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S. Florida - small hawk - merlin, sharp-shinned? (1 Viewer)

Zackiedawg

Well-known member
I spotted this small hawk circling high above me in the wetlands this weekend - my initial thought based on size and predominant colors was a merlin. But on looking closer at the photos, cropped in tight, the eye is clearly yellow - and as far as I know merlins always have dark eyes...so my thought turned to sharp-shinned, as they're relatively small too, and have yellow eyes when younger.

A firm ID would be appreciated, if it's one of those two, or something else I haven't considered:

https://g3.img-dpreview.com/2728F95CC2474140B1E3351F227D6BE2.jpg

https://g2.img-dpreview.com/4C1EE1DCB5484B3B9B99C047791161CC.jpg
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Confusing me a bit too, juv Sharpie I think?
Tail pattern suggests Sharpie but a broader white tail tip than I'd expect?
 
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Zackiedawg

Well-known member
It's always hard to say in photos, but I can say to the eye, it looked quite small for a hawk...not much bigger than a crow or grackle...I knew it was some kind of hawk, quickly ruled out kestrel and went to merlin, until I saw those eyes. There was a red-shouldered hawk flying not too far away and calling out, and I think this bird was on alert and getting ready to bolt from the area.

I was thinking juvenile sharpie as well - sounds like the same track you're on. I definitely didn't think of cooper's at any point...we have lots of those here and I've gotten used to IDing them and the way they fly.
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
I’m not convinced of Sharpie here!? In fact I’m pretty sure this is a Coopers

Despite obs being a ‘small’ raptor.

* The streaking is actually very sparse and cold brownish tones on the lower belly and trousers, (where it matters for separation criteria.).
* To me I also see. a pretty ‘heavy’ wing load for the size of the bird
* The criteria of flight jizz that Sharpies lead with their wrists with head in line/set back and small looking only works if the bird is actually leading with their wrists with primaries swept back (typical of Sharpie)! This bird is soaring with wings full stretch, more typical of Coopers - as here https://www.flickr.com/photos/revup67/16607884212
* the central tail feathers look longer than the outer retrices giving a rounded curve to the tail (imo) and the general evenly tubular shape of the body and wide hips (compared to a more top heavy barrel chested Sharpie) for me all point to Coopers.

* Another feature is the extensive white tips to the retrices - not so much in Sharp-shinned

* The difference between the size of a female Sharpie v male Coop would be very difficult to judge in the field in open sky with no other birds around it as comparison
 
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Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
See points I make above - can you convince me ? ;)

I did actually write 'a broader white tail tip than I'd expect? I also thought it looked big but the tail pattern, apert from shape, is bang on for Sharpie in my Sibley.

I do now think it's probably a Coopers, I did have doubts.
 

Zackiedawg

Well-known member
I will defer to experts in this case - though I never really considered coopers at the time, I'm not as good at identifying small pattern differences in these birds. The size certainly could have been cooper's - it appeared quite small, and there was a red-shouldered hawk about 100 feet away for some comparison, but it could have been a smaller cooper's, or a larger sharpie...and it's always difficult to judge size with a bird high in the air (this is a fairly large crop as the bird was 100+ feet up).
 

birdmeister

Well-known member
United States
Tough bird.

I'm slightly leaning towards Sharp-shinned, but if so it would have to be a female. Head projection and size seem small to moderate, but the thing that stands out most to me is the bulging secondaries (Sharp-shinned feature). I'm not going much on tail color/size of white tip in this case.

The one interesting feature is the underpart streaking. From the belly on is seems quite clear, which is in favor of Cooper's. However, the upper chest area is very heavily streaked and the streaks are not in the typical tapered shape of Cooper's.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Tough bird.

I'm slightly leaning towards Sharp-shinned, but if so it would have to be a female. Head projection and size seem small to moderate, but the thing that stands out most to me is the bulging secondaries (Sharp-shinned feature). I'm not going much on tail color/size of white tip in this case.

The one interesting feature is the underpart streaking. From the belly on is seems quite clear, which is in favor of Cooper's. However, the upper chest area is very heavily streaked and the streaks are not in the typical tapered shape of Cooper's.

Absolutely sums up my exact thoughts on this bird!
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
I do now think it's probably a Coopers, I did have doubts.

I may want change my mind looking at this again 3:) o:) sorry !

The course barring pattern of the underwing seems to favor Sharpie - BUT something Ive kind of noticed but not really heeded as a separation feature before, until looking closely at this image, is the number of black bars on P10 (outer). I need to look at some images but P10 may be a clue.

A short P10 on the OPs bird has 3 bars excluding tip with the subterminal bars on all Ps forming 3 transecting bars which extend across the secondaries ... I think we can see this, it remains a question whether this is a useful feature?
 
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Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe

Zackiedawg

Well-known member
A pleasure to follow all of the methods of identification being used - whether conclusively or not. It sounds like overall the thread is leaning in favor of sharpie at this point...I really wasn't feeling coopers just based on behavior - in Florida, most coopers stay lower, moving through forested areas and transiting blue sky spaces quickly like they don't want to be spotted. This hawk was circling lazily up high, like it was scouting the area below for a target in the grasses - and only got a little spooked when a red-shoulder started to get closer and calling out at it. I've spotted and photographed sharpies maybe 5 times, twice in the open sky before this one, and they seem much more comfortable being out in open sky than our cooper's do. I've seen hundreds of cooper's hawks and shot them dozens of times - I've only caught one once in open sky flight - moving in a fairly determined straight line like he was making for some nearby trees. I don't know if that's more of a Florida behavior for cooper's or if they're like that everywhere. Open sky areas are dominated by red-shouldered hawks, northern harriers, osprey, and the occasional red-tailed hawk...and it seems only sharpies and kestrels are comfortable sharing the air with them.
 

esmondb

The fool that MrT doesn't pity
I suppose from now on sensible discussion ceases and it gets decided democratically - B :)
Well then, for what it's worth - I have limited experience of Sharpie and Cooper's but have observed plenty of Eurasian Sparrowhawks, the default accipiter here. Whenever assessing A. striatus vs A. cooperii I fall back on what is familiar - does it look big/bulky for an A. nisus or does it look small/dainty for one? Clearly not scientific but has worked for me, in the field. A cursory glance of this bird says Cooper's for me.
 
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