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Another quiz and another bird with a strong hooked bill. This bird's prominent hooked bill tells us that we are dealing with a raptor, and the lack of a facial disk rules out all the owls.
An important first step when identifying an unknown raptor (or any unknown bird) is to place it in the right group of birds. Generally, placing a bird in the correct group relies heavily on shape. It's difficult to tell how long the tail or how far back the primaries extend. Shape in this instance is difficult to judge, and if you have trouble placing it into a correct group from shape and structure, you're not alone. While the general shape seems to be that of a Buteo, it doesn't seem to really fit most of the birds we see in North America.
Since shape seems a bit tricky, let's focus on what we can see. The first thing that might catch your attention is the very orange legs and cere. Even the eye is striking-bright lemon yellow. The pattern of the underparts is also baffling-a dark uniformly grayish-brown bib and rufous and whitish barring on the belly.
What species can possibly match this combination? Gray Hawk is somewhat like this, but the barring on the belly is gray, not rufous. Indeed, Gray Hawk is well-named-it's gray, not brown!
Broad-winged Hawk can be barred like this on the belly, but don't have a solid dark breast. Adult Broad-winged hawks also have dark eyes. Red-shouldered Hawk can be eliminated for similar reasons. There just doesn't seem to be anything that fits!
In this case, we'll need to dig out some other reference material that shows all the birds on the ABA list. As we look through the entire list we come to Roadside Hawk. Adults of this species are characterized by bright orange-yellow legs, feet and cere, and brownish breast with the belly barred rufous and white, just like our bird.
All records of Roadside Hawk in the ABA area yield from south Texas, where the species has been adequately documented on four occasions. While the chances of finding a Roadside Hawk in Texas are very low, you never know what you may turn up if you are prepared. That is one of the reasons why birding can be so exciting. If you should see something like this in North America, try to get a photograph or video as soon as possible and alert local birders to what you see.
This Roadside Hawk was photographed in February 2002 near San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico, where the species is casual.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the December Bird Photo Quiz—Roadside Hawk:
The graph below shows that the highest number of answers submitted was for Roadside Hawk (33), followed by Broad-winged Hawk (16). We received a number of answers that did not conform to the ABA Checklist format. Please note that answers must consist simply of the Common or English name exactly as it appears in the ABA Checklist.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.