Crows hate them – Zone-tailed Hawk

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – Grabbed a quick lunch today at the Fresh & Easy supermarket in Oceanside where the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has been reported. While sitting back in my camp chair munching on an egg-salad sandwich I noticed some larger diurnal migrants using the updraft from the ridge behind the store to travel south. First surprise were two American White Pelican booking south cross-wind. Then a few minutes later things got really interesting when a Zone-tailed Hawk Buteo albonotatus came by with a cawing American Crow tied on its tail. I managed a few documentation photographs as it circled higher over the mobile home park south of the train tracks.

When I first saw this large black avian object coming towards me I thought it might be a Turkey Vulture but the general impression of the bird was not right. The body was too large in the rear and the tail too stout looking. In addition the aggressive mobbing of the crow was a dead giveaway that this was something else a bit more dangerous to smaller game. Going by me overhead it showed off the wide white bar on the mid-tail and contrasting paler coloration of the secondaries and primaries. Also very noticeable were the powerful large yellow feet, got to have something to crush to death those poor ground-squirrels, and the yellow cere on the bill was visible as it veered around circling.

Finally I did get to see the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at this spot a little while after the hawk came by. A fine looking pink and grey long-tailed missile, it flew right by me coming from north of the store and then landed on the wires going down the hillside. Sometimes waiting around in one spot can be rewarding. I began to sense a bit of a Patagonia Picnic Table Effect kicking in, when finding one rare bird leads to the discovery of others at the same location. Who knows what else might be flying down the coastline?

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6 thoughts on “Crows hate them – Zone-tailed Hawk

  1. Neat! I’ve only seen a zone-tailed hawk once, (I live in south bay) and they are quite a surprise, – and a unique bird. Thanks for sharing that photo. Wish I’d had my camera the day I saw one over the otay river, some ten years ago.

    • Hey thanks Dave! I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a while now hoping to cross paths with a Zonie. Didn’t expect it to happen at the back of a supermarket! I left my camera in the car so missed the close overhead pass with the crow in tow!

  2. I saw one 3 days ago and I also thought it was a vulture as it approached. It circled directly above me for a minute or so before heading off to the West. I was out feeding our animals and I stopped to watch since I’d never seen a hawk like it before. We live on Mother Grundy Truck Trail which is upper Deerhorn Valley in Eastern Jamul.

    • Yes the Zone-tailed Hawk is pretty crafty hiding out among Turkey Vultures, nothing like creating a false sense of security! Thanks for your note about the sighting – an excellent rarity!

  3. I’m not very good at identifying birds but I’ve got a sighting I really need to share and I hope get some help with understanding what I was watching.

    Yesterday I saw for the first time ever, two enormous black raptors soaring over my neighborhood. I might have not noticed because they were so quiet except that the shadow of one went right over me as I walked on my driveway. This raptor was only about 40 feet above me and the shadow was at least 6′ long tip to tip. They were, it seemed to me, to be circling at opposite ends of an imaginary loop as if to be cooperating if that makes sense. They flew from a mere 30 feet over the ground to a high of I’d say 200 feet.

    I assumed then they might be a mated pair, but now I’m not certain as they looked very similar to me in shape and size. There were no other birds in the sky save for crows off in the distance. I watched them for about 3 minutes as they were clearly moving in on something on the ground NE of me. What was most striking was that these bird were, to my eyes, pure black with possibly a charcoal cast from certain angles. I saw no identifying marks on the tail or wings. These birds were absolutely the most monocolor raptors I have ever seen. Coincidently, my neighbor’s cat was injured and missing and I assumed the birds might lead me to this cat so I hightailed it over to where I saw them appear to be landing. Unfortunately, I lost them at that point.

    I’ve looked up raptors of San Diego County and the image that comes closest to what I saw look to be the Zone Tail Hawk. I did consider whether I might be looking at cultures but I just didn’t see that ugly head on these two. I’m also told vultures “wobble” in flight and these birds soared steadily with nary a twitch nor wobble.

    Any ideas? I live in a semi-rural part of Vista in a small valley with plenty of game and open space. I saw them at about 3 in the afternoon. We get a lot of Red Tailed Hawks and I hear them keening all the time. I’ve seen other smaller hawks from time to time and at night, screech owls. But given the size, the “duality” and the magnificence of these birds, this was an incredibly unique sighting for me. and I’ve been watching the skies here for over 20 years.

    Any help satisfying my curiosity would be most appreciated.

    Thank you.

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