Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday Night "Light"

What species is this?

Being that this past Friday was just a few days before the Winter Solstice, there wasn't much light to work with when I got away from work a few minutes early and had a chance to swing by Stearn's Lake before full dark. Fortunately, this large buteo was content to remain perched on a power pole as I drove below, and then returned from the south for a bit better illumination.

I would like to think this is a juvenile Ferruginous Hawk. In the picture above, one tell-tale feature appears to be visible. The Ferruginous sports a pair of feathered legs. In a light adult those white legs will take on a rusty-brown color, and will provide a great overhead field mark, in a juvenile they remain white. Unfortunately, from the angle I had it seems that the legs are feathered, but a Red-tailed Hawk can pull its legs back into its lower feathers, obscuring the 'bald' legs.

A tighter look at the face reveals more specifics of a potential Ferruginous, but become more inconclusive on closer inspection. "Sibley's" describes a "large bill and long gape", which certainly seems to be here, but Red-tail juvenile's tend to have a longer gape as well. Frankly, I am not sure if this one reaches back far enough under the eye to qualify.

The head seems a bit darker, but given the light conditions and angle I am thinking that it may appear lighter in full sun. If anyone can help with a definitive trait I would love to know, but for now I am willing to target this bird for a return visit. In the meantime, the weekend is already on a very birdy path, I filled a 4 Gb memory card along the South Platte in less than an hour today, and head out for the Boulder, CO, Christmas Bird Count early tomorrow.
If there is time amid the work, laundry, holiday cheer, packing, and potential snowy commutes over the coming days I should have some good, pic filled, posts coming.
Take care all, and good birding!

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