ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 123


Yes, indeed, one of these things is not at all like the others!

The longish tail, wide-based wings, small head, and, particularly, the small size relative to the American White Pelicans in the picture point to one of the smaller raptors. In fact, we can quickly rule out the smaller buteos on tail length and tail:wing proportion, the smaller falcons on wing shape, and, well, that just about leaves with the dreaded Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s conundrum.
Specifically identifying members of this duo of species is difficult enough in the field when one can see flapping style and get many estimations of wing shape and head size. With a static picture, we have just one representation in time to use, a representation that could easily lead us down the primrose path. One of the widely touted differences between Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s in flight is the shape of leading edge of the wing and how that combines with the size of the head. Sharp-shinned usually shows jutting wrists that reach nearly to the plane of the front of the small head, while Cooper’s tend to show a straight leading edge and a large, projecting head. This feature is very useful, but to use it correctly, one needs to know what the bird is doing at that instant and that difference is most reliable on gliding or soaring birds. Flapping Cooper’s Hawks often show jutting wrists as part of the flapping process and nearly always when flying into a headwind, when they often pull in their wingtips.

While not definitive, the pelicans give us an excellent clue to what the raptor is doing, as they are all shown with wings fully out, as if soaring or in a shallow glide. Yes, there’s a chance that the photographer just happened to catch all three birds in the same posture despite them flapping, but that chance is fairly small. If we didn’t beat the odds in this, then our accipiter is probably also soaring, since it’s in the same airstream or kettle. That leads us to tentatively accept the wingshape-and-head feature as being a very strong indicator that our quiz bird is a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Ideally, we would like a separate, confirmatory, feature to be happy with our ID.

Enlarging the quiz photo a tad, one might just make out the dirty underparts of the quiz bird: not obviously barred reddish (as in adults of both species), but also not obviously streaked blackish (as in most juvenile Cooper’s Hawks). That would be all an experienced hawkwatcher would need to move onto the next bird. Also note that the tail, while longish, is not outrageously so, eliminating juvenile (particularly female) Cooper’s Hawk and note that the tail is just a bit narrower than is the back end of the body to which it is attached; this is another useful ID feature.

I took this picture of a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (with American White Pelicans) at Smith Point, Chambers Co., TX, on 22 September 2012.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the April Bird Photo Quiz—Sharp-shinned Hawk:

  1. Janchris Vicente - Tacoma
  2. Keith Corliss - West Fargo, ND
  3. Nate McGowan - Austin, TX
  4. Virginia Hartman - Conroe TX
  5. Nicolas Bernier - Montreal, Qc
  6. Erica Rutherford - Oakland, CA
  7. William Rockey - Esparto, CA
  8. Peter Lane - Québec City, Canada
  9. Rick Hollis - North Liberty IA
  10. Lance Verderame - Livingston Manor, New York
  11. Chris Blazo - Chambersburg, PA
  12. David Hollie - Ringgold, GA
  13. Joseph Mosley - Willard, MO
  14. Hayden Bildy - London, Ontario
  15. Abril Heredia - Mexico City
  16. Martin Sharp - Edmonton, Alberta
  17. logan kahle - San Francisco, CA
  18. John Habig - Carlisle, OH
  19. Marcelo Brongo - Sant Cugat del Valles, Spain
  20. Alex Bairstow - Oceanside, California
  21. Kim Boddie - Bend, OR
  22. wes serafin - orland pk, illlinois
  23. Austin Young - Filer, ID
  24. George F. Cresswell - Colorado Springs, CO
  25. Chuck Carlson - Ft. Peck, MT
  26. Su Snyder - Wooster, OH
  27. Eli Millersburg - Ohio
  28. Nick Varvel - Olathe, Kansas
  29. Kyle Aldinger - Morgantown, WV
  30. Karen Hochgraf - Willington, CT
  31. Robert Lockett - Portland, Oregon
  32. Larry Therrien - Belchertown, ma
  33. Sarah Toner - Ann Arbor, MI
  34. David Bell - Sault Ste. Marie, ON
  35. James Swanson - Atlanta, Georgia

How Did You Compare?

As stated in the quiz rules, answers must consist simply of the Common or English name exactly as it appears in the ABA Checklist.

The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.

Cooper's Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American White Pelican
American Kestrel
Northern Harrier
Northern Goshawk
Mississippi Kite
Hook-billed Kite
Aplomado Falcon
Eurasian Hobby
Herring Gull
Smooth-billed Ani


The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.