Florence Merriam Bailey.

Handbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley online

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From Biological Survey, u.S.Dept. Remarks. The white upper tail coverts
of Agriculture. an( j j ar g e s j ze are g. OO( j fi^ characters.

Fig. 231. Distribution. Whole of North America

north of Mexico, but breeding almost wholly north of the United States.

Nest. Made of large sticks lined with grass, leaves, or feathers, in trees
or on cliffs. Eggs : 2 to 5, greenish white, fading to dingy white, irregu-
larly marked with blotches of brown and sometimes lavender.
Food. Principally small rodents, such as mice and lemmings.

The rough-legged hawk is known mainly as a winter bird in the
United States, coming down with the fall migrants and spreading
over the country where he can find food to suit his taste, often
remaining all winter in the northern states where the deep snow and
intense cold drive less hardy species away. Where trappers are at
work he finds plenty of food in the freshly skinned or frozen bodies
of muskrats and other fur mammals left lying by the streams and
lakes ; but he is not dependent upon such supplies. He keeps



mainly within the country inhabited by meadow mice, and at the
season when they are at their worst eating the roots of the crops
and gnawing the bark of fruit-trees under the snow he devotes
himself to their destruction.

Dr. Fisher says that the rough-leg is one of the most nocturnal of
our hawks, and that it "may be seen in the fading twilight watch-
ing from some low perch, or beating with measured, noiseless flight,
over its hunting ground."

Subgenus Brewsteria.


348. Archibuteo ferrugineus (Licht.).

Adults, normal phase : under parts white, sometimes slightly streaked
with brown ; upper parts and flanks reddish
brown ; tail white, more or less stained with
reddish brown, and sometimes marked with
a subterminal band. Adults, melanistic phase :
tail normal ; upper parts chocolate brown,
marked with rusty ; under parts rusty and
chocolate. Young : upper parts grayish
brown, feathers edged with rusty or yellow-
ish brown ; flanks white, more or less spotted
with dusky ; tail whitish for basal third, the
rest brownish gray, usually with several
more or less distinct dark bands. Male :
length 22.50, wing 15.90-17.00, tail 9.50-
10.50. Female : length 24, wing 17.00-18.80,
tail 10.50-11.00.

Distribution. From the eastern Dakotas
and Texas to the Pacific, and from the Sas-
katchewan to northern Mexico ; casually to

Nest. Of sticks and herbage, lined with
softer materials. Eggs: 2 to 5, creamy or
pale greenish, irregularly blotched with dif-
ferent shades of brown and lavender.

Food. Almost exclusively small mam-
mals and reptiles, but also crickets.

"The squirrel hawk is preeminently a bird of the prairie, and,
unlike the common rough-leg, shows little partiality to the vicinity
of water, though in other respects it closely resembles the latter
bird in habits. When this hawk is hunting its flight appears la-
bored and heavy, but when circling high in the air its flight is
graceful, and resembles closely that of the golden eagle. In fact, in
parts of the west it is known by the name eagle." (Fisher.)


349. Aquila chrysa'etos (Linn.}. GOLDEN EAGLE.

A bird of great size, robust form, and powerful physique. Tarsus closely

Biological Survey, U. S. Dept.
of Agriculture.

Fig. 232.


feathered all around to the toes, outer and middle toes webbed at base ;
bill large, long ; wings long, pointed ; tail mod-
erate, rounded, or graduated ; feathers of occiput
and nape lanceolate. Sexes alike. Adults : whole
bird dark brown, lanceolate feathers of hind
neck and those on legs lighter brown; wing
quills black ; tail blackish, more or less clouded
or irregularly banded with grayish. Young : like
adult, but basal part of tail plain white, under
parts white beneath the surface. Male : length
30-35, extent about 6 to 7 feet, wing 23.00-24.70,
taU 14-15, bill 1.50-1.62. Female : length 35-40,
extent about 7 to 7i feet, wing 25-27, tail 15-16,
bill 1.68-1.85.

