Hi Lee and everybody,

IMO, it would be a mistake to eBird this raptor with an ID.

As I said in my first comment, I will not even attempt to make an ID because I am not confident that you were able to make a "good visual".  What I mean is you said the raptor flew "through my location at a very high speed" and there were "heavy markings on its wings and body and its tail seemed too long for a Kestrel".

Your mind plays "post-sighting tricks on you" when you have a brief, fast sighting. A photo is golden but on a sighting without a photo where one seeks ID help, one person could say the "tail seemed to long" and another who may have been with you could say "the tail seemed short".  There could be a difference of opinion on how dark and how light it was.  This could come from experienced birders so it is not a reflection on one's ID capability, it is simply the fact that a fast sighting of a rapidly flying raptor under the situation you described could have been one of four different species. 

My opinion is that you should not attempt to ID the raptor for eBird.  I don't see anyone asking you to describe the flight angle.  Was the raptor:

*  in a "wing-on" profile?  If wing-on, how high or how low versus your head level?  (you were not but one could be standing on a raised area and the raptor below you).  The lower the raptor is in a wing-on position, the less data you get on wing length.

* overhead? 

* coming at you or moving away? What angle?

* when you say the raptor was moving at a "very high speed", was it in a shallow glide, a steep dive, a stoop, was it flapping; if it was flapping, describe the flapping to possibly separate a Cooper's from a Sharp-shinned, etc.  

I don't see discussion on the tail other than you saying it seemed longer than a kestrel's.  Was the tail closed or fanned?  Bands"?  If so, how many?  Tail tip contrast?

The broadness of a wing could look different at a wing-on angle versus an overhead or moving away at an angle other than right to left, e.g.  The broadness of a wing could also look different based on sail, glide, soar, stoop, turn or other profile.  The tail proportion could change based on adult or juvenile; to a small degree, even feather wear.

Members are trying to help you but my gut says don't attempt to eBird this sighting.  Andy and others have given some valuable information to you but again, my gut says that you did not gather enough visual traits to properly separate this raptor from others in terms of ID.  That has nothing to do with capability but everything to do with a rapidly fly raptor that was not immediately identified based on extensive experience, flight characteristics, structure etc. and being that you are now second guessing yourself after getting help, It would be a mistake, IMO, to eBird and ID this raptor.

This to me is an example of trying to put an ID on a raptor by plugging in field guide traits after a "fuzzy, quick sighting" and that isn't the way to do it.  Your first impression of a long tail versus a kestrel's could now be that "the tail now doesn't seem as long" after reading some of these comments.  This is "mind bending and ID".  Besides, separating some of these species is difficult even under the best of conditions due to flight angles and the profile of the wing and tail in that short brief flash of time.  Nobody trying to help you saw the video or the still photos because there are not any.  As someone who loves the science (and its integrity) behind eBird, I say do not ID this sighting.

Enjoy the fall migration everyone!



On Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 12:51 PM, Lee Herbst <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
I went to submit a checklist to eBird for yesterday's observation and noticed that Sharp-shinned Hawks are rare, so I am now second guessing myself. What if the bird had been a Cooper's Hawk instead. It seemed to be too small to be a Cooper's and it's tail was square, not rounded. I am sure of the long square tail and dark bandings on the tail, I am also sure that the bird was smaller than the few Cooper's I have seen, although I have read that the females can be quite small. However, I can't say with 100% certainty that it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk. How should I handle this situation when reporting to eBird? Should I leave the hawk out of the checklist? Should I just report an accipiter? Should I err on the side of what's most common and report it as a Cooper's? Or, should I go ahead and report it as a Sharp-shinned?


On Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 12:07 PM, Lee Herbst <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
After much advice and help from several members and extensive reading on Merlins, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, as well as American Kestrels, I have narrowed it down to a single bird: Sharp-shinned Hawk. Thank you so much for everyone's help. I have learned a lot about IDing small hawks and will hopefully find it easier next time one zips by on after-burners. I love this hobby.

On Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 7:48 AM, Andy Kratter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Merlins have proportionately shorter tails than Kestrels, often a good point to look for, along with the much broader wings.  Sharp-shinned or Cooper's Hawk may be a good fit for what you saw.
Andy Kratter
Gainesville, FL

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--
Lee Herbst - AK4WN
Ocala, FL

"Give God your best and let Him do the rest" - Facing the Giants



--
Lee Herbst - AK4WN
Ocala, FL

"Give God your best and let Him do the rest" - Facing the Giants
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Bob Stalnaker
Longwood, FL
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