Posts Tagged ‘raptors’



Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrinations by Gene Walz

We’ve had a drearily long winter in Manitoba. Six months of freezing temperatures. Even for wintry Winnipeg this is L-O-N-G. It’s May, and big piles of snow still lurk in some shady places. AAARRGH!

The cold and the long-lasting ice and snow (not just in our province but in the Dakotas south of us) have delayed bird migration here. Everything is at least two weeks behind schedule.

Disruptions from routines, even the tardy arrival of spring, can have some very beneficial effects.

Until this year we never suspected that more than a handful of Peregrine Falcons migrated through Manitoba. Then, on April 25, 22 peregrines passed the raptor migration watch at Windy Gates, Manitoba on the North Dakota border. The next day, an astonishing 46 peregrines were recorded. Wow!

Less than 50 years ago, there was only one peregrine sighted in all of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Now we have scores zooming through Manitoba in a matter of weeks!

Because we so often hear of declining bird populations, these numbers are both amazing and heartening.

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

A peregrine recovery program started here in the late 1980s. Since then up to four pairs of these gorgeous raptors have nested in two southern cities in Manitoba every year. With cliff sides and now tall buildings as their favorite nest-sites, few of us thought much about the possibility that other peregrines could be passing through.

Thanks to hawk-watches and the internet, we now realize that the Pembina Valley is a major flight path. Peregrines that breed in Nunavut and Nunavik in the territories north of Manitoba commonly fly through here on their way north to arctic-nesting sites at Rankin Inlet (on Hudson Bay), Igloolik (on the Melville Peninsular), Steensby Inlet (on Baffin Island) and elsewhere.

Peregrines are nesting north of the Arctic Circle in places with few cliffs and fewer skyscrapers. Who knew?!

Reenergizing the Red-tailed Hawk


Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Reenergizing the Red-tailed Hawk by Josh Haas

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk © Josh Haas / Glances at Nature

I’m betting the last time you saw a Red-tailed Hawk, you didn’t give the bird a second look. When birding and creating lists for the day, there are species that tend to get boring. As one of the most prevalent hawks in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk fits this category for many birders. But I’ve found the bird is worth a closer look.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk – midwest © Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

This raptor is a dynamic hunter that tends to go after small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and more. It’s opportunistic nature is one reason the bird is so pervasive and, hence, boring to birders. One type of prey missing from the list is small perching birds. And while it’s true they’re not necessarily built for hunting this type of prey, once while hawk watching at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory I saw an individual display the power and versatility needed for the task. Flying at tree-top level with a strong steady wing-flap, the bird suddenly fanned its tail in such a way so as to flip sideways and nab an unsuspecting Northern Flicker off a dead tree. My binoculars came down, a smile came over my face, and for me the Red-tailed Hawk became a little more exciting. More recently, during a Detroit River Hawkwatch count, I saw a beautiful Northern Harrier circling above the count site when a Red-tailed Hawk unexpectedly stooped into view in pursuit of the Harrier. Enthusiasm soared among the onlookers as the Red-tailed Hawk continued after the Harrier. The aerial battle demonstrated to all who had seen it that this large-bodied Buteo could not only keep up with other agile raptors but maneuver like a Merlin as it dipped and raced around the skies. Yet another experience where for me, the Red-tailed Hawk became a little more exciting.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Range Map © NatureShare

These are just two quick examples of how the Red-tailed Hawk is more than a modest soaring bird living around our highway systems. The large hawk is nothing short of amazing. With its large powerful feet, snappy wing flap, and keen hunting techniques, this adaptable bird can adjust easily to many habitats and situations. My hope is the next time you find yourself viewing a Red-tailed Hawk through your binocs, you’ll linger a bit longer. It might just do something for which the bird becomes a little more exciting.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk © Dave Haas / Glances at Nature

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit

Blog tour logoThe Crossley ID Guide: Raptors by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan will be available April 2013.  The book covers thirty-four of North America’s diurnal raptor species (all species except owls), 101 stunning color plates–including thirty-five double-page layouts, species information and more!  Be sure to enter to win the ultimate Crossley ID Guide Sweepstakes to win some cool prizes including the Audubon Birds app!

