Learning how to ID bird species is the big mountain we all 

Learning how to ID bird species is the big mountain we all have to climb as beginners.  Once we get a grip on the basics and pass that novice stage and maybe the intermediate stage, some of us like to have a hobby within the hobby, and mine is a "study of minutiae", or just staring and studying bird details and comparing differences, all for the simple joy of being awed by the beauty of birds.

Differences from one bird of a species to the next can be from normal variation, differences among subspecies, age, sex, feather wear, different molt cycles, or what is fun to find--anomalies.  I think I might have an anomaly with a juvenile Short-tailed Hawk that I will post in a day or two after further research.

In some cases, you can contribute to science.  The Short-tailed Hawk is a great example.  Search the web and you can't find a decent number of quality photos for detailed study.  They are very poorly studied.  In my Short-tailed Hawk example, I may have a deviation from the norm that--who knows--may help rewrite some plumage descriptions of the future.  I don't know how many specimens are in museums but the fact is current descriptions are based on very small samples.

Linked below is a collage of a juvenile and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk.  Even in a species that could be very well studied, it is still hard to find complete detail.  BNA Online offers one of the most complete descriptions of appearance, but still there are differences not mentioned.

The juvenile on the left was seen today at Wekiwa Springs State Park.  The adult is a February 2013 example from Circle B Bar Reserve.  Descriptions below are from my images of the facial area with BNA notes following.

Cere ... yellow in the adult, greenish-yellow, especially at top in juvenile.  BNA has a perfect match of my description.

Bill ... smoke gray in adult; in juvenile, dark blue with lighter blue at the base.  BNA states the adult bill is black and hatching it is black.  No mention of immature.

Lore ... same color as much of the facial area in the adult.  The juvenile shows a bluish/gray lore.  BNA does not mention the lore.

Iris ... dark brown in the adult, gray in the juvenile.  BNA states adult dark brown, juvenile pale to medium gray-brown.

Auricular, throat, crown and nape ... note the differences.  

Most bird guides don't mention these as they are designed to skip detail.  This is just the face I'm comparing to.  For a perched RSHA, the leg and feet color show difference, tail, breast, et al.  The lesser coverts are just coming in on the juvenile for the red shoulder patch and will change through October.  I assume this juvenile is a AHY, (or after hatch year hawk, born last year, not this year).  The experts might want to correct that if I am wrong.

I'm sure just a small percentage of birders really study detail, the hunt to see species is the challenge that most prefer.  I like the hunt also but it must be the beauty of birds that draws me to gawk and stare and study.  I made a decision not to ever get the books by Pyle because I choose NOT to become an expert in plumage.  I fear if I ever do become an expert in plumage, my desire to gawk and stare and study their beauty will diminish.

Image at:

Click the image.  Once there, you can press "L" to enlarge, "L" again to return.

Bob Stalnaker
Longwood, FL

Dykstra, Cheryl R., Jeffrey L. Hays and Scott T. Crocoll. 2008. Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab 
of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

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