Distribution. Northern portion of northern
hemisphere, chiefly in mountainous regions ; south
in North America to central Mexico. Breeds
From Biological SurTey, U. S. throughout its range.

Dept. of Agriculture. jy est . _ A platform of sticks lined with straw,

Fig. 233. Golden Eagle. &ragS) mosS) i eaves? f ur> or fathers, placed in
high trees or on a ledge of a cliff. Eggs: usually 2, white, irregularly
marked, some almost immaculate, others thickly blotched with brown.

Pood, Mainly mammals and birds, including squirrels, prairie dogs,
spermophiles, rabbits, fawns, lambs, turkeys, grouse, and waterfowl.

In his mountain home the golden eagle scours the ridges and sides
of precipices for grouse and marmots, and when these become scarce
or too wary from long acquaintance with his raids, he descends like
a meteor on half folded wings to the valley, where he beats the
sagebrush for jack rabbits, sage grouse, or any game worthy of his
royal quest.

The eagles are often seen hunting in pairs, and doubtless find
mutual advantage other than companionship in the method. In
Salt Lake Valley, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, a pair
were once found eating a full grown gray fox they had just killed,
which it is doubtful if either could have caught or overpowered
alone. Under stress of hunger or when game is scarce, the birds are
said to take young lambs or kids, and even to eat animals found
dead on the prairie, in this way getting the poison put out for
coyotes. But only extreme necessity could make them stoop to
such ignominious quarry, as nothing short of the extermination of
the buffalo and other legitimate game could have brought the
haughty chiefs adorned with their regal feathers to beg alms.

The eagles sweep over the plains and valleys, but the mountains
are their natural homes. On San Francisco Mountain in Arizona I
found a pair coming every morning to drink and bathe in a pool of
clear snow water above the timber at 11,000 feet.





352. Haliseetus leucocephalus (Linn.). BALD EAGLE.

Tarsus feathered only half way down, middle and outer toes without
web ; wing pointed, secondaries much shorter
than primaries ; tail less than two thirds as
long as wing, rounded. Adults. Head,
neck, tail, and tail coverts snowy white ; rest
of plumage blackish or dark brownish,
feathers edged with brown. Young: first
year wholly black except for white bases of
feathers showing through ; second or third
year under parts mixed black and white ;
head and neck black, rest of upper parts
mixed gray, brown, black, and white. Male :
length 30-85, extent about 7 feet, wing
20.00-25.90, tail 11.00-15.25, bill 1.85-2.25.
Female : length 34-43, extent about 7-8 feet,
wing 23.50-28.00, tail 12.50-16.00, bill 1.90-

Distribution. Nearly the whole of North
America, from northern Mexico to Alaska.
Breeds in suitable localities throughout its

Nest. A bulky mass of sticks, seaweed, From Biol f i | n . 1 r f c u u r S U> S> Dept
rushes, turf, vines, or plant stalks, on cliffs j^ 234.

or in tall trees. Eggs : usually 2, white.

Food. Mainly fish, but also squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, lambs,
carrion, and waterfowl.

The bald eagle was unfortunately selected as our national emblem
instead of the nobler golden eagle, as it is at times both a scavenger
and a robber. It lives largely on fish, diving for them and taking
them itself, stealing them from a fish hawk, or, in company with
ravens and vultures, feeding on dead fish cast up by the waves along
river banks.

It must be acknowledged, however, that the eagles show great
skill in their piratical exploits and courage in defense of their nests,
and that they have a noble, commanding bearing which is not alto-
gether belied by their daily deeds.


General Characters. Cutting edge of upper mandible with a tooth-like
projection separated by notch from hooked tip ; nostril small, circular,
with a conspicuous bony tubercle ; wings long and pointed.


1. One primary with inner web cut out.

2. Back of tarsus almost covered by feathers from sides.

rusticolua, p. 166.
2'. Back of tarsus broadly bare.
3. Grayish brown above mexicanus, p. 166.


