Look Up In the Sky! It’s a Plane, It’s Superman! No – It’s a BIRD!

Red-Tailed Hawk

Fall is fully upon us and so is the great migration! I had the opportunity to write an article about the Raptor Migration along the Delaware River/Atlantic Flyway and ways to identify raptors as they’re flying. Click here to view the published article (pg 87). Below is my blog-post style of the article:

“Keep an eye on the skies this fall! You might see a dark silhouette overhead, or catch a glimpse of a pale underside as a migrating raptor scouts for food as they traverse the Atlantic Flyway. Migration often starts in August or early September and throughout the fall, raptors, including Eagles, American Kestrels, Peregrine Falcons, Sharp-Shinned Hawks, and Red-Tailed Hawks, migrate until the weather turns cold. 

The Atlantic Flyway is a path on the east coast that birds take from nesting sites to their wintering location. Locally in Bucks County, we are part of this flyway, which is a vital watershed habitat for birds, providing protection and food. Due to climate change, the habitat is changing, and raptors have to adapt. Many raptors, such as Bald Eagles, come from the north to feed in ice-free rivers. As northern temperatures rise, they aren’t forced to fly as far south. We may notice a delay in migration as raptors adapt to the changes.

This male Kestrel sports “blue” wings and head. Both males and females have the black stripe down the eye.

As they pass over, we can use several features to identify them, even from far away. Try observing their silhouette shape. Falcons, including the Peregrine Falcon and Kestrel, are small raptors and have long wings that point down, like an M. Their long tail sticks out straight behind them. Accipiters are hawks, such as the Sharp-Shinned and Cooper’s Hawk, with rounded wings and notched tails. Buteos, including the Red-Tailed Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and Eagles can be identified by their long, broad wings and rounded tails. These round-tailed birds tend to be on the larger side.

Another identifying trait is their belly feather coloration. Are you trying to distinguish between the Red-Tailed and Red-Shouldered hawk? Look for a dark band of feathers. These round-tailed hawks can be hard to tell apart until they take off and you can see their bellies! A rust colored belly is the Red-Shouldered Hawk, while a whitish belly with a dark band running across is the Red-Tailed Hawk. Are there black birds flying up high? If it is entirely black, it could be a Turkey Vulture whereas if it has a white head, black body, and white tail feathers, it’s a Bald Eagle.

Hone your identification skills now on the National Audubon Society’s website with a raptor quiz! While birding, remember your field guide, camera, and binoculars to observe the amazing raptors that call the Atlantic Flyway home.”

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