Sunday, May 5, 2013

And The Correct Answer Is...

Last week I gave you a ruthless bird quiz. Everyone correctly identified the bird as a raptor, but with soft focus and the bird being at the perfect angle to not make out anything about wing shape or tail length, people were having a rough time.

The guesses were:

Northern Harrier (3)
Red-shouldered Hawk (2)
Swainson's Hawk (1)
Gray Hawk (2)
Peregrine Falcon (2)
Merlin (1)

and of course the outlier, Red Milan (1)...which at first I assumed was some sort of wine.

I am truly surprised no one guessed any Accipiters! The bird would be a close match for an immature of any of the three species, especially with the tail bands and pale undertail coverts coming up the sides of the rump. Personally, I thought immature Gray Hawk was a great guess, considering California's very first that wintered in Carpinteria, not far from here. Of course, the completely brilliant (or bullshit) part of this quiz was that the tail blended in perfectly with one of the borderline shapeless wings, making it extremely difficult to gauge length or width, thus the relatively large spread in the sorts of guesses we got.

So, how do we get to the correct answer? The pale area on the sides of the rump clearly does not pass over the top of the rump, which is brown, eliminating Northern Harrier. Buteos and other hawks all often (but certainly not always) look a bit more front heavy/big-chested in powered flight, as this bird was may have been able to deduce this by the shape of the flight feathers on the left wing. A soaring bird would generally not have its primaries angled upward at such a strange angle.

As Mr. Fish pointed out, the other clue one can use in the photo is the tail pattern....4 light, relatively narrow tail bands. The tail pattern and overall shape combined make the field of potential candidates much smaller. So perhaps we are looking at a brownish falcon with tail bands? Well, by now you've seen the picture below...the Merlin is out of the bag.

Bam. Yup, it's a Merlin, a female/immature. And probably not what I would have guessed for this quiz either, and I am Number 7.

Judging by its pale cheeks and how pale it is, its actually a "Prairie Merlin", aka richardsonii, which are very uncommon in this part of the country.

This bird, and possibly another "Prairie" individual, has been out here on the west end of Santa Cruz Island for the past several weeks. Merlins can linger/pass through southern California regularly into late April, although I have not seen a richardsonii here this late into spring.

Thanks for guessing everyone! The illustrious David Rankin gets props for the sole correct answer. Maybe I'll do this more often...but don't worry, not too often.


  1. Humble pie, crow, humble pie, crow - thanks Seagull Steve - Im going back to remedial raptor class.

    1. Haha glad to be of service Allen. Thanks for guessing!

  2. Humble pie, crow, humble pie, crow - thanks Seagull Steve - Im going back to remedial raptor class.