Hawk finishing off an oriole at Morongo.  

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk by the Huntington Central Park Library garden.  Notice the rounded, long barred tail and the wide white tip at the end.  

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk snapped by me in the fenced garden behind the Huntington Central Park.   Notice the eyes have not yet turned red like the adult Cooper's Hawk.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk courtesy of US FWS no photographer listed.

To tell the difference between Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks, check out this excellent link from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's FeederWatch pages Identifying Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Uncommon.   Very similar to a Cooper's Hawk, but smaller.  However, the male Cooper's Hawk and the female Sharp-Shinned may be a bit closer in size.   The Sharp-shinned has very skinny, frail-looking legs compared to the more substantial legs of the Cooper's Hawk.  The Sharpie's tail has square corners and a thin white tip while the Cooper's has round corners and a thick white tip.  To tell the difference between Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks, check out this excellent link from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's FeederWatch pages Identifying Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Sharp-shinned Hawk courtesy of US FWS.  Donna Dewhurst Photographer. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk courtesy of US FWS.  Donna Dewhurst Photographer.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Steve Bernardi, Photographer.

 Sharp-shinned Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  H. Petruschke, Photographer.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk courtesy of Wikicommons.  Kevin Cole, Photographer.

Rare in Orange County.

Northern Goshawk courtesty of Wikicommons.  Photographer Norbert Kenntner.

 Juvenile Northern Goshawk courtesty of Wikicommons.  Source listed as Thermos.

Other Raptors or Vultures




Turkey Vulture in flight with classic two-toned wings.   The trailing edge of their wings is very light gray or white.     They have a large wingspan.   They have a bare, red head.

Turkey Vulture cooling off at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park.

Turkey Vulture in cage at the Orange County Zoo Irvine Regional Park.

Turkey Vultures are very common in Orange County soaring over the parks, wilderness areas, open spaces, and freeways.   They are pretty much everywhere ready to clean up the county of dead animals.  

California Condor

Endangered and rare, California Condors have not had any verified sightings in Orange County, but there have been a two very recent unverified claims to have seen California Condors in Seal Beach and Costa Mesa, and so I am including them for assistance in differentiating the California Condor from other similar birds in Orange County.

California Condor stretches its wings in its cage at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Unlike the Turkey Vulture who has a skinny, red head, the California Condor had a multicolored, puffy head.  Also unlike the Turkey Vulture, there is a patch of white toward the leading edge of the wings. 

Close-up of the puffy multicolored head.

Mature California Condor in flight.  The white is on the leading edge of the wing near the body.  The tail is dark.  Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Phil Armitage.  Here is his website     

Compare with the immature Golden Eagle which shows patches of white further back on the wing and away from the body.   The white tail has a terminal black band.  Notice also the difference in the color, shape and size of the head.  Photo courtesy of US FWS.  Photographer Donna Dewhurst.

 Turkey Vulture in flight.  Note the extremely small head.   The primaries and secondaries of a Turkey Vulture's wing are grayish white.  The tail is dark.  Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.  Photographer Dori.  Altered by Snowman Radio.

Please note that the Golden Eagle is smaller and has a large, dark head, and a white tail with a terminal black band.    The Bald Eagle is also smaller, and  has a larger white head and a white tail.   The smaller Turkey Vulture is dark with a smaller black or red head and two-toned wings seen from below--not patches.  The trailing half of a Turkey Vulture's wing is grayish white as opposed to the California Condor's clean, white patch in the leading area of the wing near the body.   So pay attention to color and where on the wing the light color is and size.  Also note that the California Condor is much larger than the Turkey Vulture.  The California Condor's wingspan is about 9.8 feet as compared to the smaller wingspan of the Turkey Vulture which is 5-6 feet.   

A California Condor will look huge and almost certainly will be tagged because they are endangered and very closely monitored.   However, remember a large vulture with a tag could also be a Turkey Vulture.  Turkey Vulture populations are being monitored by tagging them as well.   So that should not be a deciding factor.    A tagged vulture could be either, but an untagged California Condor should be carefully observed, and the details noted to verify your sighting because an untagged condor would be extremely unlikelyTake pictures of any California Condor sighting if you can.  Make notations as to the location and time.   Since there are no verifiied sightings in Orange County, California, your sighting will be looked at with skepticism until verified.

Check out this great video from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources:


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