The fields and pastures of the Llano Estacado support a wide variety of birds of prey. Red-tailed Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, American Kestrels, Barn Owls, great Horned Owls, and Eastern Screech Owls live here year round. Winter brings Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles (but I’ve yet to get a good photo of one,) Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Merlins, Prairie Falcons, Long- and Short-eared Owls, and Northern Harriers. Ospreys and Peregrin Falcons migrate through twice yearly.
Summer finds Swainson’s Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Mississippi Kites, and Burrowing Owls settling in and I’ve collected a few photos of the summer residents for this post.
Red-tailed Hawks come in a range of shades from very dark (Harlans RTHA, which has little or no red in its tail) to very light (Kreigers RTHA). they also have regional variations-Eastern RTHA, Western RTHA, and Southwestern RTHA and each of these can be a dark morph, an intermediate morph, or a light morph. To further confuse me, the juveniles of each are generally lighter than the adults. The good news is that they all have a band of darker spots across their belly, although in the darker morphs the band can be difficlult to see and in the lighter morphs there may only be a few spots and in the juvies the spots may be more like streaks.
Swainson’s Hawks spend the winter months in northern South America. Like the RTHA they have several color variations. I’ve seen a dozen or mor of them hunt over the freshly harvested milo and corn fields north of where I live, feasting on the suddenly exposed voles and mice.
Turkey Vultures are pretty distinctive-large, dark brown birds with no feathers on their heads. the skin of their heads are bright red and their beaks are a fleshy pink. they are easily recognized in flight by their long, broad wings held in a wide v-shape as they glide. Also visible as they fly are silvery flight feathers.
Mississippi Kites are smaller birds with long wings and very graceful flight. They have long black tails and lighter grey heads. They nest here in the summer and in late summer the fledglings (brownish with streaked breast) and adults can be seen soaring on the updrafts, calling with a sharp pe-teew, pee-teer as they circle. They spend the winter months in central South America. I haven’t seen one in the last week so I guess they’ve headed south.
American Kestrels are small (about the size of a dove,) colorful raptors that feed on insects, small rodents and birds. They nest in cavities like old woodpecker holes and natural tree or rock cavities.