Raptors

 

Accipiters

Buteos

Eagles

Falcons

Vultures

Odds & Ends

Accipiters

Pick Accipiters out by their short wings and their proportionally long, narrow tails, which help them fly well among trees. Three species of this group are seen at Beamer. Distinguishing among them can be a challenge, but a few clues such as size, markings, and stance can help narrow things down. If you’re not quite sure, don’t be discouraged, even experts will struggle with some birds. It’s a good idea to keep multiple features in mind when trying to make your identification.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Our smallest and most abundant Accipiter, “sharpies” are about the size of a pigeon, and often soar with their wrists held forward making the small head look even smaller, or even lost at a distance. A series of wrist flaps, followed by a glide is typical. A more squared-off tail and S-shaped trailing edge to the wing help make ID more certain.  

General Appearance

By: Keith Dieroff

Overhead View

Cooper's Hawk

These birds occupy the middle ground in size. About the size of a crow, Cooper’s tend to fly with their wings held nearly straight out, giving their large head a protruding, bullet-shaped look. Compared to its smaller cousin, a longer, more rounded tail and straighter trailing edge to the wing help set it apart. Because of their greater weight, Coopers’ flight is more direct, with more measured wingbeats than their smaller cousin.

General Appearance

 By: Keith Dieroff

 

Overhead View

Northern Goshawk

Large and powerful, goshawks can look reminiscent of  buteo and are nearly the same size as a red-tailed hawk. Adults are easily distinguished from the birds above by being barred with grey below rather than orange. Barrel-chest and white supercilium are helpful features for ID. A key identification characteristic is the stout tail appearing as a continuation of the body.

General Appearance

 

By: David Mark

 

Overhead View

Buteos

These birds are what many imagine when they think of a hawk: broad, blunt wings and a fairly short, broad tail . Often seen soaring, Buteos form a large portion of the birds observed at the watch each year. Identifying species might require a bit of practice, but many have helpful markings that can make identification possible, even at long distances. 

Red-tailed Hawk

Probably the most familiar hawk in North America, “red-tails” are a familiar sight along highways and in the countryside. Large, robust birds, with bulging wings, the most reliable mark for these birds is a dark patagial bar (on the leading edge of the arm). A clean white breast, dark belly band, and red tail (on adults only), help support identification.

General Appearance

By: Rjmscorley

Overhead View

Red-Shouldered hawk

A smaller bird than the “red-tail”, “red-shoulders” are striking, clean-cut birds with alternating bands of black and white on the tail. Spotting on the breast helps mark these bird, but they are most often recognized by translucent crescents near the end of their wings, a feature visible even in high-flying birds.

General Appearance

By: Peter Benoit

Overhead View

Broad-Winged Hawk

A classic bird for any hawkwatch, “broad-wings” are a smaller buteo, best identified as adults by a single white band visible in the tail. Crisp white underwings with a dark trailing edge. 

General Appearance

photo

Overhead View

Rough-legged Hawk

“Rough-legs” breed in the arctic and winter in temperate areas. Large birds, they look like a stretched-out buteo with longer wings than their relatives. Dark morph birds are the most regular dark Buteo in our area. Light adults and juveniles have conspicuous patterns including dark square-shaped patches at the carpals (wrists), a dark belly, and a dark band at the end of the tail, all on a light background.

General Appearance

By: Skeeze

Overhead View

Eagles

Our largest and most impressive impressive raptors, eagles are often observed as big, dark birds and are very much sought-after by many observers. Often visible at long distances, eagle flight style is often an early indicator of their identiy. Slow, powerful, and deliberate. Separating our two species may require a little practice, but isn’t too difficult if a few key details are kept in mind.

Bald Eagle

Virtually everyone in North America is familiar with the bald eagle’s iconic adult plumage. That said, even juveniles are extremely distinctive once you’re familiar with their straight-out, plank-like flight silhouette. Juvenile bald eagles are extremely varied, ranging from dark to light, but typically looking dark overall with white wing linings. 

General Appearance

By: Tof Mayanoff

Overhead View

Golden Eagle

Like the bald eagle, goldens are very large, mostly dark birds. Adult golden eagles appear almost entirely dark brown with a slight golden nape visible depending on distance and angle. Juveniles are more distinctively marked, with white patches at then ends of their wings and a white band across the bast of their tail.

General Appearance

By: Kevsphotos

Overhead View

Falcons

Falcons are widely known and highly recognizable as fast, snappy birds, with long, sharply-pointed wings and crisp silhouettes. Five separate species may be observed at the watch, but most sightings will be one of our three more common species, each distinctively marked and differently sized, making identification easier than some other groups. Interestingly, recent DNA studies suggest these birds are more closely related to parrots than other birds of prey.

