Juvenile Hawks in Flight
It ain't easy to ID juvenile hawks. It ain't always easy to indentify adult hawks either, but that's another story. We had posted a photo of a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk in flight and one of our blog readers asked if it wasn't really a Red-tailed Hawk juvenile. So that prompted this post.
Here are some of my photos of juvenile Broad-winged, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks and their differences.
The juvenile Broad-winged Hawk is variable. The above bird is lightly streaked on the flanks and belly. It has a has a thin center stripe on the center of the throat (in some cases the throat can be all white). The underwings have narrow dark bars on the primaries and secondaries, dark tips to the primaries and a hint of a dark trailing edge to the wings. The tail has numerous dark bands, which may be narrow, or thicker, with a dark band at the tip.
This is a darker individual with more heavy barring on the underparts. You can see rectangular pale panels on the underside of the wings, more visible when the bird is backlit, as here.
Here's a Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile. Note the dark mark, called the patagial bar on the leading edge of the wings, a great ID clue. The throat can be white or, on more heavily marked birds, have narrow streaks. There are scattered dark marks on the undering coverts, sometimes looking like a comma. There's a white unmarked breast. The dark belly streaks form a "belly band," another great ID clue. There are numerous, dark, thin tail bands and there may or may not be a wider band at the tip.
Here's another view of the same bird. You can see the belly band, and dark patagial mark on the leading edge of the wings. Juvenile Red-tails have a large pale panel on the outer edge of the upperwing, seen from above.
One of the distinguishing marks is the pale, tawny, crescent-shaped mark on the outer edge of the top of the wing, showing clearly in the above photo. This can also look like a translucent crescent when viewed from below and backlit. This is very different from the rectangular panel on the wings of the juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, or the rectangular panel on the Red-tailed Hawk seen on the top of the wing.
The wing crescent is slightly visible on the underwing in the above photo. The breast, belly and flanks have dark marks. Throats can be white with a middle streak, or have more streaks, or all dark with a white edge.
As we said, it ain't easy, but looking closely at birds and photos helps you see new things and prepares you better for the next time you're birding and encounter these birds.
For further, more detailed information about hawks see our new field guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.
Photos of Broad-winged Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk taken in the Northeast in Sept. Red-shouldered Hawk photographed in Florida in Jan.