Thursday, January 26, 2017

A not-so Short-tailed Hawk

On a stormy morning, a sunbeam seems to be directed at the entrance gate to our local birding patch (click for enlarged view of the fence):

Sunbeam at entrance gate 20170115

Before sunrise, warm light bathes a Great Egret:

Great Egret 2-20170116

A Zebra heliconian sips nectar from a Lantana blossom:

Zebra heliconian on Lantana 20170115

When I first moved to south Florida I saw a hawk soaring over our home. Its wings were broad and its body was stocky, so I recognized it as a member of the Buteo (Buzzard) group. It had a reddish tail. Our only Buteo with a red tail is the Red-tailed Hawk, but this bird was smaller and its wings did not look right. I realized that this was my first sighting of a Short-tailed Hawk. I did not have my camera but subsequently saw another with a reddish tail. Admittedly it does not show up here as well as it did in life:

Short-tailed hawk 20160222

Contrast the above hawk with this immature eastern Red-tailed Hawk which I photographed in Illinois. Note its longer wings with dark patagial markings (referring to the patagium, which is the fold of skin extending from the body to the "wrists") on their leading edge at the "elbows:"

Broad-winged or Red-tailed Hawk? 20090819

Adult Red-tailed Hawks usually have much more red pigment in their tails. The red in the tail of the hawk I saw in Florida was not due to pigment, but to diffraction of light in its tail feathers. Although the field guides no not give this much attention, it is a rather commonly seen in Short-tailed Hawks.

Short-tailed Hawks appear in two distinct sets of plumage, dark and light color morphs. Here is a dark morph over our local wetlands (Nov 21, 2016):

Short-tailed Hawk in flight HDR 01-20161121

Another, on Oct 23, 2013:

Short-tailed Hawk dark morph 4-20131023

This is a light morph photographed on Feb 22, 2016. Note its torpedo-shaped body:

Short-tailed hawk 2-20160222

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Birds of North America describes this species as "one of the rarest and least-studied birds in the United States." Although fairly common in Central and northern South America as well as on both coasts of Mexico, its breeding range in the United States is restricted to the Florida peninsula, with an isolated population of 150 to 200 pairs. These birds spend the winter in the southern tip of Florida. As can be noted in the above photos, their tails are not short in proportion to their bodies.

Both morphs interbreed, but the dark form is said to be more common in Florida. It rarely roosts out in the open. Recently I was lucky to find individuals of both color morphs roosting along the road in our local wetlands.

Light morph Short-tailed Hawk (Dec 20, 2016):

Short-tailed Hawk CROP 01-20161220_1

The dark morph Short-tailed Hawk did not provide me with a very open view. It was facing away and partly obscured by foliage. (Dec 31, 2016)

Short-tailed Hawk 07-20161231

Short-tailed Hawk 06-20161231

However, before it roosted, the latter hawk flew right over my head. It approached on long glide with wings held horizontally, unlike the dihedral of the vultures with which it often associates:

Short-tailed Hawk 08-20161231

Short-tailed Hawk 03-20161231

Short-tailed Hawk 04-20161231

Short-tailed Hawk prey almost exclusively on small and medium-sized birds. They have a habit of hovering in place and then suddenly diving straight down with closed wings. I was able to capture the image of this dark morph as it hovered, but It then dropped so fast that I missed the dive:

Short-tailed Hawk DPP 20161121

This light morph hovered and as I clicked the camera it started to drop like a stone. Luckily, I got a single frame as it descended and disappeared:

Short-tailed hawk diving 20160222

Still feeling time pressures as Mary Lou will have her second cataract extraction today. After her first surgery she somehow injured her back and has needed assistance. In the meantime we had just learned that our next door neighbor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which had already spread to his liver when discovered just before Christmas. He was only 48 years old and had a beautiful wife and two young sons (I published a photo of one of them last week paddling the kayak with their Labradoodle puppy in our lake) He passed away this past week. Their extensive family from Argentina is here and we have opened our home to them. Hope to get back to normal as soon as possible. Luckily had this post prepared ahead of time.   