A Family Trip with an Unexpected Find


Monday, February 4th, 2013

A Family Trip with an Unexpected Find by Josh Haas

While in Lafayette, IN for what would be our last Christmas gathering, I awoke well before sunrise to the sound of a baby playing in her crib.  Being up early has its advantages and like many mornings, I jumped on my iPhone for things like the daily weather, news, and of course a gander through the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds app.  Using the “Find Birds with eBird” feature, I scanned the list and one bird jumped out very quickly.  A Varied Thrush had been seen the day prior no more than 12 miles from where I was staying.  This bird should be in California, let alone Indiana so it was worth the effort.  If you haven’t checked out this great feature in the app, it’s worth your time.  It’s quick and much better than some of the other apps that feature eBird searching.

Cooper's Hawk, Adult © Josh Haas

Cooper’s Hawk, Adult © Josh Haas

Unfortunately, after two morning attempts for this western thrush, I never did see it but I did get a nice opportunity with an adult Cooper’s Hawk before meeting a nice birder who mentioned having Saw-whet Owls roosting on his property.  That obviously perked some interest!  I jumped at the invitation and soon found myself riding in a gator across his property 6 miles away after a different bird.  Boy it would’ve paid to be prepared for the 12 degree temps but who would’ve known a family Christmas could turn into a birding adventure.  I suppose in our family, it’s very likely!

Sure enough, as we approached a small Cedar grove, we slowed and eventually stopped.  Looking into the woods, one can’t help but notice the many yellow ribbons hanging on trees marking where birds were or are roosting.  The gentleman does surveys daily to gather data about the individuals.   Amazing commitment…

Northern Saw-whet Owl © Josh Haas

Northern Saw-whet Owl © Josh Haas

All in all, he showed me three individual Saw-whet Owls.  One was even awake and willing to be photographed.  Oh man was I one happy Daddy!  This property was amazing and he told stories of the many species of Owls, Raptors and Passerines that fledged over the years from the 200 acre parcel.  This is another example of a great find and a genuine birder willing to share his great spot.

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit

Ladders, Rain, and Talons Oh My…


Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Osprey Approaching the Nest © Josh Haas

Ladders, Rain, and Talons Oh My… by Josh Haas

When it comes to Osprey, they are one of the most unique birds out there.  Not only are they well-adapted for distinctive hunting, they are a bird in a family all their own.  Osprey are fish eating raptors that plunge completely into the water after prey.  The first time you see it, I guarantee you will think the bird is certainly going to drown until it miraculously pops out and flies off as if it never went in the water.

There is quite a program in Southeast Michigan attempting  to get the Osprey re-established in order to help the species along.  A very interesting byproduct of this successful program has been Osprey returning to the other side of the state where several pairs are making the Kalamazoo area their new breeding grounds.  In the past few years, there are several nests that have been successful, including one along the Kalamazoo River in the downtown area.  Amongst the city noise, hustle and bustle this adult pair has successfully reared young the past two years.  You might remember a previous post of mine about this very pair and how we prepared early for their return, erecting a new platform.  This paid off swimmingly as the birds not only returned, they hatched 3 young Osprey.  About a week and a half before they were expected to fledge, we moved in to check and band the birds.


Right: Osprey in Flight
Left: Josh with Young Osprey
© Josh Haas/Glances at Nature

Unfortunately for us, it was a stormy morning but as the storm clouds moved on, we stood the wet ladder up and one at a time, climbed to grab the birds and bring them down for physicals and banding.  Being on a slippery ladder with a bird sporting adult sized feet and talons was no fun task but with experience, it can be done methodically with no problems.  During the physical, we look for any kind of insects or signs of infections by looking at the birds vent, ears, mouth/throat, etc.  The birds weren’t weighed but their keels were checked to ensure they showed good signs of getting enough food.  All three birds were very healthy and meaty meaning the adults really knew what they were doing.  Once the birds were banded, we brought them back up to the nest as the adults continued to fly around squawking.  All in all, a successful morning.  A long week later, all three young fledged and began flying around with their parents.  I wonder what next year will bring!!!