3. Slaty bluish above.

4. Top of head darker than back anatum, p. 167.

4'. Top of head and back uniform pealei, p. 168.

1'. Two primaries with inner webs cut out.

2. Tarsus not decidedly longer than middle toe.

3. Middle tail feathers crossed by not more than four blackish or five

light bands.
4. Inner webs of quills distinctly barred or spotted.

columbarius, p. 168.
4'. Inner webs of quills not distinctly barred or spotted.

suckleyi, p. 169.
3'. Middle tail feathers crossed by 5 darker and 6 lighter bands.

richardsonii, p. 169.

2'. Tarsus decidedly longer than middle toe.
3. Side of head with one horizontal stripe.

fusco-ccerulescens, p. 170.
3'. Side of head with two black vertical stripes.

4. Darker. Eastern United States .... sparverius, p. 170.
4'. Paler. Western United States .... deserticola, p. 171.

Subgenus Hierofalco.

Tarsus feathered two thirds of the way down in front and on sides, the
edges of the feathering meeting on the posterior side.

854. Falco rusticolus Linn. GRAY GYRFALCON.

Adults. Top of head largely streaked with white ; anterior upper parts
barred with grayish or whitish and darker ; tail strongly banded ; flanks
and thighs more or less marked with slaty. Young : upper parts much
spotted with white or buffy ; under parts with dark stripes usually nar-
rower than white interspaces. Male: length 20-21, wing 14.10, tail 8.51,
bill .90, tarsus 2.40. Female : length 22.00-24.50, wing 15.76, tail 9.72,
bill 1.01, tarsus 2.46.

Distribution. Extreme northern portions of Europe (except Scandi-
navia), Asia, and North America, including Iceland and southern Green-
land ; south in winter to northern border of United States.

The gyrfalcons are so rare in the United States that, as Dr. Fisher
says, a man may consider himself fortunate if he sees one in a life-

355. Palco mexicanus Schlegel. PRAIRIE FALCON.

Adult male. Under parts and nuchal collar white, sides of head with
dark patches ; median under parts lightly streaked or spotted, and flanks
heavily spotted or blotched with dusky ; upper parts pale clay brown,
usually tinged with rusty and indistinctly but broadly barred with pale
clay color or dull buffy anteriorly, and with pale bluish gray posteriorly.
Adult female : upper parts dull clay brown, feathers edged with rusty
brown or dull whitish, paler toward tail ; tail tipped with whitish and
lighter on outer edges of feathers. Young : upper parts grayish brown,
feathers edged with light rusty ; under parts buffy with broader dusky
streaks ; dark flank patch larger and more uniform than in the adult, and
axillars unbroken dusky. Male : length 17-18,' wing 11.60-12.50, tail
3.40-7.50, bill .70-75. Female: length 18.50-20.00, wing 13.25-14.30,
tail 8-9, bill .85-.90.

Distribution. United States, from the eastern border of the Plains to



the Pacific, and from the Dakotas south to Mexico ; casually to Illinois.
Breeds throughout its United States range.

Nest. Usually on ledges of rocky cliffs. Eggs : 3 to 5, usually creamy
white, blotched and spotted with reddish brown, spots sometimes covering
whole surface.

Food. Birds, mammals, reptiles, and the larger insects.

Over the western plains and sagebrush desert country one often
sees a small, trimly -built, sharp-winged hawk dashing about in the
air, and on scanning the rugged cliffs discerns a white streak high
on the rock wall and with a field glass a niche above in which per-
haps the edge of a nest or the heads of young may be seen. Some-
times you will hear the high-pitched call, kee, kee, kee, as the old
birds circle around above their aerie. As they hover about the cliffs
their neat forms and quick, hard wing beats are so characteristic
that they could be mistaken for no other bird, unless perhaps the
duck hawk. Their nests are usually placed in the most inaccessible
parts of high cliffs, and the birds are closely associated with many of
the grandest western landscapes.

