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What kind of raptor is this?
Lens: Bower 35mm f/1.4 Camera: K-3 Photo Location: Waterville, Maine 
Posted By: Sagitta, 04-29-2015, 12:08 PM

I was out on a photo walk for some shots for April's Single In challenge (alas, my bag wasn't with me or I could have pulled out something longer) when I saw a raptor of some sort nail a bird almost right in front of me in midair. I got as close as I dared to get (maybe 25 feet - I was surprised) and managed to get some shots in before the bird became annoyed enough it took its lunch and flew elsewhere.

What kind of raptor is this thing? I'm guessing a falcon of some sort due to the size and how it nailed its prey, but I'm having little luck figuring it out on my own online. I'm leaning towards it being a merlin, but I'm not 100% sure.

First a shot to give a bit of scale as to how small this guy was.


Then a couple 100% crops from the 35mm.



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04-29-2015, 12:41 PM - 1 Like   #2
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Look's like a Cooper's Hawk to me...
04-30-2015, 11:47 AM - 3 Likes   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sagitta Quote
I was out on a photo walk for some shots for April's Single In challenge (alas, my bag wasn't with me or I could have pulled out something longer) when I saw a raptor of some sort nail a bird almost right in front of me in midair. I got as close as I dared to get (maybe 25 feet - I was surprised) and managed to get some shots in before the bird became annoyed enough it took its lunch and flew elsewhere.

What kind of raptor is this thing? I'm guessing a falcon of some sort due to the size and how it nailed its prey, but I'm having little luck figuring it out on my own online. I'm leaning towards it being a merlin, but I'm not 100% sure.

First a shot to give a bit of scale as to how small this guy was.
The short, rounded wings, broad pale tail bands, and pale-coloured eyes indicate one of the species of Accipiter. The brown streaks on the breast indicate an immature bird. The lack of a white, terminal tail band and lack of buff on the side of the face eliminate Cooper's Hawk. The lack of light-coloured speckling on the back eliminates Goshawk. That leaves Sharp-shinned Hawk.
04-30-2015, 03:46 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by pete-tarmigan Quote
The short, rounded wings, broad pale tail bands, and pale-coloured eyes indicate one of the species of Accipiter. The brown streaks on the breast indicate an immature bird. The lack of a white, terminal tail band and lack of buff on the side of the face eliminate Cooper's Hawk. The lack of light-coloured speckling on the back eliminates Goshawk. That leaves Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Thank you! The one thing that kept me from thinking it was a Cooper's (after reading up on them) was the size. I seriously thought this guy was an injured pigeon at first, and was looking for the hawk that nailed him until it dawned on me what I was looking at.

04-30-2015, 04:13 PM   #5
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First year Sharpie
04-30-2015, 06:22 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sagitta Quote
Thank you! The one thing that kept me from thinking it was a Cooper's (after reading up on them) was the size. I seriously thought this guy was an injured pigeon at first, and was looking for the hawk that nailed him until it dawned on me what I was looking at.
If you have something of known size next to the bird, then size can be a criterion. Otherwise, judging size accurately can be surprising difficult. Also, the largest Sharp-shins (i.e., the largest females; in many raptor species the female is the larger sex) are only an inch shorter than the smallest Cooper's (i.e., the smallest males).
04-30-2015, 07:52 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by pete-tarmigan Quote
If you have something of known size next to the bird, then size can be a criterion. Otherwise, judging size accurately can be surprising difficult. Also, the largest Sharp-shins (i.e., the largest females; in many raptor species the female is the larger sex) are only an inch shorter than the smallest Cooper's (i.e., the smallest males).
He (assuming it was a he) was next to the railroad tracks - granted he was in a bit of a small culvert as well, but he would barely have cleared them otherwise. The size is what surprised me. If you look close in the photos, you can see the tailfeathers of whatever smaller bird it was he nailed. I think he was afraid I was going to try to steal his lunch, so was protecting it from the weird guy with the camera. I was surprisingly close (maybe as far on my side of the tracks as he was on his). Usually I wouldn't try to approach a bird like that, but he basically landed almost at my feet - I don't think he realized I was even there until I started snapping the shots. It should be noted that unlike most bird shots of this sort, I was stuck with a 35mm as it was what was mounted at the moment. Theres no real image compression going on as its basically a normal lens. Given I was maybe 4 or 5 feet on my side of the tracks, and he was maybe 4 or 5 feet on his side (tops), I wasn't any further than about 15 feet from him.

It was surreal.
05-01-2015, 06:06 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sagitta Quote
He (assuming it was a he) was next to the railroad tracks - granted he was in a bit of a small culvert as well, but he would barely have cleared them otherwise. The size is what surprised me. If you look close in the photos, you can see the tailfeathers of whatever smaller bird it was he nailed. I think he was afraid I was going to try to steal his lunch, so was protecting it from the weird guy with the camera. I was surprisingly close (maybe as far on my side of the tracks as he was on his). Usually I wouldn't try to approach a bird like that, but he basically landed almost at my feet - I don't think he realized I was even there until I started snapping the shots. It should be noted that unlike most bird shots of this sort, I was stuck with a 35mm as it was what was mounted at the moment. Theres no real image compression going on as its basically a normal lens. Given I was maybe 4 or 5 feet on my side of the tracks, and he was maybe 4 or 5 feet on his side (tops), I wasn't any further than about 15 feet from him.

It was surreal.
Yes, Sharp-shins are quite small, and usually take correspondingly small prey.

Diurnal raptors instinctively "mantle" their prey with spread wings. It's supposed to shield the prey from the gaze of potential thieves, although the raptors do it whether or not they see potential thieves.

Seeing a predator catch its prey certainly is uncommon, as well as being a fascinating spectacle.

05-01-2015, 06:39 AM   #9
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Amazing shot with that lens. Thanks to Pete for all the info on the bird. You, sir, are a font of knowledge and I appreciate your sharing it.
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