beginner ID question
I keep going over pictures of harriers and kites but cant tell the difference.I am lost because all I see is wing color. What is the best method to identify a bird that is flying over head? Is there a some common steps to narrowing down vultures, kites, harriers?
Raptors are one of the trickiest groups to identify in the field... and sometimes from photographs too! Some basic principles:
1. Get familiar with the common species of each family (eg Kestrel (falcons), Sparrowhawk (Accipiter hawks), Marsh Harrier.) - BUT concentrate on their SHAPE. Note, however, that their shape and proportions will change depending on whether the bird is soaring, gliding or in active flight. These will give a good baseline against which to judge everything else. Once you know something is an Accipiter, for example, you will narrow your options for an ID considerably. Only then should you start to look at plumage features.
(Your photos show a bird gliding - note how the primary feathers are held slightly folded back to streamline the wing - if soaring, these would be spread out to maximise wing area to gain lift).
2. Note how they hold their wings. You often see field guides showing a head-on outline, and this is very useful. Harriers and buteo buzzards soar/glide with their wings held in a shallow upward V, most other raptors with a flatter profile.
3. Don't get sucked in to looking at colours, as raptors are notoriously variable.
4. Get out and look at them. Go to places where they occur frequently - Ras Al Khor in winter is excellent. Also keep looking at lots of pictures, but don't worry if you feel overwhelmed; persevere and the penny WILL drop - eventually.
5. Accept that there will be some birds you can't identify - even experienced birders can't "do" every bird they see, raptor or otherwise. In the field, a failure-to-identify rate of 10% would not be uncommon in certain conditions - providing one is being completely honest with oneself.
As a general guide:
Vultures - generally huge, with very small head, broad wings held roughly horzontal. Very short tail (except for Egyptian Vulture, which is pointed)
Eagles - medium to very large. Broad wings, held horizontal. Usually large, heavy bill. Tail usually shorter than the depth of the wings.
Buzzards - medium-sized. Small-billed. Wings held in shallow V when soaring. Wings can look quite rounded.
Honey buzzards - medium-sized, with longish,rounded tails and small, but protruding, head.
Harriers - medium-sized with long tails and wings in an obvious V.
Kites - medium-sized, with long, obviously-notched tails
Accipiters - smallish, with broad, rounded wings and long tails
Falcons - smallish with rakish profile and pointed wings.
For what it's worth, I hope the bird you've attached is an Oriental Honey buzzard or I'm going to look awfully stupid and demonstrate just how easy it is to get raptors wrong! It has a long tail, broad rounded wings and a protruding head - the white throat patch (in addition to its general proportions and lack of dark carpal patches) suggests Oriental, rather than European, honey buzzard.
I hope this makes sense and offers even the slightest bit of help!
Last edited by MarkS; 29-04-2012 at 11:57.
You got me on the right track. I wasnt taking into account anything about wing placement or tail shape. Your post has me now surfing you tube videos (until I can go somewhere).
The bird in the photo was seen over Safa park last week. It was being attacked by 20 crows as it flew low over the trees.
Thanks again, Ben
Here are a few more pics that might she some light:
Give us a shout if you find any more firsts for the UAE, Ben.
Yeah, but don't wait so lomg next time........ ;-)