Bird Baldness Follow-up

I need to follow-up on the red-tailed vulture post from early October. I knew people, including myself, enjoy something a little different or odd. Like Bird Baldness. That was proven as this was far and away my most viewed blog post. It was linked to a couple of different sites including Facebook and that brought in additional views.

Species of Hawk

Since there were more views I received more responses. A couple which corrected me and clarified the species of hawk as a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. In the field I original thought it was too small for a Red-tailed Hawk. But since it seemed to have problems I thought it was a smaller Red-tailed. I should have looked closer.

Raptors of North America has an excellent web page that shows the differences in the two hawks. After reading the webpage and looking at the photos, it was evident it was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk.

rtha-head-4 Bird Baldness
The most evident field mark demonstrating it’s a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk are tail bands. Red-shouldered Hawks have fewer bands and the dark bands are wider than the light-colored bands. Red-tailed Hawks have more bands and the light-colored are wider.
Red-shouldered Hawks have brown streaks or spots on their chest as opposed to the Red-tailed Hawks belly bands. The spots are pretty evident once I looked.

Bird Baldness

Now onto possible problems with the head. I found a few websites that might have the answer. Most dealt with Blue Jays but I think the information applies to this hawk.

A couple of explanations:

  1. Juveniles undergoing their first prebasic molt.
  2. The baldness may result from feather mites, lice, or an environmental or nutritional factor.

On Cornell Lab’s Project Feeder Watch they have a good article describing unusual birds. Most of the bald birds reported are Blue Jays which “may be juveniles undergoing their first prebasic molt, which produces the first winter adult plumage.” Most of the birds grow their feathers back within a week.

The article goes on to state “If you notice a bald-headed bird of another species, it could be the result of an abnormal molt. Staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds.” That is what I think is going on with this hawk. I’ve been back a few times but haven’t encountered it. But I’ll keep checking and hopefully catch up to it.

If interested here are a few links concerning bird baldness. They each contain other links as well.

Nature Nut Lady

Tails of Birding

Belted Kingfisher – Weekend Highlight

In my last post I reported I’d be staying closer to home for birding. So what can one see closer to home in late October? Belted Kingfisher for one.

With a limited time Saturday to go birding I was glad I decided to bird closer to home. I went out Sunday but the windy weather wasn’t as conducive to birding.

I checked the wet area first. No herons or egrets or waterfowl for that matter. Since Great Egrets leave early in the day I checked a half hour before sunrise Sunday. Still no luck. Urban Marion County 10/22/16
There were still a few Least Sandpipers to go with the Killdeer. Still hoping for Dunlin.
The ever-present male Belted Kingfisher was the first of two Kingfishers on the day. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/22/16
Still no waterfowl moving in but the Belted Kingfisher (upper left), Great Blue Heron (lower right), and American Coots (center back) are usually present.

After checking out the local water areas I headed home to bird my home area.

A Downy Woodpecker was working a tree when I arrived. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
Eastern Phoebes have been present all summer with two being seen Saturday. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
beki-2 Belted Kingfisher
The picture of the weekend. This female Belted Kingfisher didn’t like me in the area and rattled at me constantly. I think she looks like she is laughing here. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
If one keeps an eye to the sky you’ll never know what you might see. Two Red-shouldered Hawks were soaring quite high. A few seconds earlier a Red-tailed Hawk was also soaring with them and the smaller size of the Red-shouldered was apparent. Plus the coloring and fight shape helped to ID them. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16

Sunday afternoon I spent a few hours at the local park. The wind kept the birds down but on the north side of the tree line the kinglets came out in a fair numbers.

At one point I had both kinglets in the field of view. The Ruby-crowned moved right before I took the photo leaving the Golden-crowned Kinglet. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet came in very close and was quite inquisitive when I was pishing. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16

Always a good weekend when I can see a few migrants and the local Kingfishers.

Bringing it Back Home

When we moved to Indiana we ended up in Franklin. This was close enough to Indianapolis but also near Johnson County Park and Atterbury FWA. So I could be birding in 10-15 minutes.

I think I have expressed my views on urban birding more than once. But I have come to realize I dislike driving to “distant” birding spots even more than urban birding. Why drive when I can see basically the same birds in my own immediate area. And by “distant” I mean anything over 15 minutes or so.

