Tale of Tails

Note: A contest of diabolical proportions is on its way. I planned on doing it today but A: loading photos in Blogger is wonky at the moment and B: Non Birding Bill informed me that he is transferring the whole birdchick website to a new server and it might be hard to find the site on Friday. So, I'm going to postpone the contest to Monday. I'd do it over the weekend, but I think some readers only have internet access at work. The prize is a much coveted autographed Letters From Eden. Now, on to red-tailed hawks!

Here we have a haggard (adult) red-tailed hawk--obvious by the rusty red tail. There is another way that you can judge adults from passage birds (first year hawks).

Here is an adult red-tailed hawk's eyes--note the dark brown eyes.

Here is a first year red-tail. Note the pale yellow eyes? Red-tailed hawks start off with pale eyes and they get darker as they get older.

Sometimes at the banding station we get birds in transition. This bird had a rust red tail but note the eyes. The top half is pale, the bottom half is dark, the bird is at least two years old, maybe three. I'm not sure if you can age red-tails exactly by the eye color. They used to say you could with sharp-shins and Cooper's hawks but someone blew that theory out of the water a few years ago.

Here's a red-tail that we got on Sunday that was a dilly of a pickle. It has a pale eye and a mostly brown tail. What is up with those four red tail feathers?

Frank speculated that when this bird was in the nest, one of the nest mates grabbed the tail and the feathers got pulled out. When a bird has a feather pulled out, a new feather starts to grow. The feathers in that spot are programmed the first time to grow in brown and stripey. Since that had already happened, the new feathers grew in red...and a little stripey because the bird is still in its first year.

Speaking of red-tailed hawks I had a fun coincidence at the banding station on Monday. Over the weekend a comment came in from Michael Paulbeck asking for luck because he was visiting a hawk blind. Little did he know he was going to be at the exact same blind I was at. Here he is holding a raptor for the first time. Congrats, Mike!