Thursday, May 8, 2014

Help with Raptor Identification

What is it that Sherlock Holmes says about what happens when you eliminate the impossible? (I'm not sure Mr. Holmes was a birder)

Well, I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t find the “clean” solution to identifying this raptor that I photographed last week at Lafitte’s Cove in Galveston.
I’m attaching multiple photos that point out what I believe to be the important field markings for identification.  

Field markings I've studied from these photos:

Size (I know size can be misleading, but this was a large tree—and note the comparison of the bird to leaves, branches, (prey’s intestines), etc.).  Would a Merlin look this size and seemingly powerful?

Tail barring.

Clean throat.

Heavy vertical barring of breast that appears to go all the way back to undertail coverts.

Barring of leggings.

Clean, dark brown wings, back and shoulders.

Face and eyes (eyes certainly look Merlin-like; face certainly looks a lot like a female Merlin face; but could it also be the face and eyes of a Juvenile Broad-winged?  I can’t find web or field guide photos of a juvenile Broad-winged that show eye detail that would rule in or rule out these eyes).

The last photo shows some whitish on the leading edge of the wings.

To me (right or wrong) these markings rule out the Juveniles of Red-shouldered, migrant Swainson's, and Red-tailed.  Seems these markings make Juvenile Cooper's and the smaller Sharp-shinned questionable due to the eye shape and color, and barring of vent and undertail coverts.  The face and "in tree" feeding doesn't seem like a female Northern Harrier.

If you know this raptor identification, please let me know.  If you know someone that would know, but that probably doesn’t read my blog, please let them know.  

The easiest way to tell people how to find my blog on the web is for them to Google:  emilysiwsiw (with no spaces)

As a CONTRAST, I'm also attaching my photo of a male Merlin from Galveston Island State Park, last Fall:

Thanks!  I'm learning, if not improving!


  1. Emily, I tried to make this raptor everything but a Merlin, but it seems to BE a Merlin. Good photos!

  2. I agree. Looks like a merlin to me too.

  3. Thanks also Judy! With your and Hazel's input, I've learned a lot.


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