American Kestrel

A familiar bird to many, American kestrels are small birds, very small. While flying, kestrels look less sturdy than their relatives, with fluttering wingbeats, more rounded (but still falcon-like) features, and a wandering flight. While often boldly coloured with blue and orange, these birds tend to look pale in flight.

General Appearance

By: Reitz27

Overhead View

Merlin

Similar to size the the kestrel (somewhere around the size of a pigeon), merlins give the impression of a much more robust bird. Sharply featured, these birds contrast from their relatives through a faster, more direct flight, darker overall colour, and heavier build. Getting familiar with these birds might take some time; they’re often gone as soon as they arrive.

General Appearance

By: Adriankirby

Overhead View

Peregrine Falcon

The largest of the falcons regularly seen at Beamer, peregrines have much longer wings than their relatives. Most observers recognize these birds from their facial markings that almost look like an executioner’s mask. Beyond this, their unique shallow and rapid wingbeats allow familiar observers to spot these birds at a distance.

General Appearance

By: Ruthmcd

Overhead View

Harriers

Unique, but somewhat plain, harriers are a group of hawks that are well-adapted for hunting over open habitats such as grasslands, meadows, and marshes. Most follow similar hunting habits, favouring a low, cruising flight, sweeping up and plunging down when they come upon prey. As a general rule, harriers have long wings and a long tail, giving a very stretched-out appearance. North America is home to a single species, making identification easy, once accustomed to the bird’s unique silhouette.

Northern Harrier

Lanky looking compared to the other raptors of our region, harriers stand out with a unique combination of very long wings and long tail. Regardless of age and plumage, all birds also have a conspicuous white patch on the rump.  When flying, wings tend to be held in a dihedral and flight graceful

General Appearance

By: Skeeze

Overhead View

Osprey

Another unique raptor, the osprey are represented by a single species at Beamer. These striking birds are specialist fish predators, striking with depth and precision that a bald eagle can’t match. Typically associated with watery areas during the breeding season, and absent during the winter, migration is a good time to observe these striking birds.

Osprey

Strikingly marked in a distinctive combination of dark brown and white. Nearly all dark above, the belly is light, with a characteristic combination of light and dark coloration. Osprey have very long wings that are held forward at the arm and back at the hand, which–combined with their pattern–gives the impression of an M-shaped silhouette, a shape that is echoed in a head-on view.

General Appearance

By: Skeeze

Overhead View

Vultures

Vultures form the bulk of each year’s count, with thousands of birds passing through in large aggregations. Though they used to be scarce at the watch, numbers have been increasing steadily over the years due to a northward range expansion, and both species are now observed annually. Forming large kettles and visible from great distances, vulture groups in spring are often worth sifting through to see what might be mixed in. Differentiating between our species usually requires little more than looking at the underside of their wings.

Turkey Vulture

The most numerous bird at the watch, turkey vultures can be picked out readily, and with confidence from far away. These large dark birds fly with a strong dihedral (wings held up at an angle) and a characteristic rocking flight. When seen from below, their flight feathers shine, giving the bird a two-toned look along the length of its wings.

General Appearance

By: Greg Seymour

Overhead View

Black Vulture

Black vultures appear darker than turkey vultures, but are most readily identified by white patches on their wingtips and an almost comically short tail. Though once rare in our area, these birds appear to be growing more common year after year.

General Appearance

By: Dan Cross

Overhead View

Rarities

While these birds come from the other groups mentioned here, they aren’t expected, or regularly observed at the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch. Many observers each year are hoping to come across one of these birds. 

Swainson's Hawk

The Swainson’s hawk is a long-winged buteo that flies with wings held in a dihedral. Adults have light underwing coverts and dark flight feathers, whereas juveniles are less strongly marked.

General Appearance

By: Skeeze

Overhead View

Ferruginous Hawk

This is our largest buteo with long, fairly pointed wings. Both light and dark morphs occur, but the tail and particularly flight feathers are white in both.

General Appearance

By: Reitz27

Overhead View

drawing

Prairie Falcon

Prairie falcons are similarly sized to peregrine falcons, but more lightly coloured. Dark underwing coverts and axillaries are diagnostic marks.

General Appearance

By: 

Overhead View

drawing

Gyrfalcon

This is a huge falcon that may be white, grey, or brown. These birds are unlikely to be mistaken for another.

General Appearance

By: Skeeze

Overhead View

drawing

Mississippi Kite

A medium-sized kite, these birds are grey overall with a lighter head. This, combined with their long, tapered wings and graceful flight help distinguish them in the field.

General Appearance

By: 

Overhead View

drawing

Swallow-tailed Kite

This dramatic bird is unlikely to be confused by anything else due to its long, forked tail, white underwing coverts and black flight feathers.

General Appearance

By:

Overhead View

drawing