The other thing I have realized is it’s not the urban birding I dislike but more the number of people in the area I’m birding.  That’s what was appealing about Johnson County Park and Atterbury FWA. There’s basically no one there in the morning hours. Except doing hunting season at Atterbury.

emerson back home
You can’t get much closer to home. The view from the far end of our condo property. The dead tree in the center is by wet area and often has a hawk, kingfisher, or herons sitting in it.

The key I have found to urban birding is to find a spot where there aren’t many people to disrupt my birding. There’s still the background noise of cars, trucks, and planes but at Johnson County Park and Atterbury FWA there was always the background noise of the military training. Which could be quite loud at times.

Since I have found a spot to bird without many people or dog walkers I’m basically going to bird a small radius around my residence. The radius is similar to the one I had in Franklin that included Johnson County Park and Atterbury FWA. The habitat will just be different.

The drive now is around 10 minutes to start birding (if not birding the condo property) opposed to 35 minutes to Johnson County Park. You can do the math to figure how much extra time I’ll have over a year by birding locally. I’ll still help on the Johnson County Big May Day and Christmas Bird Count but the bulk of my birding will be southern Marion and northern Johnson Counties.

Will I see as many species? No. But I bet I see 90%+ of the birds I saw over my first three years birding the more rural area. It will also give me a chance to explore (i.e. “bushwhack”) new habitats and see if I can find certain species on a regular basis in an urban habitat. Like Red-headed Woodpecker and Horned Lark.

I have already found most of the needed habitats within a few miles – deep woods, shorebirds, a migrant trap, and grasslands.

Still working on that elusive wetland area though.

Red-tailed Hawk Kiting – Weekend Highlight

After a week of traveling for work I stayed close to home birding. This is rather miss-leading since I would stay close to home for birding anyway. I saw a few migrants but the highlight was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting into a southerly wind.

But first, a Swamp Sparrow that was to be the highlight last week but traveling kept me from getting the blog out. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
Mike and I started at the local wet spot which is drying up quickly. Hopefully Sunday’s rain will make a difference. Urban Marion County 10/15/16

On to the local retaining ponds that still don’t have any new waterfowl. We did see a few sparrows – mainly Song but a Lincoln’s and Savannah were mixed in.

Mike headed out and I continued on to the local park for an afternoon of birding.

Before the park I stopped by the new semi-rural area. Not many sparrows but the local American Kestrel was present again. Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16
The new spot looks like a consistent spot for Eastern Meadowlarks. Next week Horned Larks? Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16

The park held several migrants including my FOS Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper. A getting kind of late Black-throated Green Warbler was in a moving mixed flock.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were present with this one showing a little of the Ruby. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
Once again Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere in the park. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
Nothing special but I liked the way this Mourning Dove was low to the ground hiding by the fence. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

The highlight of the day was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting motionless into a 20mph wind. It was amazing how long it stayed hanging in one spot!

rtha-4 red-tailed hawk kiting
The Red-tailed Hawk stayed in this one position long enough for me to take several photos without it ever leaving the field of view. Meaning it never moved. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
I watched it for quite a while but it never did dive into the high grass for a meal. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

Missing Canada Geese

Since the last couple of weekends were warm and hazy which didn’t allow for photos it was good the weather changed to cold, clear, and windy. Maybe a little too cool since I wore long underwear Saturday but at least I could take photos without wondering if they would be too dark.

Saturday started out by checking if any Great Egrets were still at the local wet area. Sure enough there are still seven there, along with Blue-winged Teal and shorebirds, but missing Canada Geese? I was there long before sunrise and they weren’t flying away as I approached. Past weekends there have been up to 500 geese present before sunrise waiting to fly off to feed. Like in early September when I posted about their early morning flight. Where can that many geese go?

combs-2 missing Canada Geese
The local wet area has no Canada Geese where previously there had been hundreds. Where did they go? But the remaining Great Egrets were still present. Urban Marion County 10/8/16

After an hour of counting Killdeer and seeing if the local Cooper’s Hawk would make a second pass for breakfast, I headed to the retaining ponds to see if any new waterfowl had moved in with the passing front.

And that answered where the missing Canada Geese had gone!

I’m guessing the Canada Geese have decided to roost in the local retention pond since the wet area has become too shallow. The count was the same as the wet area has been on previous weekends – 500. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16
It wasn’t long before most of the geese headed to the fields. The noise didn’t seem to bother this Belted Kingfisher. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16


After the Canada Geese left I stayed to see what else might be around the ponds. I could see the geese in the fields feeding in the recently harvested corn fields.

