Monday, December 15, 2014

Hooked on Hawks: Blame it on Jerry

Rough-legged Hawk in Davis County, UT USA

Back in 2009 I was on a date with my wife. No it hasn't been that long since we dated. We were on the waiting list at a restaurant and decided to kill some time by checking out the Barnes & Noble Bookstore across the parking lot from the restaurant.  For some reason, a childhood interest in birds bubbled up and led me over to field guides for birds. I decided to purchase one of the guides that night because I found the diversity of the birds fascinating and I wanted to study them further. When my married daughter saw the field guide on my desk at home she asked about it and made a mental note that led her to purchase some inexpensive binoculars for my birthday. One thing led to another and I found myself becoming a "birder".

After about one year of delving into "birding" I wanted to learn more about hawks. I had become familiar with a local club called Utah County Birders and asked one of their members who might help me learn more about hawks. I was told to consider some guy named Jerry who was supposed to be a raptor expert. Jerry was posting occasional emails to a Utah birding listserv and I noticed he did seem to know a bit about raptors when I read his emails. Like countless other newbie birders I sent Jerry a photo of one of the most common hawks in North America and asked for his help. I look at that situation now and realize how little I knew at the time. Jerry responded with the ID for the hawk and shared the important field marks for identifying it as a juvenile light-morph Red-tailed Hawk.

The simple Red-tailed Hawk question I had led to other questions. When I found myself perplexed by trying to decide whether I'd seen and photographed a Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk I sent off an email to Jerry. I got a response with some tips on distinguishing between the two look-alike species.  At one time I learned that Jerry had actually written books on identifying raptors so I did a Google search and realized that I was exchanging emails with North America's premier raptor expert. It wasn't too long before I found myself standing on the side of a mountain in Salt Lake City being dumbfounded by how quickly Jerry was able to identify hawks in flight and at great distances. He described how the harrier has a buoyant flight style, compared how eagles soar in large, lazy circles compared to the tighter circular soaring of a hawk, and distinguished between Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks based on the slight nuances in shape and flight style. I learned later that I spurred one of Jerry's blog posts when I was asking him about subtle nuances that help him distinguish between similar looking species in flight. It made sense when I connected his comments with being able to easily distinguish between my identical twin sons at a distance based on the subtle nuances of posture and movement. Jerry helped me identify my first Harlan's Hawk. Imagine my surprise when I bought a book to which Jerry contributed and I saw an image of a Harlan's Hawk he and I both observed and photographed in Utah. Jerry fueled my fire for gaining more and more knowledge of North America's raptors. In short, I blame Jerry Liguori for getting me hooked on hawks.

Check out Jerry's website: Click Here
Buy his books:
Follow his blog posts on the Hawkwatch International website by clicking here.

Here are some images of hawk species I saw and/or photographed for my first time during 2014. I owe a lot to Jerry when it comes to my continued interest and increasing knowledge of North America's fascinating birds of prey.

Harris's Hawk Near Apache Junction, AZ USA
Common Black-Hawk in Washington County, UT USA
Red-shouldered Hawk in Long Beach, CA USA
This one is not a new species, but it was the first time I identified and photo a sub-adult Swainson's Hawk. I credit this ID to having studied Jerry Liguori's books and learning that the Swainson's Hawk is the only buteo that has subadult plumage. Other buteos go from juvenile to adult plumage as they go through their first molt.

Swainson's Hawk Sub-adult in Salt Lake City, UT USA
I'll sign off with a line Jerry wrote in my copy of one of his books, "...and I hope you see lots of hawks!"


  1. Excellent, I enjoy your blog very much..

    1. Thanks, Bill. I'm glad you enjoy it and thanks for commenting.

    2. Jeff - that is a very high compliment, I appreciate your passion for raptors and hope to get out in the field soon with you.