Mid-winter is a good time to observe raptors -- birds of prey: eagles, hawks, falcons and owls. Aside from owls, they are often perched quite visibly in deciduous trees, whose leaves have fallen.
It is easy to recognize mature bald eagles, with their white heads and tails, but how well do you know our immature eagles, hawks and falcons? Here's a little quiz to help you find out. Match each of the following birds, listed alphabetically, to the correct description below: a. American Kestrel, b. immature Bald Eagle, c. Cooper's Hawk, d. Merlin, e. Northern Harrier, f. Osprey, g. Peregrine Falcon, h. Red-tailed Hawk, i. Sharp-shinned Hawk. Answers follow. In thinking about sizes, remember that females of any raptor species are roughly 25 percent larger than corresponding males.
1. Raven-sized, next to the Bald Eagle our most abundant raptor. Immature birds lack the signature visible mark of this species. No two birds look quite the same, but they are known for a dark "belly band" on a lighter chest. Its distinctive call, a harsh descending "keeeer" is often mimicked by Steller's Jays. Year-round resident throughout Washington at lower elevations; also breeds at higher elevations.
2. Our next most abundant raptor. Crow-sized males are silver white, with dark wing tips. Females are drab brown, like most female ducks, because they too nest on the ground. Both genders have a white patch on the rump. These birds hunt by soaring low over fields, listening as well as watching for prey. Formerly called Marsh Hawks. Found throughout Washington at lower elevations.
3. Said to be the fastest bird in the world. Crow-sized with a helmeted look. Typically catches its bird prey by a high-speed dive. Nests on cliffs -- or even ledges on city buildings, from which rock pigeons are its favorite prey. In Washington a year-round resident west of the Cascades, at lower elevations.
4. Larger of two quite similar species of bird-catching hawks. Crow-sized, with a more rounded tail than its counterpart species. Young birds have vertical brown striping on a light-colored chest. Adults' chests have rufous and white horizontal striping. Broad tail bands. Found throughout Washington except at high elevations.
5. Smaller, thinner boned version of the previous species, although there is some overlap in size between the two species. Range similar to prior species.
6. Robin-sized bird, the male being the most colorful of all these raptors. A telephone wire is a favorite perch from which to catch grasshoppers and other insects. Found throughout Washington at lower elevations.
7. Fish-eating raptor, which nests conspicuously high in trees or on man-made platforms atop telephone poles. Hovers over water, plunging feet first to catch prey. Found throughout Washington near water.
8. Large, mostly all-brown bird with some splotches of white on the body. Found throughout Washington near water.
9. Slightly larger than a robin. Male has a blue-gray back, while females and immatures have drab brown backs. Catches its bird prey by a burst of speed rather than by diving. Found throughout Washington, but breeding areas are more restricted than the other raptors mentioned here.
Answers: 1-h, 2-e, 3-g, 4-c, 5-i, 6-a, 7-f, 8-b, 9-d. Score one point per correct answer. A score of 8-9 is excellent; 6-7 is good, but a little brush up might help. If you had a lower score you might want to consider taking one of our Audubon bird classes, taught at the Dungeness River Audubon Center (on Hendrickson Rd) and augmented by field trips:
-- Raptor expert and Merlin researcher David Drummond offers a two-day class on raptors, Jan. 18-19. (If you sign up, mention this article and ask about the related discount.)
-- Bob Boekelheide, director of the River Center, offers a 6-week winter birds class on Thur. mornings starting Jan. 24.
-- I teach a 6-week beginning birds class on Mon. mornings starting Mar. 3, and again on Tue. evenings starting May 6.
Contact the River Center to register (681-4076).
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