I’m doing a lot of driving between my home in Maine and a healthcare facility in New Hampshire.  During that extensive windshield time, I am on the lookout for nature sightings of all sorts.  I’ve spotted ducklings, turtles, and fawns crossing county roads.  Along Route 95, I’ve notice hawks perched on tree branches and sometimes actively pursuing prey.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk Image by Djddphotography from Pixabay

Cruising along at 70ish miles per hour, I’m often going too fast to make an accurate identification of the raptors I see.  Or so I thought.

Pete Dunne’s Hawks In Flight was a revelation.  Interestingly, recognizing a bird’s size doesn’t really help when either the bird or you are on the move.  You also can’t see details such as eye color or notice eye-rings on birds in flight.  Consequently, the most common markers for identification won’t help.  The most useful keys include plumage characteristics, wing shape, wing beats, and manner of flight.  

There are some other clues too. First, in New England, most hawks on I-95 are going to be Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis).  These are also the most common hawks in this region, so this helps improve your odds.

Red-tailed Hawks appear stocky, with wide wings, a relatively short tail, and they display a white chest with an extensively streaked belly band.  This species should become your standard reference upon which you compare all others.

A few other raptor clues:  Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) have a crooked-wing silhouette.  Merlins (Falco columbarius) seem to sink as they glide.  A Sharp-shined Hawk (Accipiter striatus) in flight appears to be all wings and tail with no head.  

There’s a lot more to learn but I’m ready for the next drive!

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