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May 16, 2021

Return of Bird of the Week: Booted Racket-tail

Booted Racket-tail, Buenaventura Reserve, Ecuador

After a couple of months of raptors, it’s time for a change. And among avifauna, it’s hard to make a bigger change than to move from raptors to hummingbirds. The Western Hemisphere’s “flying jewels” are marvelous, colorful and extraordinarily varied, as WC will attempt to show over the next few months. Some of them also have pretty cool names. We’ll start with a species that checks all those boxes: the Booted Racket-tail. The first thing you notice about this species is the tail. It’s longer than the bird, and ends in a pair of “rackets,” elongated feathers tipped with blunt…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Great Black Hawk

Great Black Hawk, Rio Madre de Dios, Peru

It’s black. It’s big. It’s a hawk. Therefore, it’s a Great Black Hawk. Another complete failure of imagination by the folks who name birds. With a wing span of well over a 3.5 feet and a body length of more than two feet, this is a large raptor. The long, bright yellow legs, white tail band and two-tone bill make the bird unmistakeable in the field. This species is a generalist, pretty much willing to eat anything it can catch. But it is most commonly found along rivers; in fact, this photo was taken from a dugout, in the upper…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Variable Hawk

Intermediate Morph Variable Hawk, Pantanal, Brazil

Not all bird species are aptly named. But the Variable Hawk certainly is. The cinnamon color in these two photos is likely the least common color phase, which ranges from whitish to very dark gray. Some ornithologists describe it as the most variable hawk in the world in coloration. At least 27 distinct adult plumages are known in this species. Across all plumages, it has a whitish tail with a strong, black terminal band. It varies in size, too, ranging from 18 inches to 25 inches in length. The taxonomy of the species is not well understood, either. Currently, it’s…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Crane Hawk

Crane Hawk, Pantanal, Brazil

The Crane Hawk is a medium-sized accipter with a very wide distribution, extending from Mexico to northern Argentina. While it is never found in large numbers across that extended range, there are believed to be about 50,000 birds. But that’s  guess; surprisingly little is known about the species. The most notable feature of this species are those very long legs. The legs are nearly unique among raptors in that they are “double-jointed,” able to bend in both directions. Stated technically, it has an intertarsal joint that allows flexible forward and backward bending of its legs The leg length, long outside talons…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Black-collared Hawk

Black-collared Hawk, Pantanal, Brazil

It’s a gorgeous bird, bright cinnamon with thin black lines, a white head and the black bib that gives the species its common name. It’s unmistakeable in the field. And while it is an Accipter – like a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk in North America – it’s evolved into a different ecological niche entirely. This is the Neotropics’ analogue to an Osprey, a species that primarily hunts and feeds on fish. It’s widely distributed, from Mexico to Argentina. As you’d expect from its diet, it is most frequently found along waterways, but rarely at high densities. It’s monotypic – the…

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Gov. wants to know if you’re “done venting” yet

  You could practically hear the eye rolling as he stared at his watch. It’s hard to say when that might be; are we “done venting” about the horrendous cuts to the university system? Are we “done venting” about skyrocketing charges at the Pioneer Homes? Are we “done venting” at incompetent, partisan cronies, and conservative talk radio hacks making six figures? Are we “done venting” about disingenuous promises used to get into office? Are we “done venting” at extreme cuts to Medicaid, homeless services, pre-K, agriculture programs, and public safety? Thumbing his nose at the Constitution and rights of workers?…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Roadside Hawk

Roadside Hawk, Panama

Ubiquitous in Central and South America, and easily seen because it prefers forest edges, including roadsides, it might be the most commonly seen raptor across its range. It’s certainly been a rare trip to the Neotropics that WC hasn’t seen one. This Roadside Hawk’s effort to dry out nicely displays the rufous patches in the wings and the strong barring in the tail, distinctive field marks for this species. This is a small raptor, averaging about the size of a Cooper’s Hawk, but with rounded, slightly stubby wings. It’s arguably the smallest Buteo. This species is a generalist, adapting to…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Barred Hawk

Barred Hawk, Mindo region, Ecuador

WC has photos of other Caracara species, but they are too shabby to share. But there are many, many kinds of raptors beyond Caracaras. So, with some trepidation, WC will move to Hawks. Trepidation, because WC has friends who are quite gifted bird photographers who specialize, to some extent, on Hawks, and WC’s efforts suffer in comparison. We’ll start with the Barred Hawk. This is an Accipiter, the same family of hawks as North America’s Northern Goshawk. Like the Northern Goshawk, this is a forest predator, chiefly in the middle elevations between 2,000 and 5,000 feet. It has a wide…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Chimango Caracara

Chimango Caracara, ierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina

There are about ten species of Caracara, spread across five genera. Here’s another. The Chimango Caracara is found in the southern half of South America, from southern Brazil to the tip of Argentina. It’s a smaller, somewhat drabber member of the subfamily, and, at least in Tierra del Fuego, fills the ecological niche of ravens and vultures: it’s mostly a scavenger and opportunistic predator, and a generalist, eating everything from bugs to dead cattle. The apparent apron in this photo is a consequence of the strong wind blowing from behind the bird. The wind is usually blowing strongly in Tierra…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Striated Caracara

Striated Caracara, Falkland Islands

The Striated Caracara is a large, dark raptor, with a wingspan of about four feet, a little larger in the females. It has a very restricted range, limited to islands off extreme southern South America, the Falkland Islands and various islands, mostly to the south of the Beagle Channel and coastal areas of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. It is very dark brownish-black overall, with white stippling on the breast and upper belly, a dark chestnut lower belly and undertail coverts, a white band on the tail, and a yellow cere. It’s found along rocky coasts and nearby open…

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