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New Crossley ID Quiz Challenges You to ID Raptors From Above

Illustration of different raptors flying against a landscape.
Plate image courtesy Princeton University Press.

The new Crossley ID Guide: Raptors came out in April. Crossley’s innovative technique of cramming lots of photos onto a page seems to work especially well with such large birds and open spaces. They force the reader to assimilate details of shape and size while limiting the amount to which we can obsess over fine feather details (just like we have to do in the field).

This new book turns 15 “mystery” plates into a hands-on ID workshop interspersed throughout the pages dedicated to individual species.  It’s a book that invites you to keep turning pages, luring your subconscious into calling out names almost as soon as your eye passes over them.

The photo above is the third of our three examples of plates from the book (the other two are mystery hawks on the prairie, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk workout). This one takes a look from an unusual perspective, looking down at these normally high-flying birds. Can you tell how many species are here? Our own raptor expert, Brian Sullivan, an eBird project leader and a coauthor of the Crossley guide, guides us through the answers with tips and useful information.

This is one of my favorite plates in the book, not only because it provides a really interesting perspective on these birds, but the scenery is spectacular. Raptors are often seen flying overhead, especially hawkwatching sites in the flatlands. But on ridgetops you can often see raptors from above with great regularity. Topside views offer an interesting and exciting perspective, and they can be an ID challenge if you’re not familiar with this kind of viewing. Shape and flight style traits still hold useful, but plumage traits may still be necessary for some identifications. See how you did with the species in this photo:

Man stands in field with binoculars.
Brian Sullivan is a project leader of eBird and a longtime hawk watcher. Photo by Jesse Barry.

1. First-year Swainson’s Hawk. Dark brown on top with blackish flight feathers and tail, pale uppertail coverts, and obvious buffy fringes to upperwing coverts. Note long, tapered wings.

2. First-year Swainson’s Hawk. Dark brown on top with blackish flight feathers, pale uppertail coverts, pale eye-line, and faint buffy fringes to upperwing coverts. Note pointed wing tips and the variation in the amount of pale fringing above. This bird has virtually none, but quiz bird #1 has a lot. This is typical variation in juvenile Swainson’s Hawks.

3. First-spring Golden Eagle. Dark brown on top with a golden wash on the head, and a white-based tail. Note that first-years in spring have a broad fade to the upperwing coverts that resembles the narrow, pale mottled upperwing bar of older birds. Also note shorter inner primary still growing in. Note the long, broad wings held in a dihedral.

4. Adult Bald Eagle. Unmistakable, uniformly dark with a white head and tail, and large yellow bill!

5. Adult Golden Eagle. Overall brown above with paler mottling along the upperwings, a golden head, and grayish bands on the tail. Note that in bright sunlight, grayish areas can look white. Golden Eagles are long-winged and long-tailed, with small heads compared with Bald Eagles. In strong sunlight, the Golden’s hackles on the nape can appear white, so beware confusion with adult Bald Eagle (believe it or not!).

6. First-year Red-shouldered Hawk. Brownish on top overall with translucent primary “commas.” Note squared off wings and somewhat long tail with indistinct banding. Red-shouldered Hawks show thin wings hunched forward in a glide.

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7. First-year Northern Goshawk. Pale underneath with heavy dark streaking throughout. Note somewhat short wings that are very broad but taper at the hands; also note the broad chest and long tail.

8. Osprey. Blackish on top with a white head and black eyeline. Note white underbody and long, narrow wings. This is an adult based on the pure white chest and lack of dark streaking on crown.

9. First-year Sharp-shinned Hawk. Distant accipiters are hard, but this one has the classic field marks for Sharp-shinned Hawk. Dark brown on top with faintly banded tail. Note long, narrow tail, short, broad wings, and small head.

10. Immature Bald Eagle. Dark brown overall with blackish flight feathers. Note significant whitish mottling in tail and uneven secondaries; this denotes a subadult. Also, note the browner back with darker upperwing coverts. First-year birds are even toned throughout the back and upperwings.

11. Adult Red-shouldered Hawk. Plumage is a beautiful rusty underneath with a brown head, and blackish on top with clean, narrow white bands throughout the flight and tail feathers, and whitish comma-shaped primary windows.

12. Adult Red-shouldered Hawk. Rusty underneath with a brown head, and blackish on top with clean, narrow white bands throughout the flight and tail feathers, and whitish comma-shaped primary windows. Note reddish “shoulders” of adult. A strikingly patterend hawk, especially when seen from above.

13. First-year Broad-winged Hawk. Brown on top with slightly paler primaries, faint pale mottling on upperwings, and indistinctly banded tail with darker band at tip. Note compact structure with stocky, pointed wings and large head. Tail appears somewhat long on first-years.

14. Adult Red-tailed Hawk. Dark brown on top with a bright rufous tail, and a golden wash to the head. Rufous uppertail coverts rather than whitish are much more common on the western race than the eastern.

15. First-year Red-tailed Hawk. Brown on top with pale upper tail coverts and pale mottling on the upperwings. Note the long but broad, bulging wings that taper slightly at the tips. First-year Red-tailed Hawks show pale squarish wing panels on the outer wing that contrast with the darker brown secondaries. It takes a year to acquire the red tail of adults.

16. First-year Cooper’s Hawk. Dark brown on top with faintly banded tail similar to a goshawk, but lacks the pale mottling along the upperwings, and pale eyeline. Note long tail with obvious white tip, short, broad wings, and noticeable head projection. Wings and tail are slightly longer in relation to other accipiters.

17. Osprey. Note blackish topside with white crown, and very long, narrow wings. Aged as adult based on lack of pale fringes on upperwing coverts.

18. First-year Northern Goshawk. Brown on top with tawny-streaked nape, pale mottling on upperwing coverts, whitish eyeline, and long banded tail. Note broad wings compared to other accipiters.

19. First-year Broad-winged Hawk. Brown overall on top with slightly paler primaries, and indistinctly banded tail with darker band on tip. Note stocky tapered wings and big-headed look.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library