Be on the lookout for zone-tailed hawks
I have been able to get out and do a little birding a few times this past week and it has been so enjoyable. Last Wednesday, I did some scouting in preparation for the bird walk I led this past Saturday at White Spar Campground as part of the Highlands Center Birding Spree. On Wednesday's outing, some of the species I saw included a Lucy's warbler, a house wren, western bluebirds, an acorn woodpecker, a hairy woodpecker, an American robin, a Cooper's hawk - and a great look at a zone-tailed hawk in flight.
Saturday's bird walk was well-attended in spite of the cool, windy weather. Some of the species we saw included chipping sparrows, western bluebirds, ash-throated flycatchers, western wood peewee, violet green swallows, Steller's jay, bridled titmouse and pine siskin.
One of the species I was hoping to find for the benefit of the group was a zone-tailed hawk. Unfortunately, no such luck. But wouldn't you know it, as I was driving home after the bird walk, I saw a zone-tailed hawk flying near the intersection of Willow Creek Road and Gail Gardner!
Many of you have probably never even heard of a zone-tailed hawk. Check out page 103 in the "Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America." Zone-tails are a summer resident in this area, usually showing up in April and leaving in September. They are not nearly as abundant as red-tailed Hawks, but be on the lookout, as you never know when you might see one.
There are several similarities between zone-tailed hawks and turkey vultures. Both species soar with a pronounced dihedral, meaning they hold their wings upward in a slight V-formation. Both species have a two-toned underwing where the leading edge of the wing is darker than the trailing edge. Another unique characteristic both species exhibit is an unsteady, tippy flight. As they soar, they rock back and forth instead of soaring in smooth, effortless circles as do red-tailed hawks.
My advice to you is to not treat turkey vulture sightings so casually. When you see a "vulture" flying, take the time to actually put binoculars on the bird and check it out just to make sure that what you are actually seeing is not a zone-tailed hawk. From a distance, it is truly difficult to tell the two species - in flight - apart from one another without using binoculars. The most prominent feature you should look for to distinguish a zone-tailed hawk from a turkey vulture is a broad white band in the tail visible in flight from the underside.
The Birding Spree is winding down ¬- this is the last week of organized bird walks led by Prescott Audubon Society volunteers. You have until the end of June to submit your completed bird list to the Highlands Center. All participants who complete the Birding Spree requirements will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a one hundred dollar gift certificate from Jay's Bird Barn - so turn in your paperwork!
I want to give a quick reminder about the Prescott Audubon Society monthly meeting at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, May 27). I will be speaking about my trip last fall to South Africa. The meeting is in the Fellowship Hall at Trinity Presbyterian Church located at the corner of Copper Basin Road and Park Avenue. This meeting is open to the public, and I invite you to come and see pictures I took of the birds, wildlife, people and places in Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho.
Until next week, happy birding!
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve you - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2370 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 40 years. If you have questions related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.