New Mexico Birds: Accipitriformes


This order includes hawks, eagles, and kites. Hover over a photo series to control the images.

Accipitridae: Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Cooper's hawks are the common hawks throughout Albuquerque—hence my many photos. For my blog about a close encounter with two Cooper's hawks, click here. Sharp-shinned hawks, presented below, are very similar.


Accipitridae: Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

My main reason for thinking that these images show a sharp-shinned hawk—as opposed to a Cooper's hawk, the more common bird in Albuquerque—is the dark "cap" not being confined to the top of the head. Instead the "cap" extends down the back of the head (the nape) like a mullet. Other things to look for are a squared-off tail (when at rest), the outer tail feathers a bit longer than the inner ones, and the eyes being about halfway back on the head. But am I sure it's a sharp-shinned? Nope. The only times I know I've encountered a "sharpie" when I also hear its distinctive call.


Accipitridae: Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

If you see a large soaring hawk without a red tail, it may still be a red-tailed hawk. On adults, the tail feathers are red when seen from above, but white when seen from below. If light is shining through the tail feathers, the white underside of the tail may have a reddish tinge. Juveniles have no red in their tails at all.


New Mexico's red-tailed hawks typically have brown heads. That's what you see above. The eastern variety has a brown-and-white head. That's what you see below. I included a blurry photo of the eastern variety taking off because it shows the underside coloration. The eastern variety usually ranges from Texas east but individuals sometimes wander as far west as California.



Accipitridae: Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)

In August 2020 I saw my first Swainson's sitting on top of a light pole on Mesa del Sol. Aside from limited development, that's a treeless piece of high desert—the kind of open area where Swainson's hawks prefer to hunt. 



Accipitridae: Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus)

All four June 2021 images are of the same hawk, which I interrupted having lunch (a lizard). Twice during our encounter, it dive-bombed me. A couple of those photos show the white in the tail feathers, but just barely. In an August 2023 photo you can the white more clearly. In flight, the tail has a broad white band that can be seen from below or above (see the thumbnail to the left). Use that white band plus the black head and short tail to help distinguish a flying black hawk from a vulture.


Accipitridae: Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

Still waiting for my first good images of this species. The November 2023 composite photo of the female shows the two keys to identifying northern harriers at a distance: the V-angle often seen in the wing, and the white patch at the base of the tail. The other, even fuzzier photo from the same month shows the male's light belly and the slightly owl-like face.  In January 2024 I had better luck photographing a male, but didn't get any shots showing his underside.


Accipitridae: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Bald eagles drift into Albuquerque during the winter, roosting in the Bosque and flying above the Rio Grande. Usually they're distant large birds, barely more than spots in the sky—identifiable because of the contrast between the dark body and the white head and tail. Immature bald eagles and golden eagles can look very similar, but the patterning of brown and white is different. For a brief YouTube video featuring one of these bald eagles, click here.


Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

Mississippi Kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, New Mexico



From a distance, the striking thing about these birds of prey is how narrow their wings are. The thumbnail to the left, with two images of the same individual, illustrates this. The dark tail distinguishes them from the locally less common white-tailed kite.


Pandionidae: Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

I don't tire of photographing these magnificent birds, obviously. If you would like a larger-format, downloadable version of my photo of November 2023, you can find it on this page.