After a half hour all of the Canada Geese went up in a panic. What would cause them to take flight? I never laid eyes on the cause but I know there are Bald Eagles that fly through. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16

The rest of the morning was searching for migrants. The new semi-rural site produced several raptures plus Vesper and Lincoln Sparrows.

How come I’m never on the right side of the wind to capture American Kestrels hovering? Semi-rural Marion County 10/8/16

I noticed a definite drop in Blue Jays flying through with only one flock of 15.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were on the move both Saturday and Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
As were Yellow-rumped Warblers with 25 seen in a concentrated area. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
Showing off its signature ID. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
This Tennessee Warbler was the only warbler I stumbled across Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16

I’ll be back in the next post with photos of the Weekend Highlight.

Red-tailed Vulture

Last Sunday I decided to try a new spot for sparrows. Didn’t find any “yellow” sparrows but it was loaded with Song and Swamp Sparrows. Plus my FOS White-crowned Sparrow was singing nearby and a few Eastern Meadowlarks thrown in for a bonus.

That’s all well and good but what caught my eye was a hawk in a nearby tree. When I first arrived there were crows hanging around. Every so often a couple would make a bee-line to a nearby tree.

It took a few minutes to finally spot the hawk they were harassing. Or was it a vulture? I wasn’t sure.

I wasn’t that far away and for someone who didn’t start birding yesterday, the call should have been instantaneous. But it wasn’t. So I walked closer hoping it wouldn’t fly.

rtha-head-2 Red-tailed Vulture
First look from a distance. The body says hawk but the head said vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

As I moved closer it became clear that it was a hawk without any head feathers. Something I’ve never seen before. I was pretty certain it was a Red-tailed but still not 100%.

What would cause the head on this Red-tailed Hawk not to have feathers? Molting? Disease? I didn’t know. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

Otherwise the bird appeared healthy. After being harassed long enough it flew over to a nearby roof not showing any signs of illness. Its flight and landing both looked normal.




If I’d just seen the head in this photo I would have called this a vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

For fun I looked at other vultures around the world seeing if this guy looked like any of them. Thinks to Wikipedia I discovered there are 23 species in the world – 16 Old World and 7 New World. I looked at all 23 and none really have the brown of Red-tailed Hawk with a gray head. To my eye the closet one in appearance to the odd hawk is the Old World Cinereous Vulture also known as Eurasian Black Vulture or Monk Vulture.

This Cinereous Vulture is about as close as I could find to matching the odd-looking Red-tailed Hawk.

If anyone has any idea what is wrong with the hawk please leave a comment.

European Starlings – Weekend Favorite

If you don’t count the early morning fog and mist the weather cooperated to some extent this past weekend. I had several favorites but I don’t know if I can call any of them highlights. So I’ll go with my favorite being the flock of European Starlings I watched Sunday.

I know, how can I call the starling a favorite? Most people, and even most birders including myself, take a look at starlings and move on. But I got caught up watching them Sunday which extended my stay at the local park by almost an hour.

A few starlings had been calling off and on for the first two hours I birded the park. Then all of a sudden there were hundreds calling on the other side of the tree line which made listening for passerines tough.

I took one more walk to the other side of the tree line still not paying attention to the starlings when all of a sudden they all went up at once. 

I had no idea that there were this many starlings a few hundred feet away!

eust-2 European Starlings
The European Starlings make their way to the nearby trees. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16
All of the starlings made it successful to the trees. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

How do I know the starlings made it successfully to the trees. Because the instigator came up empty.

I never saw the Red-tailed Hawk until all of a sudden it was on a nearby backstop. It must have come in low and fast avoiding detection. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

I watched this scenario play out several times. The starlings would leave the trees, go back to feed, and the hawk would try again.

Up we go again. The hawk would try for a starling, they would go up and land and the whole scene would repeat. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

Now there were a couple of things that made this the weekend favorite.

  1. I have seen large flocks of starlings go up and down many times in my life. But I don’t ever remember being right in the middle of the action. I stood in the middle of the path from the trees and their feeding area.
  2. Watching a hundred European Starlings bath at the same time. (Sorry about the fence) Since all browsers don’t support the same video this might not work on Internet Explorer.

The amount of spray they put up was amazing. Even more than the Laughing Gull feeding frenzy in Alabama.

That’s was why I picked the European Starlings. There is always an adventure or story out there if you don’t get in a hurry. It usually comes to you.