Red-tailed Hawks — Happy Landings!

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Yesterday I mentioned that southern Arizona was undergoing its annual autumn transition — a transition that is not marked by gold and scarlet leaves but by other events.

One of those other events is the massive shift in bird population that takes place here each year.  We have numerous species that spend their summers in Arizona but that head for points south as fall advances.  Still others are year round residents.  We have other species that pass through here in autumn but that don’t stick around, a consequence of Arizona being underneath a gigantic flyway for migrating birds.  And, we have still others that come here for the fall and winter months, veritable snowbirds.

Right now, the transition is in full swing.  Some species have already left.  White-winged Doves and Gray Hawks, for example, spend their summers in the Tucson area or relatively close by.  They’re gone.  Other species, like Swainson’s Hawks, have passed through the area and are well on their way to their Argentinian winter homes.  These birds are being supplanted by our fall and winter guests.  The other day I saw my first Western Meadowlark of the season.  And, migrating Red-tailed Hawks are starting to arrive in great numbers and are setting up their winter territories.

Some Red Tails are year round residents of southern Arizona.  Red Tails tend to come in color variations that reflect their communities of origin.  The southwestern members of the species mostly are relatively pale in color with relatively unmarked breasts and abdomens (there is a southwestern variety with a dark “belly band” on its abdomen and another that lacks the band).  Recently, I photographed this typical southwesterner as it landed on a utility pole.

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This is a bird that I’ve seen on several occasions hanging out on the same pole.  I believe it to be part of a pair of Red Tails that have a nest site nearby and who, obviously, don’t summer up north.

However, on the same day I also photographed this bird.

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Now, I can say with almost complete assurance that this Red Tail does not come from around here.  Its plumage color is totally atypical for a local bird.  This is a hawk that migrated here, probably from somewhere in the northern Rockies or the Pacific Northwest, and is strictly a winter resident.  Birds manifesting non-southwestern colors are showing up in abundance these days, another sign that we’re in full autumn even if daytime highs are still in the 90s.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 mm f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 800.  The first two images shot at f8 @ 1/3200, the third image shot at f8 @ 1/2500.

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