Mystery Bird

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This photo was taken in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Have you any idea what it is? The photographer thought it was an owl, but a friend of the photographer thinks it may be a young red-shouldered hawk -- but in Colorado? [larger view].

My guess is below the fold;

I guess this is a partial leucistic red-tailed hawk, but it's really hard to tell!

More like this

i think it is a young bird (based on the uniformly dark eyes), but i am not certain of this.

I vote for young bald eagle.

Rough-legged hawk? They winter here in southern BC (and also in CO, I think), and often have that chocolate-white colour mix - although usually more symmetrically than in that bird.

I also lean towards rough-legged hawk. It just doesn't look right for a red-tailed hawk - the shoulders aren't bulky enough, the head looks too delicate somehow, and the stance is more hunched over than I usually see in red-tails. The wing projection also seems long relative to the tail, and the very short terminal band is more indicative of rough-legged (it should be wider on an immy red-tail), as is the overall build and stance. The white on the back is a bit more extensive than typical for rough-leggeds, but it could be partially leucistic. The stance and patterning on the back is also not consistent with red-shoulder (as is the location, of course), but rough-legs are fairly common in Colorado in winter.

By nolabirder (not verified) on 16 Feb 2008 #permalink

This is an adult Red-tailed Hawk. Note the red tail just under the wings that reach the tail tip. Younger birds in this plumage have yellow eyes. The confusion with other species may come from the white feathering on the back and back of head. This is simply the upper feathers being blown by the wind and showing the white feathering below.
Thanks for sharing. A nice shot.

By Mark Land (not verified) on 17 Feb 2008 #permalink

This is a Red-tailed Hawk. It has a red tail after all.

Red-tails routinely show partial leucism and that is what's causing the confusion here. The rule of thumb (Paulson's Rule) is that common species are more common than rare ones. As circular as this rule seems to be, it makes perfect sense... it's more likely that it's a funny looking common species, than a rare species and that's where we should always start when met with an ID puzzle.

By Mike Patterson (not verified) on 17 Feb 2008 #permalink

i am so glad to know that i didn't botch this ID, but i had to put my guess up so other people would be motivated to prove me wrong!

several more comments have reached me via email, so here they are;

Larry says;

If Rough-leg is the only competition -- I would think it's a Red-tail based on two non-plumage features. RLHA has a tiny bill. [The] Hawk in the photo, to me, doesn't. It also has folded wings longer that its tail. Doesn't look that way in photo.

Assuming this photo was taken in NA, there sure are a lot of Red-tails.

Elliott also guesses it is a red-tailed hawk, but doesn't provide his reasons.

It's definitely a leucistic red-tail. They are prone to leucism and I've seen one that was almost completely white, which prompted a local naturalist's group to declare it was a gyrfalcon, based on color alone. It behaved, flew and did everything else just like a red-tail, of course, but the color confused almost everyone.

By John P. Baumlin (not verified) on 18 Feb 2008 #permalink

This an adult red-tailed hawk, (calurus type)with a few leucistic feathers. Tail way to short for either red-shouldered or rough-legged. Not to untypical in some populations in the east.

By Thomas Erdman (not verified) on 18 Feb 2008 #permalink

k, I was wrong - I couldn't see any red on the tail on my monitor, but I'm using a tiny, out-of-date laptop. The "gis" still doesn't look quite right to me, but it's probably a combination of the angle of the shot and the bird's posture.

By nolabirder (not verified) on 18 Feb 2008 #permalink