I lurk on a listserv that has a bunch of beyond hardcore birders fine tuning really tough bird identification issues. They mostly talk about gulls which makes my eyes glaze over, but last night an interesting little pickle came up.
A woman posted a link to a photo of a raptor that has been stumping Vermont birders as to whether it is a red-tailed hawk or a red-shouldered hawk. I just looked at the photo on that page and thought “red-tail” to myself and didn’t dig any deeper. A few replied to her email to the list that it was a red-tail and started speculating on which sub species.
Then Sibley stepped in.
He dug further into the website and looked at this photo and this photo. I have to admit, the second photo is a bit more intriguing and I can see the features that would make someone think “red-shouldered hawk”. Then, there is the link to the bird’s call. That sounds like a red-shoulder to me. So, here is what Sibley had to say:
“What an interesting bird! While I had a momentary first impression of “western Red-tail” that was quickly dispelled as I looked at more details and I think this can only be a hybrid Red-tailed x Red-shouldered Hawk!
The pattern of orange breast with sparsely streaked and barred belly seems like a mixture of the two species and not normal for either, the posture and body shape in some photos looks like Red-tailed, in others like Red-shouldered, and several photos show clear reddish accents in the smaller wing coverts which is wrong for Red-tailed. I’m sure a careful analysis would reveal lots more “mixed” characteristics.”
A hybrid red-tail and red-shoulder? Are you kidding me? Who knew? I’ll be curious to see how this pans out. Boy, what I wouldn’t give to get a feather off this bird to send in for some DNA analysis.