It’s important to mention this banding event  was done by official licensed bird banders from the Kalamazoo Nature Center with the help of volunteers that had experience with large Raptors.  Never attempt to approach or band wild birds.  This is highly regulated and should only be done by experienced handlers and licensed banders.

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit

Remarkable Nature Places: Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCA


Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Arial Shot of Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCS Photo courtesy of BLM

Remarkable Nature PlacesMorley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area

Crags and crevices, the deep canyon of the Snake River, thermal updrafts, and a broad plateau rich in small wildlife sustain the greatest concentration of nesting birds of prey in North America.

Congress established the Snake River Birds of Prey NCA in 1993 to recognize and perpetuate the area’s wildlife values.  Part of the BLM National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), the NCA encompasses 485,000 acres of public land along 81 miles of the Snake River in southwestern Idaho.  The BLM manages the area to preserve its remarkable wildlife habitat while providing for other compatible uses of the land, so that birds of prey flourish here as they have for thousands of years.

Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCS Photo courtesy of BLM

Nesting Raptors

·       American Kestrel

·       Ferruginous Hawk

·       Golden Eagle

·       Northern Harrier

·       Osprey

·       Prairie Falcon

·       Red-tailed Hawk

·       Turkey Vulture

·       Barn Owl

·       Burrowing Owl

·       Great Horned Owl

·       Long-eared Owl

·       Northern Saw-whet Owl

·       Short-eared Owl

·       Western Screech Owl

·       Swainson’s Hawk

Migrating Raptors

·       Bald Eagle

·       Gyrfalcon

·       Merlin

·       Northern Goshawk

·       Peregrine Falcon

·       Rough-legged Hawk

·       Sharp-shinned Hawk

·       Cooper’s Hawk

Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCS Photo courtesy of BLM

General Raptor Facts

Size Difference

Female raptors are generally larger than the males. The reason for this size difference is really unknown, but scientists theorize that it could relate to the female spending more time on the nest and can protect the young from larger predators. Another idea for this difference is that it allows for a greater diversity of prey to be taken by the adult pair.


Raptors have three eyelids! They have a top and bottom eyelid plus a third, transparent eyelid which closes laterally across the eye. This special eyelid is called a nictitating membrane and is used to;

  • keep the eyes moist,
  • protect the eyes during flight, and
  • protect the eyes when feeding themselves or their young.

When humans close their eyes to blink or sleep the upper eyelid closes. Depending on the species, raptors may close the top eyelid, the bottom eyelid, or both.

An additional form of eye protection in many raptors is a bony shield, called the superciliary ridge, that projects above the eye. This ridge acts like a visor for protection from the sun and also protects the eyes from injury while hunting. It also gives raptors a menacing appearance.


Nesting habits of raptors vary among species. Some examples of these differences include:

  • not building a nest, but using stick nests or cavities created by other birds,
  • nesting and laying eggs in sand or gravel, depressions, or scrapes,
  • nesting and laying eggs on the ground,
  • nesting and laying eggs on cliff faces or in treetops,
  • nesting and laying eggs in ground burrows of mammals (burrowing owls).
  • For raptor species that build nests, typically the female constructs the nest while the male provides the material. Many raptors build a new nest each year, while others, particularly large raptors, will reuse old nests or alternate between a number of nests.


Raptor eggs are typically large, rounded or oblong ovals, and vary in color. The number of eggs laid depends on the raptors size. Larger raptors lay fewer eggs than smaller raptors. It is believed that larger raptors live longer and need fewer eggs or young to sustain the viability of their species, while the opposite is true for smaller raptors.

Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCS Photo courtesy of BLM

There may be a two to three day lapse between laying each egg, and the adult may not begin incubation until all the eggs are laid (owls begin incubation immediately after the first egg is laid). The female does the incubating while the male provides food for her. The period of incubation varies with the size of a bird. For owls, hawks, and falcons there is usually a 26 to 35 day incubation period, while eagles and vultures will incubate from 36 to 50 days. Raptors in temperate climates breed in spring and summer.

After an eggshell is first cracked, it may take one to two days before hatching is complete. Raptor chicks grow quickly, doubling their birth weight in only a few days. The length of time a raptor spends from hatching until it is ready to fledge (fly on its own), depends on its size. Larger raptors stay in the nest from two to three months, while smaller raptors stay three to four weeks.

Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCS Photo courtesy of BLM

Hawk ID, Part 6: Osprey and Harriers


Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Hawk ID, Part 6: Osprey and Harriers

Osprey and Harriers

Osprey © Josh Haas

Osprey and Harriers aren’t closely related per say but I thought they’d at least go together for part 6 of our Hawk ID series.  Osprey are fish eating raptors that rely on water with adaptations that make them unique.  So unique, in fact, they are one species in their own family of Raptors all themselves.  When hunting fish, they plunge completely into the water in comparison to a Bald Eagle picking out fish with only their feet/legs.  Osprey have special oils that are similar to wax on a car.  When wet, the water just beads off allowing them to take flight easily after a plunge.  Their feet/talons are adapted to give them more grip on slippery fish.  When it comes to Northern Harriers, they are a diurnal hunter but have facial discs similar to our nocturnal friends, the Owls.  They hunt fields, marshes,  and wetlands spying out amphibians and small mammals.

Osprey and Harriers

Northern Harrier © Josh Haas

In terms of flight, the Osprey is a large bird that at a distance can actually resemble a Gull.  Their long, sometimes crooked wings can play tricks on you until the shape and flight is solidified in your mind.  They seem to flap a lot with a stiff wing beat and appear to bob  in the air.  This species of Raptor can be a tough one to count at shoreline count sites as the counter needs to determine whether the bird is a local simply hunting or a true migrant.  True migrants fly with a purpose and typically follow a line of flight.  Counters always have a point in the sky that birds must cross before officially being counted as well.  The Northern Harrier has a steady and direct course in flight throughout migration.  The wing beat is very regular and slower than many of the Buteos.  In a soar, the bird has a bold dihedral and sports a very long tail.  As Harriers get closer, one will notice a very distinct white rump patch but remember that many other Buteos and Accipiters can show a white rump in high winds so this should never be the only characteristic to ID the bird.

Osprey and Harriers are, well, special.  They both have very unique adaptations and flight that set them apart.  As with any Raptor ID, practice practice practice.  Get out there and go for it!

Hawk ID, Part 5: Eagles

Hawk ID, Part 4: Buteos by Josh Haas

Hawk ID, Part 3: Accipiters

Hawk ID, Part 2: Falcons

Hawk ID, Part 1: ID Techniques 101

Hawk ID, Part 5: Eagles


Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
Hawk ID Eagles

Bald Eagle © Josh Haas

Hawk ID, Part 5: Eagles by Josh Haas

The Eagles, regardless of species are the ones many come out to the watch for.  Even for those that have seen thousands of Bald and Golden Eagles, they never get old.  Their large bodies and powerful flight bring awe and excitement to people that always bring them back for more.  For some, huge kettles of Broadwings were what hooked them on Hawkwatching, for everyone else, there are Eagles.

The Bald Eagle is a massive raptor that in flight, shows incredible steadiness with deliberate wing beats.  As the bird flaps, its wings almost appear to flex as the body remains still as if hung from the wings.  The wing beat is also quite slow and on the upstroke can stretch higher.  In comparison, while the Golden Eagle has a similar slow wing beat, it is much shallower.  Comparing the two in flight is where the focus is important.  The first thing to look for is if the bird shows a dihedral or is flat-winged in a glide.  Balds are flat-winged and Goldens normally have a slight dihedral (although costal Goldens can appear flat-winged).  I’ve also noticed when flapping, Goldens tend to stop beating on an up stroke whereas Balds will usually stop their wing beats on a down stroke.  Probably one of the most important keys to identifying the difference between these two birds is the length ratio between the head and the tail.  In Balds, the head appears just massive.  So massive, in fact, the head will appear at least half or more longer than the tail.  In Goldens, the head appears small making the tail looks roughly three times the length of the head.  Using this technique in flight can almost always yield the correct species, even at far distances.

