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Distant birds vs. close birds

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Tuesday, April 5, 2011 

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.

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Blogger Unknown said...

You already know this, Jerry, but the Red-tailed is a juvenile. That means that its secondaries are wider than an adult Red-tail. The Ferruginous is an adult (evidenced by the wing molt). Its wings are narrower than would be a juvenile Ferruginous. Your point is still valid, but in this case the difference between juvenile Red-tailed and adult Ferruginous is exaggerated by the age difference. The shapes would be less distinct if the ages were reversed on the species (adult Red-tailed versus juvenile Ferruginous).

Looking forward to more of your posts.

April 6, 2011 at 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Thanks for the comment...let me clarify some things. The plumage of the red-tail in the photo shows juvenile plumage and a juvenile tail of course, but the secondaries on a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk are shorter than those of adults. The reason a young Red-tail looks longer or narrower-winged than an adult. This bird looks stocky but that is a result of the pose. Also, the difference in secondary length of juvenile and adult Ferruginous is not obvious as on RT's, but the plumage of this adult FH is very obvious (rufous leggings, adult tail pattern, underwing coverts, remiges, and body plumage). So adult RT's are even more different in shape than juveniles are compared to Ferruginous Hawks.

I think you may have thought I was trying to compare the RT to the FH, but my point was to compare the small image of the RT to the large image of the RT and the same for the FH. Hope this clears things up, and didn't mean to confuse anyone.

April 6, 2011 at 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Hi All:

Forgot to mention, you can click on the images to enlarge them.

April 6, 2011 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the clarification.

April 9, 2011 at 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Absolutely, and thanks for the comments, that is exactly why the blog is so fun.

April 9, 2011 at 9:58 AM  

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