The falcons are bold freebooters when a farmyard happens to lie
in the valley below and their hungry young are calling, but ordi-
narily ground squirrels and other small rodents supply most of their
food. The few birds they get are mostly caught on the wing. One
that shot past me in pursuit of a flock of Gambel quails in southern
Utah struck a quail from the flock with such force as to knock it
to the ground amid a cloud of feathers, but fortunately for the
quail it landed in the brush, where it escaped. VERNON BAILEY.

Submenus Bhynchodon.

Tarsus only slightly feathered in front,
broadly bare behind; not longer than
middle toe without claw.

356. Falco peregrinus anatum

(Bonap.}. DUCK HAWK.
Adults. Sides of head and neck black,
in striking contrast to white or buffy of
throat and breast; rest of under parts
deeper colored and spotted or barred
with blackish ; top of head sooty black,
rest of upper parts slaty blue, lighter on
rump, indistinctly barred with dusky ;
wing quills blackish, inner webs of quills
spotted regularly with buffy or yellow-
ish brown ; tail blackish, crossed by 8 to
10 light grayish bars, and with narrow
white tip. Young : under parts yellowish
brown or reddish brown, heavily streaked rrom m ^^J^ u. s . Dept . of
with dark brown ; upper parts blackish, Agriculture.

feathers edged with rusty ; tail spotted Fig. 235.


with reddish brown and conspicuously tipped with buffy. Male : length
15.50-18.00, wing 11.30-13.00, tail 6.00-7.50, bill .75-.80. Female : length
18-20, wing 13.00-14.75, tail 6.90-9.00, bill .85-1.00.

Distribution. America, north of Chili ; migratory in the northern part
of its range ; breeding locally throughout most of its United States range.

Eggs. Usually laid on bare ground or rock, on a ledge or crag, or
sometimes in hollows in trees or old nests of other hawks, generally 4,
creamy or yellowish white, overlaid with brown or brick red.

Food. Almost exclusively water birds.

As the duck hawk lives mainly on waterfowl and shore birds it
follows them from the north on their migrations. Its flight is so
rapid that it easily overtakes the swift-winged ducks, and it is so
bold as to attack and kill birds twice its weight. It ranks next to
the goshawk as a fierce bird of prey.

356a. Falco peregrinus pealei Ridgw. PEALE FALCON.

Adults. Like F. p. anatum, but head and upper parts uniform dark
slate blue ; barred on back of wings and tail ; chest marked with tear-
shaped blackish spots, and rest of under parts broadly barred with black-
ish. Young : under parts sooty black, streaked with buffy or buffy white ;
upper parts with only faint traces of rusty feather margins. Male : wing
12.95, tail 6.75, bill .84. Female : wing 14.66, tail 7.84, bill .96.

Remarks. The adult Peale falcon can be distinguished from the duck
hawk by the uniform coloration of head and back, and the young by the
black under parts.

Distribution. Pacific coast region of North America from Oregon
north to the Aleutian and west to the Commander Islands, breeding
throughout its range.

Nest. On ledges of high cliffs.

The Peale falcon is said to live largely on auklets and murrelets in


Subgenus JE salon.

Tarsus scarcely feathered above, longer than middle toe without claw.
357. Palco columbarius Linn. PIGEON HAWK.

Middle tail feathers crossed by not more than four blackish or five
lighter bands. Adult male : under parts heavily
striped on whitish, buffy, or rusty ground, strip-
ing lightest or wanting on throat ; upper parts
bluish gray, with black shaft streaks, hind neck
mixed with whitish, buffy, or yellowish brown ;
wing quills blackish, inner webs distinctly barred
or spotted. Adult female : upper parts brownish,
top and sides of head streaked with blackish ;
under parts whitish or buffy, without rusty tinge.
Young : like female but darker, or tinged with
rusty or yellowish brown above, and whitish or
buffy below. Male: length 10-11, wing 7.40-7.80,
tail 4.65-5.20, bill .48-.50. Female : length 12.50-
13.25, wing 8.35-8.60, tail 5.30-5.50, bill .55-60.
^H| Remarks. In the field the pigeon hawk might

From Biological Survey, U. be ""S^ 6 " for . the young sharp-shinned, but

S. Dept. of Agriculture. can readily be distinguished by the tail, that of
Fig. 236. the sharp-shin being grayish brown, with half inch


black bands, that of the pigeon hawk being brown, with quarter inch
whitish bands.

