name this nyc raptor: kestrel or hawk owl?

photo: sally schneider

A couple of days ago I found a raptor perched on my terrace rail, right in the middle of Harlem in New York City. I took it to be an owl and posted it on ‘the improvised life’s Facebook page. Since then, a small controversy has been raging, as to whether it is a Hawk Owl or a Kestrel, which is a kind of falcon; I had no idea there are so many bird-o-philes out there, and suddenly find myself poking around  The Cornell Lab or Ornithology  and Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America.

The little bird looked pretty weary and I’m wondering if it got blown off course or uprooted from the hurricane. Though there are plenty of hawks in the area, it looked like an owl to me, which is possible, though rarer. One reader wrote:

“… he looks like he’s had it with all this shaking and blowing in the actual trees and is considering a roost of a more durable build. Put an “Avian Roommate Wanted” or “Free Terrace Parking” sign in the window and see what happens….

Whatever he is, even in his weariness he’s very beautiful…”

Want to take a guess (and take your mind off Sandy and the election)? Kestrel or Hawk Owl?

Let us know what you think, and tell us your reasoning. Perhaps we will break new ground in crowd-sourced bird identifcation.

hawk owl or kestrel raptors in New York City

Once an owl visited our friend Tom Ashcraft‘s Sky and Fireball Observatory. Check it out here.

With thanks to Kim Sykes.

Related posts: thomas ashcraft: artist as electroreceptor
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17 Responses to name this nyc raptor: kestrel or hawk owl?

  1. Samuel P. Marchbanks, LLD 11.02.2012 at 5:50pm #

    What size?

    Any banding on the tail?

    Flight pattern?

    Call?

    Did it snap-flick its tail?

    Can’t make a good guess unless we know more.

  2. Alf Duckhonking 11.02.2012 at 5:52pm #

    Female sparrow hawk (kestrel)

  3. Wiley Dubber 11.02.2012 at 5:54pm #

    It’s a saw-whet owl.

  4. Judy Bond 11.03.2012 at 9:25am #

    I don’t think it is the hawk owl because the color pattern around the eyes is backward. This bird is black right around the eye with ring of white.

    The color pattern is not right for a kestrel, and to me it looks too big if it is sitting on a 4″ square corner post. If it a smaller post, then it could be.
    I think of kestrels being smaller hawks.

    It could be a female merlin because of the dark at the eye (per Peterson). The bird does not look like the web pictures of merlins, tho.

    I wonder if it is a carribbean or south american bird that was blown north?

  5. Katy 11.03.2012 at 10:50am #

    I am a keen observer of raptors in my central Texas area. The thing that struck me most was his behavior. Much more like an owl than a kestral, which I believe are much smaller. I don’t think a hawk would behave as this one is.

    Just my two bits. I am keen to hear what the final diagnosis is.

  6. Janet Vosloo 11.03.2012 at 3:04pm #

    If your colors are true it can’t be a kestrel. They have rufous backs. (They are technically falcons, by the way, not hawks, despite the nickname.) I believe it’s a hawk owl, which can be mistaken for a kestrel because it does a similar snap with its long, falcon-like tail.

  7. Lexington Barker 11.03.2012 at 3:09pm #

    You have photographed a rarity in the US: a Hivintzian harrier.

  8. Bill Rogers 11.03.2012 at 5:40pm #

    It is a male American Kestrel – a type of falcon. The coloration is diagnostic. In this species, the males and females have different color patterns. This one has the little “moustache” mark on the face visible in the third photo.

  9. Bill Rogers 11.03.2012 at 5:46pm #

    OK – Now I am thinking I was too hasty. It is a FEMALE American Kestrel. There is no lead-colored gray patch on the folded wing The tail is much too long for an owl.

  10. Julia 11.04.2012 at 12:04pm #

    I know virtually nothing about owls or other birds, except my own fascination on some archetypal level. By following your links to ‘hawk owl’ and a further link to ‘related species’

    I found a whole list of photos of individual owls, each with their ‘typical voice’, which I could listen to! How fun that was! Even my 11 year old dog was roused by their eery riveting calls.
    Anyway, of all of them I think the spotted owl in particular is most similar because of what appears to be dark around the eyes of the beautiful and mysterious Harlem visitor. Also, in all 3 photos the mystery bird seems to have some majorly (maybe permanently) ruffled feathers coming out from his/her left wing; however, the bird flew there, so probably not broken.
    This whole story is most intriguing. I’m originally from the east coast, and have lived in NM for the last 27 years, and have had my eye and heart on the east since this devastating storm. Thanks.

  11. Sally 11.04.2012 at 3:57pm #

    Yeah, I was thinking that. I did not have a rufus – rust-colored – back.

  12. Sally 11.04.2012 at 3:58pm #

    I’d say about 9″ tall. I did not hear it call but I was inside and it was outside. What you see in the pictures is all I could see; I was looking through the window. When it flew away, it dipped down low before rising up toward the trees.

  13. Sally 11.04.2012 at 5:29pm #

    It is a whole other world and I’m glad to know of your discoveries. I’ve been doing the same. It was an amazing gift.

  14. Julie Houston 11.04.2012 at 6:30pm #

    Hi, Sally,

    My most knowledgeable birder friend — and I mean knowledgeable, she was a long-time staffer at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and an avid birder — says: My guess is that it’s a Kestrel–maybe a female or an immature. Definitely a falcon
    as it has such a long tail.

  15. Peter 11.04.2012 at 8:24pm #

    It’s a female kestral based on coloration, shape of head, markings on face and long tail.

  16. Rebecca 11.05.2012 at 12:01pm #

    I asked a birding friend of mine and here is what she said: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_Kestrel/lifehistory

    The bird in question is an American Kestrel, formerly known as a ‘sparrow hawk.’ They are one of only a handful of raptors that show dimorphism, or a different color pattern for males and females.

  17. V. Voinovich 11.05.2012 at 8:22pm #

    The long tail does not necessarily prove it’s a kestrel. Hawk owls have falcon-like long tails and flick them like kestrels do. AND — the hawk owl demonstrates the fight pattern you cite.

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