Zone-tailed Hawk

Buteo albonotatus


Curtis Marantz
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eBird Checklist S37226896
California City Central Park
Kern, California, United States
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Latitude and Longitude 35.1289, -117.9455 Map



Juvenile Zone-tailed Hawk initially found on 25 May 2017 by Thomas Johnson and photographed here by Curtis A. Marantz on 28 May 2017 at California City, Kern County, California. This was presumably the same bird that was initially found by Tom Wurster on 13 May 2017 at the Silver Saddle Ranch and Club, Galileo Hill.

Observation details

Just as we were reaching the large cottonwood trees bordering the pond at this site, I looked up to see this hawk flying just over treetop level before it began circling and gaining altitude as I was running to get my scope. I nevertheless took quite a few photos of the bird in flight and I studied it through my binoculars as it circled above. This hawk never landed at this site, yet we saw it perched in a tree adjacent to the lake in the main part of the park. I never heard this bird vocalize. Rather than have an overly long description that separates what I saw in flight from what I saw on the perched bird as two different sites, I will describe here only what I saw when the bird was flying overhead. This was a medium-sized Buteo that despite never being seen in direct comparison with another hawk, was at least roughly comparable in size to nearby Common Ravens. It also seemed to be quite noticeably smaller than a Turkey Vulture. Despite this bird’s generally dark coloration and the weak dihedral in its profile that was created by this bird raising the outer part of each wing above the horizontal, it was easily distinguished from a vulture given its smaller size, a more rounded and clearly feathered head with a shorter bill, wings that did not seem quite so long, and a somewhat longer tail that extended beyond the trailing edge of the wings a distance that was comparable to the width of the wings at their base. I also noted that the wings had slotted tips that appeared almost finger-like in the spread wing, that the wings tapered little at their tips, and that the tail was generally held parallel-sided to slightly flared, when it was weakly rounded. The unfeathered legs and feet were clearly visible from below when the bird flew overhead. When seen in flight this bird appeared to be mostly black. In fact, I cannot recall noting either the white forehead or the whitish speckling on the neck or breast even when this bird circled low overhead. I saw from below that the underwing coverts were uniformly black and that they contrasted sharply with the silvery-white color that characterized the undersides of the remiges. Close inspection did however reveal both fine, dark barring on the undersides of the remiges, that the outer primaries were black distally, and that there was a relatively narrow band of black along the trailing edge of each wing. Form below the underside of the tail was light gray with several relatively narrow, dark bands and a slightly broader dark band at the tip. Given that this bird was flying overhead, my views of the upperside were not as good as those of the underside, and they were obtained exclusively as this bird banked. Much as was the case on the underside, this bird was mostly quite blackish above. I nevertheless noted that there were some paler markings on the upperside of the primaries, and more conspicuously that the tail had several narrow dark bands on what was at least in places light gray to whitish but not truly white. My photos also appear to show that one of the central rectrices (if not the next feather outward) was missing, which further appears to be why the pale coloration was as obvious as it was on the upperside of the tail. This bird had a black bill, a bright lemon-yellow cere, dark eyes, and lemon-yellow legs and feet.

Technical Information

Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Lens model
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
Focal length
400 mm
Shutter speed
1/640 sec
Flash did not fire, auto
Original file size
1922 x 1329

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