On the fourth or was it the fifth snowy morning in a row I checked out a little local transect known by the street signs as VerPlank Road , Clay NY [12.05.07]. While it was quiet, finch-wise, there were more hawks than last week. The lake effect band was mostly farther north, but about halfway along the route, it started snowing - again- ever so lightly.

And that's when I spotted these pair-sitting Redtails through the light snowfall. Quite aways off. You can still make out [insert juvenile chuckle here] the size difference by just noting the head height of the righthand female over the male on the left.

It is a hawk myth that they are solitary on or away from their homeland when not nesting. I should say it's an incomplete myth: many many hawks you see are one-of's. But committed pairs of Redtails remain together throught the year as do other hawks depending on factors-varied. There are a lot of variables, right down to the individual. But I see Redtails like this pair together throughout the year. I have seen Rough-legged Hawks -- adult male and adult female -- sitting like this in Vermont in February and certainly they are not anywhere near their homeland. Nearly direct evidence exists for these two species, plus Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks.

[Where direct evidence these days involves CSI-style technology... as well it should IMO. My evidence is PGE, pretty good evidence, and is formed by repeated observation, digital photography, and common sense... which ain't as common as it use to be.]

So, the inset. It's a close-up of our Redtail pair, far far away, through the light snow, as I said earlier. In addition to the size difference vertically, you can see the female is large in other dimensions as well. Think Jerry Springer couples when you view hawks, for a quick lesson in RSD... reverse sexual dimorphism. They are both hooded and she is very dark headed, as indicated by her white eye arc.

For another view of this pair following the Nor'easter -- just short of two weeks from this initial encounter -- move on to Wintertails 21 page.

This black-backed, golden-headed and distinctive malar marked bird is the prototypical Wintertail adult. The bellyband view just doesn't matter... although I like to linger. But after getting a few sunlit images here, I drove on without flushing the bird from a nice warm morning spot.

The charcoal malar mark is an indicator that you're looking at the richest Redtails when wealth is measured in coloration. It is indeed Western-like, but a bird of the Northeast... interior Quebec, maybe.

Frank Nicoletti, observing these guys in Duluth MN, uses "golden-headed" to describe these darkest of the light morph RTs from the coniferous lowlands of the far North and their Golden Eagle similarities. Elsewhere on these pages for birds I have seen with interesting plumages, but a lighter hooded effect. I called them blonde birds... I was still thinking Golden Eagle, but also Gary Busey, especially for perched birds on windy days.


Wintercounts -- Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve Day and Groundhog Day -- online for about the last ten years are indexed on my Counting for Poets page. This Winter, I plan to change this up and start a more continuous Wintercount blogesque polemic: a little like the three counts and a little like the Wintertails pages.

Here's a juvenile Redtail with a similar dark throat completing the hooded look. This image is from Wolfe Island Ontario in mid-September [2007]. Up until this day all the juvenile Redtails on the island were pale-headed and clear-throated. Their bellybands were composed more of spots, not the fused strands of larger blobs making the more solid Western-like or even Roughleg-like bellyband here. Now there were still fifty or so birds around on this day that had a more Southern look.

Those overall lighter marked juvenile Redtails are on Wolfe Island likely from the Ohio River Valley and areas in the Mid-Atlantic state by way of dispersal... Northbound away from the nest. A dispersing event that brings thousands of just-hatched Redtails North and North in search of food before heading South in pursuit of still more food... this is the Naturre of things.

[We know the starting point for those spotty, clear-throated birds from direct banding return evidence from Braddock Bay Raptor Research. A reminder, the two juvenile birds on this page are not those birds.]

As with our adult pair above, you can see or pretend to see tendencies in body shape and even size. Knowing that caution is a good thing... this chesty bird with a proportionately small head is shaped like many female raptors are shaped. The next bird down, while viewed from the back, is widest at the shoulder and then tapers to the "hips"... maybe a male.

I'll add, that in the field, the facing bird would be described as a monster, with the next bird down, seemed small, for what it's worth.

Here's another hooded juvenile that arrived in mid-September, observed on the same day as the bird just above. It also has an all dark throat [I have an image taken when the bird looks directly at me... but doesn't fly off.] So, two of these birds amongst fifty pale headed, spotted birds. Also these, thought to be more Northern birds, have solid backs -- in terms of the density of the patterning.

This second bird is also decked out in fairly cool tones: gray-brown, absent of any reddish browns. If you hadn't noticed in the field, no two Redtails are exactly alike. The three canned Redtails below are awaiting a band on a busy August day at Braddock Bay, near Rochester NY. Now these are the dispersing Redtails. I show them here to illustrate the range of variation, especially the juvenile bird in the middle: I have seen birds like this one confidently called adult birds at a distance by advanced beginner and even the occasional intermediate birder.

"Got an adult Redtail!"

The difference? The latter is likely to correct the mistake on continued observation, and out loud.


If you've noticed that this page is #20, and if you're up for more, click on the Wintertails logotype above to go the head of the class!


More Wintertail images ::::::)