I was recently out in the field with a group of birder/biologists from PacifiCorp who were about to start an intense field job that included identifying all the hawks they saw on a daily basis. One thing I stressed to them was "look at a shape, flight style, and the manner in which a bird holds its wings when watching distant birds", and "rely on plumage only to confirm identifications, or when plumage is clear and obvious". Check out the 2 photos above. It is difficult to see plumage on the distant images (left), but easy to see shape. On the close-up versions of the same images (right), plumage becomes obvious. This is exactly why it important to know shape, flight style, and the manner in which a bird holds its wings when trying to ID birds in the field.…because most birds you see are not from point-blank range. People have asked me "why dedicate a book (Hawks at a Distance) about distant birds only?" My answer is "because it is more important to learn the traits mentioned above, and overall plumage tones before minute plumage details when identifying most raptors in the field.
Labels: identification, raptors