Distribution. North America from the Arctic Ocean south in winter to
the West Indies, and from the southern states to northern South America ;
breeding mainly north of parallel 43, except in the mountains, where it
extends farther south.

Nest. On ledges of cliffs and sometimes in trees or hollows of trees.
The cliff nests have little material, the tree nests are bulky, made of
sticks, grass, or moss, and lined with feathers, inner bark, and other soft
material. Eggs : 4 or 5, ground color white, usually hidden by blotched
reddish brown suffusion.

Food. Mainly birds and insects ; occasionally small mammals.

" This spirited little hawk is one of the most common birds of prey
within its northern range. It feeds chiefly upon small birds, but
often attacks birds much larger than itself. ... It seldom watches
from a perch, or hovers in the air as it sights its prey, but as a rule
darts rapidly through the thickets and over the open grounds, giving
chase to the birds startled in its course. ... In flight, like others
of the falcon family, it strikes rapidly with its wings, never sailing
except for a short distance." (Goss.)

357a. F. c. SUCkleyi Ridgw. BLACK MERLIN.

Adult male. Upper parts blackish brown, wing coverts and tertials
slaty, tail coverts bluish slate ; tail black, with three slaty whitish bars,
and tip marked with whitish ; throat white streaked with black ; rest of
under parts blackish brown with whitish and tawny markings. Adult
female and young : under parts heavily marked with dusky ; upper parts
blackish brown, wing coverts and tertials slaty ; tail coverts bluish slate ;
inner webs of quills not distinctly spotted or barred ; tail bands, except
for whitish tip, indistinct or obsolete. Male : wing 8, tail 4.90, tarsua
1.40, bill .70. Female : wing 8.25-8.50, tail 5.70-5.80, bill .55-60.

Distribution. Northwest coast from northern California to Sitka.

Singularly enough the adult male black merlin had never been
described till Mrs. Fannie Hardy Eckstorm published a description
in The Auk, October, 1902, from a bird given Mr. Manly Hardy by
Major Bendire, who shot it at Fort Klamath, Oregon.

The hawk is by no means as rare as this oversight would indicate.
Mr. Rathbun has even seen one in Seattle, near the business part of
the city, and noted the bird a number of times along Lake Washington.

358. Falco richardsonii Ridgw. RICHARDSON MERLIN.

Coloration much like that of the pigeon hawk, but averaging lighter ;
middle tail feathers crossed by 5 dark and 6 light bands.

Distribution. Interior and western plains of North America, from the
Mississippi to the Pacific ; breeding from Saskatchewan south to Colorado ;
wintering in Texas. Arizona, and probably Mexico.

Nest, eggs, and food as in F. columbarius. p. 168.

Male : wing 7.70-8.05, tail 4.90-5.30, bill .50-.60. Female : length
12.00-13.50, wing 8.80-9.10, tail 5.70-6.30, bill .55-.60,

The habits of the Richardson merlin so far as known are the same
as those of the pigeon hawk.



Subgenus Rhynchofalco.

Tarsus scarcely feathered above, little longer than middle toe without

359. Falco fusco-ccerulescens Vieill. APLOMADO FALCON.
Adults. Sides of head black, with white central blotch ; throat and

chest white ; sides and flanks slaty blackish, narrowly barred with white ;
upper parts plain bluish gray ; wide stripe from eye becoming yellowish
brown in encircling back of head ; wing more than 9 inches, with one white
bar ; tail tipped with white and crossed by about eight narrow white
bands. Young : similar to adult but colors duller, the upper parts less
bluish, white of breast buffy, more or less marked with dusky, belly and
thighs paler. Male : length 15, wing 9.20-10.70, tail 6.30-8.00, bill .60-
.68. Female : length 17-18, wing 11.00-11.60, tail 7.80-8.80, bill .71-.80.

