Birds of 2020 – Raptors

This is the third entry in a sometimes series of birds WC photographed in 2020. This post focuses on raptors, an imprecise term for mostly eagles, hawks and falcons. It’s a lifestyle, not a Linnaean classifiction. In fact, hawks and falcons turn out to not be closely related, despite a shared hunting lifestyle. Of course, there are other birds that hunt for a living: owls and even shrikes. As WC said, “raptors” is imprecise. Here are some raptor photos from 2020, in no particular order.

Peregrine Falcon, Camas Prairie/Centennial Marsh, Idaho

Yes, it’s badly backlit, and mostly has its back to the camera, but it’s the closest WC has gotten to a Peregrine Falcon in a long time. Note to birds: there are perfectly good perches on the other side of the road, where you’d be more flatteringly lit.

American Kestrel, Camas Prairie/Centennial Marsh, Idaho

WC has better photos of kestrels from 2020, but none that show so well just how small these fierce little falcons are. The perch is a cut off telephone pole. This is a female, too, quite a bit larger than the male. There’s some worrying evidence of population declines. Research continues.

A girl has to do her nails. Red-tailed Hawk, Camas Prairie/Centennial Marsh, Idaho

Birds preen their feathers, of course, but this big Red-tailed Hawk was preening its talons, methodically working over each one. It’s the first time WC had witnessed the behavior. Red-tailed Hawks are the most common raptor in the Boise area – they’ve nested in WC’s neighborhood – and are a year-round resident.

Northern Harrier, Black’s Creek Reservoir, Idaho

Northern Harriers are also year-round residents of Idaho, wintering mostly on the Snake River Plain. An aerial hunter and a magnificent, acrobatic flier, they are the only North American representative of the widely distributed Circus genus. WC finds their rapidly turnng, stop-and-go hunting flight to be difficult to properly photograph.

Cooper’s Hawk WC’s back fence, Boise, Idaho

We should have at least one Accipter. Again, not an especially good photo, but that’s WC’s back fence. WC’s bird feeders feed birds in several senses; the primary diet of Cooper’s Hawks is other birds.

Ferruginous Hawk, Camas Prairie/Centennial Marsh, Idaho

A Buteo hawks have a bewildering range of coloration. A magnificent raptor wherever you find them. This species breeds in Idaho, and winters in the southwest and Mexico.

Rough-legged Hawk, Blacks Creek Road, Idaho

Rough-legged Hawks don’t breed in Idaho; they migrate through, and a few winter here. They’re an Arctic Plain breeder. Like many buteos, it has a highly variable coloration.

Ferruginous Hawk on Nest, Camas Prairie/Centennial Marsh, Idaho

WC didn’t see many Ferruginous Hawks this year, and photographed still fewer. But this one was on a truly magnificent nest on the easterly shoulder of Bennett Mountain. The Ferruginous Hawk is North America’s largest buteo, and a lot of folks think it is the handsomest, too. This is a summer breeder that winters in the southwestern states.

Golden Eagle Nest, Snake River Canyon, Idaho

Golden Eagles are the largest raptor common in North America. They are famously intolerant of human disturbance, and have been documented abandoning nests when disturbed. They are in Idaho year round, but some birds may migrate south in the winter. Any day with a Golden Eagle in it is a damn fine day.

Bald Eagles, Boise, Idaho

Bald Eagles are fairly ubiquitous in Idaho.A few hang around the Boise River near Boise all winter. These two adults were warming up in the winter sunshine before foraging along the Boise River corridor. Bald Eagles have recovered nicely from near-extinction and returned to much of their original range. As a national emblem, they don’t bear close scrutiny. But they are a handsome bird.

This isn’t all of Idaho’s or the Intermountain West’s raptors, of course. Osprey, Merlin, Prairie Falcon and Sharp-shinned Hawk are also present in good numbers. But WC didn’t get decent photos of any of them in the limited circumstances of 2020. And the Northern Goshawk drought continues, unabated. Maybe next year.

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