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Gosia

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Today's Flowers Friday by Denise

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display



  1. I wish you much strength today and this week. It is very sad to lose people in your neighborhood. How nice that you have such a warm heart for their Argentina family. Strength also with the operation of Mary Lou. Hope all goes well. O yes ...and super nice photos. I like to see the trees in your first photo. We haven't that ones :-) Count every sunbeam today!

  2. Beautiful hawk photos!
    Very sorry to hear of your neighbor's death
    Hope all goes well with Mary Lou's cataract surgery

  3. The science aside, I am just happy I get to share a world with such beautiful creatures.

  4. What a gorgeous series, Kenneth! I love the wing span in your flight photos and the reflections in your Great Egret photo!

  5. I love your photos what a great nature. Thank s for joining

  6. This is just amazing! I know we have a chance to see some of the same birds you see so we will be on the look out. Hawks have been a challenge for us to identify. I hope Mary Lou's surgery went well. I'll keep her and your neighbors in my prayers. How very sad for them. Have a good week, Diane

  7. I hope \mry Loo's backgets better soon and the surgery is A!. Sorry to hear about your yoing neighbour passing away. This is a very interesting adn informative post about this Hawk so sharring for shaaring all that nad as usual your images are fabulous Kenneth

  8. An interesting text and images. Thank you. I wish you strength to the end of the week.
    I hope that Mary Lou’s surgery went well.

  9. Wonderful entrance photo to where you live, the light is so pretty. Some amazing bird photos, I love Hawks. So sorry to hear of your neighbor's passing.

  10. Hello, awesome hawk images. You are great at id-ing the birds. So sorry about the loss of your neighbor. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend!

  11. Good photos I'm afraid for my little dogs at times , so many birds of prey

  12. Beautiful images and so nice of you to share your home to the family. So hard to lose friends and loved ones.

  13. Great first image. Birds of Prey of all sorts can take a while to ID - especially when you are not on your local patch!

    Sorry about slow reply - I have been in New Zealand and blogging has taken a bit of a back seat.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  14. Absolutely stunning!!! Each and every image!!!

    Sorry to hear of your next door neighbor. And hope your wife will soon be well after surgery.

    I want to convey my thanks for sharing your bird photos with us all at I'd Rather B Birdin' this weekend...have a great week ahead.

  15. What a great series of photos! Just amazing!

  16. Wonderful photos as always! I love the hawks and learn a lot by reading your blog about them. We had a dark Harris hawk here for a while. Sorry about your neighbour and hope your wife's eyes are good now after the operation.

  17. I love your hawk pictures. All are beautiful, but especially like the egret in the golden light.

  18. Oh so sad to lose your neighbor this way! Hope Mary Lou's second cataracts surgery was successful. Hope you both take it easy for some time! It's okay, the birds will still be there! By the way love how you photographed the hawks, showing their wingspan.
    Have a take-it-easy-week!

  19. Fabulous captures! I love seeing what you find to shoot!

  20. Wonderful shots of hawk in the flight.

  21. I was so sorry to hear about your friend and neighbor ... such sad news, sometimes life is totally incomprehensible. It's wonderful you can be there for them and help with the company.

    I hope Mary Lou is not overdoing and is letting her back heal -- and also hope (and completely expect) that she will be as happy with her cataract surgeries as I was and am with mine.

    The birds are wonderful; those morphs and interbreeding are enough to drive a totally amateur/casual birder insane ... I should bookmark this post and check in when I am lucky enough to get a picture of a hawk. But I'll probably forget and just ask you and others to help me like I've done so many times.

    Take care. Thank you for your lovely posts.

  22. I love spotting hawks. There are several around the area where I live. There was even one on the roof of the building where I work. My condolences for your lost. Wish you the best. #WordlessWednesday

  23. Your photos are lovely, always so very interesting and enjoyable. I do hope Mary Lou's cataract op went well and that she is also recovering from her injured back. So sad to hear of your neighbor also, and my heart goes out to his young family. These tragic events that come out of the blue makes me realize how precious every day is. Thinking of you all.

  24. Jolie lumière sur l'Aigrette ;-)
    Céline & Philippe


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