Have you ever been on a walk, hiking, or sitting at a park and you see a rather large dark brownish bird soaring in the sky?
Most of my friends would say, “Hey look, there’s a hawk!”
However, on closer inspection, you notice that this bird appears much larger and darker in color.
If the bird was in reasonable range of seeing it more clearly, you would probably notice that its claws, or talons, seem larger and its beak seems a bit bigger than what you might be accustomed to seeing on a hawk.
You are left to ponder, is this a hawk at all? More than likely you are seeing either an immature bald eagle or a golden eagle soaring the skies looking for prey.
Based on the images in this article, you can immediately see the significant differences between these two birds of prey. While both birds fall under the taxonomic order of accipitriformes, there are distinct differences between the two raptors.
Firstly, the eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, in this case an immature bald eagle, sans the white head of a mature bald eagle, has a much larger body than the red-tailed hawk (buteo jamaicensis).
The eagle has a longer neck, compared to the stout neck of the hawk.
Having larger talons (claws) and stronger legs, the eagle can hunt much larger quarry than the hawk.
While the eagle is stronger and bigger, the smaller hawk can fly faster.
The red-tailed hawk has a belly band across its stomach and chest area. The immature bald eagle does not.
The head of the hawk is dark, connecting with the cream-colored feathers of its body. From the images you can tell that the eagle’s body is darker brown, compared to the hawk’s rufous, reddish, color on its breast, lighter brown markings on its body and its signature red tail.
Birds in flight:
In flight, you will note the longer wingspan of the eagle, compared to the hawk.
These pictures show the marked difference in the length of the wings.
Some eagles have a wingspan of eight feet, while hawks typically have a wingspan of five feet or less, in length.
View from below:
From below, the red-tailed hawk has tan markings under its wings, with dark feathers along the edges of the wings.
The wings of the immature bald eagle are mostly dark in color, with a mottled white coloring underneath its wings.
Depending on the light, the solid red tail of the hawk is noticeable when the bird is in flight.
An immature red-tailed hawk, the red tail will have not developed, making identification a little trickier.
The eagle will have the same mottle coloration of dark feathers blended with white feathers on its tail.
If both birds are at rest, they appear dark.
It is when you compare the size of the body and head, and the formidable large talons, that you will recognize that the bigger bird is an eagle.
So, the next time you visit Aurantia Park, in Highland, or when you are exploring the trails in the area, take a closer look at that big brownish bird in the sky. Is it a hawk? Or, is it an eagle?
I hope these identification tips helped you distinguish these two beautiful raptors that live in our community.