Hawk ID Eagles

Golden Eagle © Josh Haas

Every Hawkwatch site that officially tallies numbers will age-ID Buteos and Eagles.  You’ve probably noticed I haven’t mentioned the characteristics that determine age.  This series is meant to be a beginner series and let’s not try to learn everything in one sitting!  This series is all about flight ID and training yourself to get away from field marks.  For that reason, let’s continue with flight characteristics and part 6 will be all about Northern Harriers and Osprey!

Hawk ID, Part 4: Buteos by Josh Haas

Hawk ID, Part 3: Accipiters

Hawk ID, Part 2: Falcons

Hawk ID, Part 1: ID Techniques 101

Photo Essay 1: Raptors


Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Photo Essay 1: Raptors by Josh Haas

Red-tailed Hawk raptors

Red-tailed Hawk © Josh Haas

Red-tailed Hawk:

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common Raptors in North America, however, not the easiest to photograph.  I was able to capture this image from the driver’s seat (stopped of course!)  This particular field where the bird was hunting is an amazing place in winter for Raptors.  Finding places where bigger numbers of your subjects are known to roam increase the chances for nice photographs.

Camera Body & Lens- Canon Digital Rebel XT, 300mm f4 lens with a 1.4x extender
Aperture- f9
Shutter Speed- 1/400th
ISO- 400

Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk Raptors

Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk © Josh Haas

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk:
While kayaking down the AuSable River in northern Michigan, my wife and I began hearing the incessant call of a Red-Shouldered Hawk and we didn’t come upon the bird for another few bends.  This raptor is known for calling like crazy and it’s a call not soon forgot.  I had a small telephoto rig with me in the kayak and was able to capture the bird after taking flight and began soaring.

Camera Body & Lens- Canon Digital Rebel XT, 300mm f4 lens with a 1.4x extender
Aperture- f5.6
Shutter Speed- 1/800th
ISO- 100

Merlin raptors

Merlin © Josh Haas

The Merlin is a powerful hunter that is full of pride.  When other Raptors are in the area, they will go after them regardless of size.  When perched, they can often be mistaken for Sharp-shinned Hawks but one thing to keep in mind is Merlins tend to perch in the open where Sharpies are more secretive.  When I photographed this bird, it was perched on a Lake Superior beach and allowed me to slowly approach and get a nice image.  As I was working for images, another Merlin actually flew in and they began fighting in flight.  This image is right as the bird was lifting off.
Camera Body & Lens- Canon 1D Mark III, 500mm f4 lens with a 1.4x extender
Aperture- f6.3
Shutter Speed- 1/1250th
ISO- 400
Bald Eagle Raptor

Bald Eagle © Josh Haas

Bald Eagle:

Following rivers in the Midwest, especially in Winter, can yield groups of Bald Eagles hunting and carrying on.  I was on the upper Mississippi River in February when I photographed this bird.  By positioning myself in a way that placed some tree branches and late foliage in the background, it created a much more pleasing image all around.

Camera Body & Lens- Canon 1D Mark III, 500mm f4 lens with a 1.4x extender
Aperture- f5.6
Shutter Speed- 1/800th
ISO- 640

Osprey Raptors

Osprey © Josh Haas

If there is one bird that is simply amazing, it might be the Osprey.  A bird that is in a family of birds all by itself the adaptations of this bird are very special.  While usually found along lakes and coastal waters, one can even find them on rivers and among flooded marshes.  I captured this bird in a marsh in Northeastern Michigan on its way back to the nest.

