I looked at your blog post on Accipiters this morning, and just between us, I feel uneasy about the ID. I'm not an expert but I did spend a lot of time looking at plumage characters when I was working on Advanced Birding; I never saw a Sharp-shin, in a museum or in the field or in diagnostic photos, that had such a blackish cap. Just looking at the head in your photos - the blackish cap, pale nape, mauve-gray auriculars, and position of the eyes on the face - I would have been confident in calling it a Cooper's. I know about the leg shape difference and I've tried to illustrate it in the past, but to me the bird in your photos looks inconclusive in that regard.
I didn't want to start a public debate, but I thought it would be worthwhile to contact you privately about this. If the bird is indeed a Sharp-shinned, it totally alters my concept of head pattern on the species. At the very least, it would be far from typical, and it might be good to tell people that. But I'd encourage you to look at those characteristics of head and face pattern and reconsider this bird.
I think my favorite line is "I'm not an expert..."
Nah. You're not. Then, um, who is?? I chuckled and made a few quiet squees to myself, turned off my phone, and settled into my crappy airplane seat with a happy sigh. So it's a Cooper's after all. Well, dangit, my first thought was that it was a Cooper's, but then I talked myself into sharp-shin. Go with your first gut instinct...it's rarely wrong.
And when we landed and I turned my phone back on, there was another Facebook message from none other than Keith Bildstein, Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Dude has seen and ID'd a few hundred thousand accipiters in his time. He wrote,
Julie, looks like a Coops to me. White band prominent on rounded tail tip, but the relative closeness of the eye to the bill (versus the back of the head) is a dead giveaway. I hope this helps. In AZ now chasing TVs.
I. LOVE. IT. I'm leaving the original post just as it is, with a little addendum to point people to this one for, as Paul Harvey used to intone, "The Rest of the Story." Because like paint thrown at a wall, the erroneous post has a beauty all its own. And for me, the beauty is that this is subtle stuff. Even as I'm watching it down the last of its starling, this bird is morphing before my eyes. One moment it looks like a great big female sharpie; the next it looks like a small male Cooper's. One moment its bill looks delicate; the next a bit large for a sharp-shin. I just could not decide. And then I saw what looked like spindly legs, and I thought I had it nailed. Not so fast, Zickefoose.
I've been known to make a bad call from time to time. I think I was making one just last September when this photo was taken, in fact, and Keith Bildstein, who is perched on the rock above me, turned around and corrected me. Heh. Heh. It was a broadwing, and I was calling it a sharpie. Duh. Outta shape, Zickefoose? Well, on your bird ID you are. Besides. Who wears pants like THAT at South Lookout??
And it's clear from what I wrote that I was cornfused. I even mentioned the dark cap as being atypical for a sharpie, but I didn't know it was contraindicated.
And those spindly legs? Well, I guess it's a Cooper's with spindly legs. What do I know? Not much. Relative closeness of eye to bill? So a Cooper's hawk's eye is closer to its bill than to the back of its head? Ohh kay. Now that you say it, I guess I can see it. And I love it. Who knew? Not me. Others.
I warned you that I was paddling around the shallow end of bird ID. And now two great big sharks have cruised in to set me straight, and I couldn't be more pleased about it.
Because for me, and for any naturalist who is driven by curiosity and the desire, above all, to get it right, the point of all this is to ferret out the truth. And the truth is out there. And I've got two nice private messages from two experts to prove it. That feels good. Knowing what the bird is feels even better.
Thank you, Big Sharks! It's a Cooper's hawk. Well, dip me in chocolate.