26 April 2011

Nevada Raptors

When I was initially asked if I would be interested in going to Nevada for work to do raptor surveys, my first thought was "Ferruginous Hawk!" I have always wanted to see this large, snow white-breasted Buteo, but living east of the Mississippi River there is little chance for me to see one along my day-to-day routine. During my two weeks in the Sagebrush State, we had numerous Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) sightings, including one bird that was present in nearly the same location on our drive down Route 50/93/6 almost every day. Ferruginous Hawks can often be found on the ground or on low perches. The individuals that we saw were nearly all light morph birds; Ben Hess was lucky enough to see a dark morph Ferruginous Hawk during his time in Nevada the three weeks before I was there.

For the three weeks before I arrived in Nevada, Prairie Falcons (Falco mexicanus) were seen in abundance on our site every day, as reported by Ben. During my two weeks, however, they were replaced by the smallest falcon in North America, American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). We did not see any Prairie Falcons, but instead saw four or five American Kestrels each day, primarily in the late afternoon hunting from high perches or hovering.

Another raptor that I expected to see plenty of in Nevada was Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). Unexpectedly, however, we did not see any Swainson's Hawks during the first half of my trip, but by the end of my trip we were seeing three to five each day. As with many of the other Buteos, there are light and dark morph Swainson's Hawks. The bird in the photograph below appears to be an adult of the intermediate phase.

Below is a photograph of what I believe to be an adult of the dark phase Swainson's Hawk. Note the dark face; the light and intermediate phases have white faces.

One of our highlights had to be seeing the juvenile Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) pictured below soaring over our site. These are enormous birds, reaching up to 30 inches long with a wingspan of over six feet. Juveniles usually show the characteristic white patches on the tail and wings.

I believe that the Golden Eagle below is also a juvenile, as I can still see the white tail patch. Note the small head in relation to the body, another characteristic of the Golden Eagle. The name of this species comes from the golden nape that is present on individuals of all ages and that can somewhat be seen in the photograph below. Also note the feathered legs on the bird in the photograph below.

Throughout much of the eastern United States, the "default" raptor that is seen along roadsides is the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis); this could not be said for the areas I saw in Nevada. Red-tailed Hawks that we see most commonly in Indiana are said to be the eastern subspecies (B. j. borealis). In Nevada, we most frequently saw the western subspecies (B. j. calurus).

Even within the western subspecies, there are light, dark, and intermediate phases. The bird in the photograph above is the light morph; the one in the photograph below is the dark morph. Thanks to Brian Wheeler for help with identifying this dark morph western Red-tailed Hawk. The dark morphs of all of these Buteos can be very difficult to identify, especially for someone not familiar with the western species in general.

Stay tuned, as I hope to post more photos from my trip to Nevada soon, if I can find the time.


Heather@RestoringTheLandscape.com said...

Hi Scott,
Very cool hawks!
I was wondering if I could get your email or somehow send you photos- I need help with a plant ID?

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks Heather.

Send the photos to my work address, snamestnik@jfnew.com.

Beth said...

Beautiful birds! You got to see quite a variety, too.

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks Beth. My trip list was 81 species, I believe. I will be posting a few more photos soon.