Camera Body & Lens- Canon 1D Mark III, 500mm f4 lens
Aperture- f6.3
Shutter Speed- 1/2000th
ISO- 250

Falcons on the Hunt


Friday, September 21st, 2012

Falcons by Gene Walz

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, adult male © Richard Crossley/VIREO

Buff-breasted Sandpipers migrate through southern Manitoba in late August and early September. But they’re not reliable migrants. Some years almost nobody sees them. So, when word goes out that Buff-breasted are around, I jump.

They were at a sod-farm near a bison ranch just west of Oak Hammock marsh. We spotted the birds, twelve of them, almost immediately.

We weren’t the only ones. There were falcons about. We were in for an aerial treat.

Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

The first was a Peregrine Falcon. It flew in from the east, the marshes, at a considerable height. Every other bird in the area shut up and hunkered down. The peregrine plummeted. Missed. A juvenile. It’ll have to get better to survive its first year, the most dangerous one for young peregrines.

It quickly headed back to the marshes where the ducks were settling in for the night and were easier picking.


Merlin, adult male © Richard Crossley/VIREO

A Merlin darted in, low to the ground, and scared up the sandpipers. They wheeled in formation as most shorebirds do, flashing in the late sunlight as they banked and turned in perfect synchrony. The merlin gave them little heed. Probably sated on mice or Savannah Sparrows.

On a nearby field we spotted a falcon on the ground eating bugs. A warm-brown bird. Another young peregrine or, could it be, a rare Prairie Falcon. We watched and waited.

Suddenly it took wing and banked with its wings spread wide. Aha! The underwing coverts were very dark, almost like wing struts. A prairie falcon.

Prairie Falcons

Prairie Falcon

It flew low and fast over the sod field; the chase was on. The Buff-breasteds rose and circled the area. As acrobatic as they were, they were no match for the falcon. With hair-trigger reflexes, it flew into their midst, reacting to their every twitch. Soon it had snatched one right out of the air in mid flight.

The falcon flew to a nearby fencepost. The feathers flew as it feasted. With lighter, narrower “sideburns”, it was clear this wasn’t a peregrine.

Before it was too dark to see anything more, we had counted eight falcons. They all tried to get a Buff-breasted meal; only the first prairie falcon succeeded.

There is a Rhythm to the Seasons


Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Throwback Thursdays

Notes from the Field by Tom Wood: There is a Rhythm to the Seasons

hawks during migration season

Swainson’s Hawks © Tom Wood

There is a rhythm to the seasons. Technically, fall began on September 23 when the sun crossed the equator and the days in the northern hemisphere began to grow shorter. But to me, the first precursor to fall is the arrival of waves of Rufous Hummingbirds winging through Arizona on their way south to Mexico. I’ll know for sure when I hear the first Sandhill Crane calling in the Sulphur Springs Valley. If you are a naturalist or gardener or anyone else with a close attachment to the land you view the passing of the seasons differently than the deskbound city-dweller. Seasons are measured in the plants and animals around us rather than the calendar.

Actually, we have five seasons here in southeastern Arizona and it is the arrival of that fifth season that affects many of us at a very primal level. After months of hot, dry weather the first thunderheads begin to build in late June. When the first rains of our “monsoon season” come in early July, the impulse to go out in the rain and celebrate the season is often too overwhelming to ignore. I imagine that the arrival of the salmon in Alaska is greeted with the same sense of relief and celebration. Like the blooming of fruit trees or a vegetable garden, it is the promise of plenty.

This time of year the afternoon temperatures can still be uncomfortably warm. And, although there is scarce change in the morning temperature and humidity, there is SOMETHING in the early morning air that tells me that fall will soon be here. It arrives earlier on the mountain peaks and I can see the golden yellow aspen groves from miles away. Another hint that change is on the way. For a couple of weeks the newly arriving Sandhill Cranes, some of whom nested in Siberia this summer, will share the fields with the last of our nesting Swainson’s Hawks before the hawks leave for Argentina. It’s the pulse of the planet and you can hear it if you are listening.