When perched, this long-winged Buteo appears sleek and falcon-like. Their wingtips extend just past the tip of the tail at rest, and appear long and pointed in flight. Highly variable in appearance, with lots of intermediate plumage expressions between the typical light-moprh and dark-morph birds. This species also has a sub-adult plumage not seen in other Buteos.
Light-morph Adult: Upperparts are dark chocolate brown with no mottling. Head solid dark with restricted white on forehead and white throat. Solid chestnut bib contrasts with mostly clean white lower breast and belly. In flight, the pale body and pale (usually white) underwing coverts contrast with the dark flight feathers and head to create a two-tone effect. The tail has a dark subterminal band and many finer dark bands. From above, paler uppertail coverts create a weak "U" at the base of the tail.
Dark-morph Adult: Uniformly dark chocolate brown above and below with little if any pale mottling, whitish undertail coverts may be visible when perched. In flight, solidly dark below with lighter rusty underwing coverts created the two-tone effect. Intermediate-morph Adult: Much like light-morph adult, but lower breast and and belly shows varying amounts of heavy rusty-brown barring. In flight, intermediate birds show a mix of white and rusty-brown on underwing coverts and look mostly dark on the torso.
Immature: Upperparts slightly paler chocolate-brown than adults with some white mottling in scapulars and thin pale margins on wing coverts. Generally pale head, which can be quite faded as the bird approach a full year of age (first summer). Head pattern consists of a dark crown, a whitish supercilium, and a narrow dark brown post-ocular stripe on an otherwise white and brown mottled face. Underparts mostly creamy-white with heavy chocolate-brown mottling. Clean white throat is framed by near solid dark brown sides of the upper breast and lower neck. In flight, immatures still show the two-tone underwing, but underwing coverts show more dark spotting, particularly on Intermediate and Dark-morph birds. Dark-morph immatures show more solid dark streaking and mottling below. Young intermediate birds show a dark breast and much spotting on the belly and underwing coverts. Young dark birds have light mottling, and lack the rufous on the underwing coverts.
Sub-adult birds look much like light-morph immatures, but have very pale faded heads and more conspicuous white mottling in scapulars.
Length: 48 (cm) Wingspan: 117 (cm)
A clear, descending keeaaahhhhh.
Grasslands, steppe, agricultural fields, open woodland.
When soaring, wings are held in slight dihedral. May be seen hunting insects on the ground.
Feeds on rodents, birds, and reptiles during breeding season. Eat grasshoppers almost exclusively on wintering grounds.
Expanded Life History
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New Mexico nest described as being approx. 9 feet off the ground, constructed almost entirely of russian thistle stems and twigs, nest lined with dried grass and down from the adult birds (John M. Campbell 1955).by Dave Irons on July 10, 2012 at 08:35 am
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