Distribution. From southern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, south
to Patagonia.

Nest. A platform of twigs and plant stalks, generally lined with grass ;
placed in mesquite, yucca, or cactus. Eggs : usually 3, yellowish white,
almost obscured by varying shades of brown.

Food. Probably largely small mammals, birds, and insects.

The Aplomado falcon is a bird of the mesquite, cactus, and yucca
plains, where it finds a goodly supply of its favorite foods. When
hunting it often hovers in the air like a sparrow hawk, but unlike
most hawks rests mainly on the ground. For a falcon it is said to
be rather a quiet, spiritless bird.

Subgenus Tinnunculus.
Tarsus scarcely feathered above, longer than middle toe with claw.

360. Palco sparverius Linn. SPARROW HAWK.

Adult male. Top of head bluish or
slaty, with or without rufous crown
patch ; cheeks with two black stripes ;
back rufous, with or without black
bars or spots ; wings bluish gray ; tail
rufous, with black subterminal band ;
under parts varying from white to
rufous, with or without black spots.
Adult female : similar, but back,
wings, and tail barred with dusky.
Young: similar to adults, but colors
more blended and in male feath-
ers of upper parts edged with whitish.
Male: length 8.75-10.60, wing 7.16,
tail 4.73, bill .50. Female: length
9.50-12.00, wing 7.57, tail 5.14, bill

Distribution. North America from
Great Slave Lake south, east of the
Rocky Mountains, to northern South

Nest. In holes, usually in dead
Fig. 237. trees. Eggs : 2 to 5, varying from

From Biological Survey, U. b. I>t-pt. ot



pure white with few markings to deep cinnamon buff, more or less sprin-
kled or blotched with darker brown.

Food. Mainly grasshoppers and crickets ; also other insects, snails,
small injurious mammals, and sometimes birds.

The habits of the. eastern sparrow hawk are the same as those of
the western.

360a. F. s. deserticola Mearns. DESERT SPARROW HAWK.

Similar to F. sparverius but larger, with relatively longer tail and paler,
more rufous coloration.

Distribution. Western United States and British Columbia ; south to

Food. Small mammals such as mice and gophers, with grasshoppers
and other insects.

The marsh hawk and the sparrow hawk are the two most familiar
members of the hawk family. Instead of spending their time soaring
high in the sky or darting back and forth through the treetops,
Circus beats slowly low over our meadows for mice, while the spar-
row hawk builds his nest in a knot-hole of a tree by the roadside
and sits on a fence post when not hovering over the meadow looking
for grasshoppers. His handsome, trim little person is familiar to
passers by, while his shrill kilty-kilty -kitty, given as he hovers, is one
of the pleasant well-known sounds of the open country.

In the mountains the sparrow hawks often affect the high places.
On Mount Shasta they have been seen at about 13,000 feet. On Las-
sen Peak. Mr. W. K. Fisher saw one in such hot pursuit of a Clarke
crow that it took refuge in a clump of hemlocks. In the Wind
River Mountains they have been seen hovering over large tracts of
slide rock as if in search of conies and chipmunks.


362. Polyborus cheriway (Jacq.). AUDUBON CARACARA.

Bill long, compressed, only slightly hooked; nostrils linear, oblique,
slanting down toward cutting edge of bill ; upper mandible scalloped on
cutting edge ; tarsus nearly twice as long as middle toe without claw,
almost wholly naked.

Adults. Skin of face nearly bare ; horizontal crest and body blackish
brown except for white collar and white on wings and tail, the white col-
lar widening to a cape on back, grading from pure white through spotted
and barred black and white to black ; wings with white shaft streaks and

Online LibraryFlorence Merriam BaileyHandbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley → online text (page 21 of 65)