Thanks for entering challenge #36.
The results were on average lower than for most challenges (median 6/10), but I think this was to be expected, since there were some very difficult birds, and I think question 9 was somewhat overcooked…for a food item
Just a prelude to raptor ID: adult raptors are generally territorial and as such, the juveniles are usually born with different outfits (like school uniforms) as if to say “please don’t bash me up, I have no intention of stealing your mate or your territory”. As a result, colour is probably one of the least reliable features. The most important thing is to learn the shapes, as if you use colour, e.g. brown streaks on a white chest could be anything from a little sparrow hawk, African goshawk, Cuckoo hawk, or even a young forest buzzard and so you can be completely misled. By understanding shape
it is a whole lot easier to put the raptor into the right family group e.g. short broad powerful wings and a long tail would suggest the sparrow hawk family, whereas pointed wing tips would put you among the falcons. Shape is reliable, as it would be almost impossible for a bird to change this. One of the most useful tips with the juveniles is also to look at the proportions of the face and body, and see how the ratios of these compare across photos taken from a similar angle. So, now onto the answers….
1. White backed vulture
2. Cape vulture
Everybody got these right, as the pictures depict the most reliable ID feature, is the colour of the skin (Verwoerd would be proud
). Black for white backed vulture and pink for cape vulture. Other more cryptic features are black eye in WBV and pale golden eye in adult CV. Eye colour is #$%^ing hard to see in the field and doesn’t work with juvenile CV.
3. African Cuckoo Hawk
This one nearly got me in the field… good thing I had my camera and went back to the pictures. The chest markings say you are on to a juvenile raptor. This sent most of you thinking it was a young accipitor. The head shape and big bulging yellow eyes are the giveaway for a cuckoo hawk. The body shape is not quite right and the tail is also too short to be an accipiter. Interestingly, the other birds in the party weren’t the slightest bit interested in its presence…unlike with a sparrow hawk, you can hear the alarm calls
. Very well done to those of you who got it right!!!
4. African Goshawk
Most guide books only show the male African Goshawk which has a grey back, and rufus bands on the chest. The female African Goshawk is brown on the back with brown bands. Greenish gray cere and yellow eye are the clinchers. Shame on the guidebooks for not showing a picture of the females
5. Forest Buzzard
No problems here with my daily visitor to my garden in George… the champion of vlei rat catchers I must add!!!
6. Black kite (adult)
A while ago I posted a picture of a kite that I took in Central Kalahari and posted it in a previous challenge.
A few of you said it was a juvenile yellow billed kite… which got me thinking, since I had never seen one before, and was not even aware that a kite with a black bill could also be a juvenile yellow billed kite, I started to doubt my ID. I did a lot more reading and discovered that the dominant race of kite in Botswana in summer is in fact yellow billed, outnumbering BK at a ratio of 1:500. The ratio is about 1:3 in NE SA. When I saw the current quiz bird rather late in summer, with a bill that appears to be going yellow at the base, I thought, oh well, probably a transitional juvenile yellow billed that some mites have mentioned before. Then I changed my mind about 15 times, as I went through every text on kites I could find, and about 100 pictures of varying reliability.
So herewith is the sum of my findings:
Both juvenile BK and YBK are difficult to distinguish, both have a black bill with a yellow cere and both have a streaked chest. The only difference mentioned in most text, are that the streaking in BK is more prominent than YBK, with the BK having a darker background with lighter streaks.
Black kite Juvenile
Black kite Juvenile
Yellow billed Kite (Juvenile)
Yellow billed Kite (Juvenile)
Now that we have the juveniles in their place, it seems that I messed up in the last quiz, as juvenile yellow billed kite is an exact match to the bird I posted
. I offer sincere apologies to those that got it right, and sorry for the confusion caused
. I hope this explanation makes it up.
Further to that, time of year plays some role in distinguishing the two. Apparently, time of year is important for YBK, as the birds breed in spring, and YBKs in juvenile plumage are not seen after January.
Now to move onto the bird I posted. The absence of pale streaking on the chest would suggest it is an adult bird. The partially yellow bill is not necessarily a feature of YBK , and can be seen in BK as per the next picture, which incidentally matches quite well with my bird.
Black kite adult
Features of BK would include:
1. Black bill
2. Shallow fork in the tail (YBK is deeper) see the flight pictures. (this can be misleading depending on time of moult)
3. Dark patch extending behind the eye
4. Too late in season for jvl YBK
5. Grey head (hard to see from the picture)
So, black kite it is.
I have certainly learned a lot here. Some taxonomist might suggest that we would all be right, as they are the same species. They were recently separated, as the yellow billed is an inter-African breeding migrant and the black kite is a Palearctic breeding migrant. Since they do not interbreed, the gene pools of these groups have been separated for some time, and through drift over time and local adaptation/ selection, they have diverged enough for some
scientists (taxonomists) to call them separate species.
7. Lizzard Buzzard
No problems with this one. I threw him in to bait the last question
8. Amur Falcon (female)
No problems with this one, red feet are the clincher...but what is it eating?
9. Although the guide books say they feed mainly on grasshoppers and other insects. I have often seen them take on newly fledged seed eaters on the Highveld. Young birds are a doddle for these nimble raptors to catch, as they are all quite uncoordinated and inexperienced. In this case it was a juvenile red collared widow. Seen by brown bill and buff edges on the feathers with black underneath… a lot of knowledge of what was fledging at the time helped me to narrow my list considerably. The longer tail would rule out the bishops. Sorry for this one
. It was way too hard.
10. Which of these raptors is most likely to catch and eat chameleons?
If you got cuckoo hawk right, this would be easy to look up or vice versa. Either way, the principal diet of cuckoo hawk is chameleons and green insects. I guess that explains the big eyes… all the better to see you with
. It was seen in a forest patch on the garden route where my kids love looking for chameleons, and explains why we didn’t see any that day
Thanks for entering and I hope you enjoy the next one.