Hawksaloft.com | Peregrine Projects | N.E.Mac | nra
Subject: Suspicious-looking Red-tailed Hawks in Peabody
Date: 17 Dec 2002 9:08am

My quest for the buteos in Peabody along 128 at exit 28 turned-up three Red-taileds, with one that could be the suspected Swainson's. What I found was two common-looking Eastern adult varieties and one other that I viewed from point-blank range sitting in a tree then flying. This one had a wing-shape that's common to R-t'd and more massive body than Swainson's. The bird's frontal coloring could cause suspicion if seen at a distance. Starting from it's top, I saw solid dark chin with no trace of white. Breast was white, not buff, with fine streaks of red. Belly was heavy-streaked with brown. Vent area was white. Does anyone offer suggestions as to whether this is a pure Eastern or not. Absence of white chin, buff breast are traits I can deal with, but the definitive red streaks on breast bring me towards Western intermediates and/or juveniles, but it is interesting that the belly-band was only as full as I've ever seen on an Eastern - clearly not more than 50/50. I could not tell whether it's red tail had hints of barring.

Ian Rex, Beverly

Subject: RE: Suspicious-looking Redtails... quick and dirty
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 2002 23:44:05 -0500

Ah, finally raptor talk from Peabody that we can sink our teeth into -- sightings that can be replicated. Replicated not only in Peabody but all over MA -- from mid-October at say, Barre Falls, to late April at Plum Island. And in between.

--The Overview--
Ian, they're not suspicious, they're OUR winter Redtails. They are western-like... they are "hooded"... they have wide, dark belly bands... some are really dark-backed... some are really small... some have warm-colored breasts... some even have barred tails! And why aren't they actually Western Red-tailed Hawks? Well, in addition to fine differences in the proportions and plumage, they are here by the dozens and hundreds and thousands [yes, I have seen hundreds in fall in eastern MA and a thousand of these western-like RTs in one day in March at Derby Hill NY on several occasions]. And last, without acute awareness of the variety of Redtails, they are easily mistaken for any number of other raptor species. But they pass their days as "just another Redtail" until a question like yours comes along.

--The Background--
From Clark & Wheeler's Hawks of North America [Peterson Field Guides, 2nd edition. 2001], p.215:
"Note: Adults with Westernlike characteristics are found in winter in the eastern United States; their origins are most likely from northeastern Canada." This note was added by Brian Wheeler no doubt, based on the work of Frank Nicoletti and Jerry Ligouri at Braddock Bay NY. While the images in A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors [same authors] portrays the "Eastern Red-tailed Hawk," every single picture is of birds from the southern end of the eastern range, I believe.

Brian is getting a jump start, so to speak, with the cover photo of a western-like, Eastern Red-tailed Hawk for Birding magazine. Inside the October 2001 issue, is an article by Jerry Liguori inviting us into the pitfalls of trying to reliably identify Redtail subspecies. He makes his case by showing them all with confounding, overlapping western-like birds from the east. In addition, Brian Wheeler's own, new photo guide will be out this coming summer ['03] and will have hundreds of new photos and this issue will be broached further at that time.

--Wrap-up, Part I--
I have been carefully studying these maritime Redtails for over ten years and have taken hundreds of pictures myself. I readily point out and describe these birds at hawk watches all the time [these Redtails are the primary reason I 'extend the season' into November... and have for many many years]. I can't see enough of this eastern species! Also I have conducted winter raptor surveys, not just for the numbers but for the myriad plumages, especially in our common Redtail.

A note on these western-like Redtail images:
Top image
A digiscope photo taken in the winter of 2001 in Vermont's Champlain Valley, Town of Panton. It is "hooded" and otherwise richly colored with a bellyband that widens to the flanks. In addition, the upper breast has a reddish wash.
Left image This adult Redtail in flight has a dark head with a golden mantle, broad bellyband, and heavily marked patagials, plus there is a wide black trailing edge to the primaries and pretty good barring across the flight feathers.
Before Ian made his observations, I had already outlined about five Redtail emails to send to Massbird... it can be a little slow this time of year... this is Part I.While I've mentioned New York studies and sites above, I have posted some interesting winter Redtails from New England taken as recently as Monday, December 16th illustrating a starting point from which you can look for new things in Redtails any day you want to go out and really see Red-tailed Hawks...

To quote that famous hawkwatcher and vampire slayer, Buffy: "Any questions?"

Tom Carrolan
Oh, he's all right as a biologist in the
lab or lecture hall, but he's not worth a
damn in the field. Or in bed (they say).
-- Daniel G. Koslovsky

New: old subjects...
I had forgotten a pair of my emails that appeared on Massbird in late March & early April 2002. Another Massbirder and reader of these pages reminded me of my reference at that time to Nine Acre Corner Redtails and the fact that I first mentioned western-like RTs from the east at that time....
so, here they are!

More Wintertail images ::::::)