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.