Bird of the Week – The Zone-tailed Hawk

Photo caption: This Zone-tailed Hawk is a Turkey Vulture look-alike, from a distance.

by Bob Walker

From mid-March through mid-October we grow accustomed to seeing Turkey Vultures soaring in the skies above Los Alamos County. Zone-tailed Hawks (Buteo albonotatus) are a reason to look a little closer at those Turkey Vultures. The Zone-tailed Hawk can sometimes be seen flying among a flock of Turkey Vultures, mimicking their V-shaped wing pattern when soaring. By doing this they can more easily sneak up on their favorite prey — squirrels and chipmunks, which can become desensitized by the more common sight of Turkey Vultures soaring overhead.

The population of Zone-tailed Hawks that we see in the summers in Los Alamos is migratory. Although the species is largely resident over most of its range from central South American to northern Mexico. Los Alamos County is about as far north as Zone-tailed Hawks migrate. They are known to breed here, preferring the high desert and mixed conifer forests of Los Alamos. This spring and early summer, there have been many sightings of this relatively uncommon hawk around the Los Alamos Nature Center, and in Pueblo and Rendija Canyons.

Zone-tailed Hawks are one of the darkest hawks in North America (the other being the Common Black Hawk, which is not at all common here). Black to a very dark brown, these hawks can be distinguished from Turkey Vultures by their dark heads (not the bare red head of a Turkey Vulture), and the prominent white banding on their tails.

Find more detailed articles about Zone-tailed Hawks on these web pages: identify.whatbird.com and allaboutbirds.org. You can see beautiful photos of Zone-tailed Hawks at the Brian Small web site. For more images, perform an image search on Google or Flickr, and you’ll find many excellent photographs.

Photo by Bob Walker

Bird of the Week – The Pine Siskin

By Bob Walker

The Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus) is one of our most common birds. It is a small finch with a sharp conical bill and a forked tail, Its body is streaked with brown and often has an overall yellowish cast. They have quite a bit of yellow under their wings, which you might notice while they are in flight or fluttering from one perch to another. Many small finches can be difficult to differentiate. The Pine Siskin is often confused with the female House Finch, a larger bird with a rounder tail and a heavier, slightly curved bill. House Finches also lack the yellow cast and underside of the wings visible on Pine Siskins.

Photo by Bob Walker
Comparison of a Pine Siskin (left) to a House Finch (right).

Pine Siskins travel in large nomadic flocks, and although we may see them at any time of the year, the flocks wander unpredictably. At any given time, you might see many of them or maybe none at all. When a flock of Pine Siskins is in your area, you can hear their distinctive “zipper” call, “zzzzzzzzzzzrreeee.”

Pine Siskins will join in mixed flocks with House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, and American Goldfinches, and even though they are the smallest of these birds, they are nevertheless the most aggressive at feeders, often challenging other Siskins or finches when approached too closely. If you want to attract these birds to your own feeders, put out Nyjer thistle seed, or shelled sunflower seeds. They also feed readily on local plant seeds in the fall – sunflowers, asters, or coneflowers.

Find more detailed articles about Pine Siskins on these web pages: identify.whatbird.com and allaboutbirds.org.

Enjoy more beautiful photos of Pine Siskins on these websites: briansmallphoto.com and tringa.org.