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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Jan 28, 2011

Silhouttes of birds: other physical traits

As I mentioned in my posts regarding identifying birds by their silhouette, there are many things to watch for which will allow you to do so.  In the first post on this subject I touched briefly on the shape of wings and tail.   These are very important physical characteristics that I would like to elaborate on here.  Some birds have broad tails, some have long tails, such as the Magpie for instance.  Others have tails that are rounded at the tip or straight edged, and some have tails that are notched with a "V" like that of a Tree Swallow, or  shaped much like an arrow head like the tail of the Common Grackle. 
Red Tailed Hawk


Common Grackle

As you can see from the pictures above, the shape of a bird's tail can differ dramatically from one bird to the next.  Notice the Red Tail hawk's broad, short tail when compared to the Raven's long, wedge shaped tail.  What a difference.   Now take a look at the long tail of the Goshawk below and compare it to the tail of the Red Tailed Hawk above.  Again there is a remarkable difference and this difference can be applied when attempting to identify all birds, whether in silhouette or not.

Juvenile Goshawk
The shape and length of a bird's wings can also be a very distinguishing feature.  Notice how the Red Tailed hawk above has very broad wings.  Again, the shape of the wing varies greatly along with the length. 

Osprey wings spread

Merlin speed of a bullet
When you compare the wings of an Osprey to that of the Red Tailed Hawk for example, you will notice that the Osprey's wings are broad and long; quite a bit longer than his body, and taper to a point, whereas the Red Tailed hawk's wings are broad along the entire length, and somewhat more rounded at the tip.  The Merlin however, just above has wings that are broad near the shoulder but then taper sharply to a point in the middle, which is why falcons have such a distinct flight silhouette.  Then there is the little Sandpiper in flight below, who displays long, narrow and pointed wings, which become somewhat wider just near the tip.

Sandpiper in flight
Tree Swallow

The Tree Swallow, on the other hand, just above, has wings that are so long that they cover most of it's tail, making the tail appear to be very short, when in fact it is not, and their wings are actually fairly wide.

Red Tailed Hawk close to the sun
Cooper's Hawk in flight
In the picture directly above, I was lucky to catch sight of this Cooper's Hawk in flight one day as I was stepping out of my driveway.  As it happens, this Cooper's Hawk provides a perfect view of itself from below giving an excellent view of it's characteristic long tail and short broad wings.  Clearly you can see the sharp contrast to the same view of the Red Tailed Hawk above him.  I just love it when I happen to get the same view and angle of different birds in a picture, as I'm sure you can well imagine.

In my last post on this particular topic, I covered the head, bill and body shape of a bird, but what about a bird's neck?  This is another physical trait which will help you separate one bird from the next, or at least identify the species of bird you are looking at when you see them in silhouette.  Is the neck long and slender, or long and thick.  Does the bird have a neck shaped like an hourglass and easily distinguishable, or does it seem like it has no neck at all?

Shore bird
Rock Pigeon

Take a look at the pictures just above.  The shore bird has a neck that is presented much like an hour glass while the Rock Pigeon's neck is thick and long, getting wider when it meets the body.   On the right, the Chickadee's head seems to be directly attached to his back and belly, and below him the neck of the nuthatch also appears to be almost non-existent.
American Coot
The Swan above has a very long neck and it keeps it stretched out in flight.  However, sometimes the shape of a bird's neck seems to be determined by the birds head.  Take a close look at the American Coot directly above.  Does it not seem like it's head is a part of it's neck?
Blue Heron
The Blue Heron, who also has a very long neck but seldom stretches it out, even in flight, unless he is hunting fish in a pond, and so is very distinctive because it seems to have a permanent curve or fold.  I sincerely hope this post helps you more accurately identify birds in silhouette.

As always enjoy,


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